Hovland Inventions Have Stood The Test of Time

Ortley Homesteader

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Restored machines The Hovland machines after their restoration outside the museum at Saskatoon. The swather had a center delivery with a five foot, four inch axle clearance tractor straddling the swath and then picked up by the traveling combine.

Submitted by A.W. Redlin, RR1, Box 30, Summit, South Dakota 57266, and reprinted with permission of author Leslie 'Bud' Mogen, this article originally appeared in the Watertown [South Dakota] Public Opinion.

The Western Development Museum at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, is the permanent home of two early 1900 inventions of August Hovland, a pioneer farmer in Blooming Valley Township of Grant County, South Dakota.

Hovland's inventions were the windrower, which Hovland called a 'central delivery reaper,' and the combine, which he called a 'traveling thresher.'

Both inventions were granted patents by the U.S. Patent Office in 1908 through the efforts of August and his brother, Ole Hovland, the engineer and draftsman who helped build the machines.

Ortley Homesteader August Hovland about the time he was working on his inventions. August and Gena Hovland's surviving children include Oliver Hovland, Ortley; Mrs. Walter (Ann) Brennan, Water -town; and Bill Hovland, California.

The brothers were born on a farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, and August homesteaded on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Reservation in Grant County when it opened for settlement in 1892. In 1894, Hovland brought in his threshing out fit from St. Peter to thresh his neighbors' crops.

For the next few years, he studied the problems of threshing. He thought about the high cost to the farmer and that the bound sheaves left on the ground any length of time were molded and sprouted.

He had also noticed that the 'binder misses' left lying loose on the stubble did not spoil because the grain received sufficient air. This was the birth in his mind of the idea of the continuous windrow.

With the ideas in his head and the ability he had acquired farming and threshing, he started by organizing a company with $150,000 common stock authorized, $10,000 subscribed. The shareholders were Summit banker C.H. Lien, Waubay farmer and banker S.T. Lasell, Waubay farmer L.J. Riddle, Hovland's brother from Chicago, and himself.

In early 1909 after the brothers made their detailed drawings of the parts they would need, a site was purchased in St. Paul and a shop was built. After employing a pattern maker, blacksmith and a part time helper, one windrower and one combine were produced for the fall harvest of 1910.

The machines were steel with galvanized walls. The era was before the arc welder, acetylene torch, roller bearings, grease zerks and V-belts, and the men had to make patterns for the cast iron gears and sprockets before forging them. It was truly an outstanding feat from men who relied on their common sense and experience more than on education.

The first year after the machines were built, 100 acres were threshed on the Hovland farm. The work was satisfactory, but there was no local interest. And the eight big threshing machine companies that had been notified did not send any representatives to see the machines that were years ahead of their time. The machine companies were building conventional threshing machines and were apparently satisfied with the status quo.

Because of the lack of encouragement, Hovland's machines were put aside and unused until 1963 when the Canadian museum, working through August's son, Iver, transported the swather, combine and tractor to Canada and restored it for posterity.

It would be pretentious to believe enough first hand information could be found after all these years.

Before his death, a brother-in-law of Hovland, Helmer H. Hanson of Lajord, Canada, who was instrumental in getting the machines into the museum, wrote a booklet on the history of swathing and threshing. He wanted detailed information compiled before all participants died.

Hanson and his brother, Ellert, who both homesteaded in Canada, grew up within a few miles of the Hovland farm and had talked to Hovland about the machines.

In 1926, the Hanson brothers decided to build their own swathers from ideas they got from Hovland. They converted a threshing machine into a combine to decide the feasibility of this new way of windrow threshing. The brothers harvested 1600 acres in 1926 and 1927 with machines that closely resembled the ones Hovland developed more than 15 years earlier.

In 1927, representatives from the International Harvester Company visited the Hanson farms and later built the first commercial machines for sale. Those machines eventually changed the harvesting concept forever