The Birdsell Alfalfa Huller

Later models

Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. O. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma 73501S-74

Steve Wilson

Content Tools

Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. 0. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501.

Peter T. Lienemann of May, Oklahoma, left, powered his Birdsell alfalfa huller with portable one-cylinder International engine in foreground. Both it and the huller were each pulled from field to field by a team of four horses. Here Linemann is threshing grain about 1905.

Lawton, Okla. A rare piece of agricultural history was rolled into the gallery of the Museum of the Great Plains recently after several weeks of cleaning and preservation work in the museum workshop.

Looking more like a colorful machine once found in a circus, the museum is displaying one of the few now existing Birdsell alfalfa hullers, a scarlet red wooden machine with yellow and black trim and yellow spoked wheels with black and red stripes radiating from each hub.

The machine measures seven feet 11 inches high, seven feet two inches wide, and 21 feet seven inches long without tongue. Made by the Birdsell Manufacturing Co., of South Bend, Indiana once the largest factory of its kind in the world few of the wooden alfalfa hullers survive today. At one time the factory was producing 1,500 to 1,800 clover and alfalfa hullers annually.

The huller was invented by a New York farmer named John Comly Birdsell who in 1855 gave the world the first combined clover thresher, huller, and cleaner. Birdsell incorporated and placed his first machine on the market about 1870. By 1905 the company boasted that its hullers girdled the globe. A stationary machine that was pulled to the alfalfa field by a team of four horses, it was made similar to the grain threshing machines that were eventually replaced by tractor-pulled and self-propelled combines. The Birdsell huller threshed, separated, hulled, and cleaned the seed all in one operation. In addition to having a threshing cylinder like the grain separator, it also had the hulling cylinder.

The Birdsell Alfalfa Huller was the only machine made especially for hulling and cleaning alfalfa seed, a small seed weighing only l/30th as much as a grain of wheat. Many farmers often boasted of retrieving 16 bushels and 28 pounds of seed using the huller, as compared to nine bushels from a grain separator with a hulling attachment.

The museum's machine, a No. 3 huller, was capable of hulling and cleaning 70 bushels of alfalfa seed in nine hours. Made in ten different sizes, the Birdsell hullers were equipped with a 27 to 40-inch threshing cylinder and weighed from 4,800 to 7,100 pounds.

Later models of the clover and alfalfa hullers were equipped with modern feeder attachments, front, and wind stackers, top right, to blow straw away from stationary machine.

The museum was donated its huller by Mrs. Wilma L. Dugger of Amarillo, Texas, whose father, Peter T. Lienemann, purchased it in Woodward, Oklahoma, in 1902 and used it to thresh alfalfa in Beaver, Harper, and Ellis counties in the northwestern part of the state until about 1915. At that time it was parked in a barn near May, Oklahoma, where it remained in a near perfect state of preservation over the years.

The huller could be powered by a steam or gasoline engine. Often steam tractors were used. Peter Lienemann powered the No. 3 with a portable one-cylinder international engine, which also was moved from field to field by a team of four horses.

While doing research on the huller, the museum learned that extreme pride was taken by the Birdsell family in building their specially made clover hullers. Lumber for the machines were often air-dried from three to five years. Axles were made of selected hickory, hubs were from the best black birch, the felloes of best white oak, and the tongue of straight-grained ash or white oak.

Cut away from Birdsell huller shows interior workings. Threshing cylinder appears top right, hulling cylinder lower right, and three

The museum also was able to locate John C. Birdsell III, last of the Birdsell line, who closed the corporation in 1949, 94 years after the clover huller was invented by John Comly Birdsell. The company built its last huller in 1929 and sold its last one in 1930.

John Birdsell III presented the museum with a few remaining mementos of stock certificates, stationery, and a gold-stamped notebook showing the famous clover huller and wagon once manufactured by the large South Bend factory. Unfortunately, none the company's business papers, catalogs, or colorful advertising posters were preserved except by a few private collectors and special libraries.

Now on display at the Museum of the Great Plains is this 1902 Birdsell alfalfa huller. It was used in northwestern Oklahoma until about 1915.

Painting from a 1920 Birdsell catalog shows alfalfa huller at work in the field being powered by steam tractor.

The museum is displaying its bright red huller in its gallery with a photographic and informative exhibit explaining the operation of the machine at work in the field. Being shown in conjunction with the exhibit are small horse-drawn implements and plows in addition to a photographic portrayal of farming techniques on the Great Plains between 1880 and 1930.

The museum hopes to add other kinds of threshing machines to its agricultural collection, and is currently seeking threshers made specially for peanuts broomcorn, beans and peas.

The BIRDSELL Clover and Alfalfa Holler

1930 marks the 75th year of Birdsell service and helpfulness to the farmer. High standards and superior products have contributed much to our growth and our ability to satisfy farm requirements. A little bit better than the usual best has always been our watchword. The best hardwood, iron and steel obtainable are used in the Birdsell huller. It is made to operate for years without appreciable wean Our rigid specifications and standards of workmanship produce a sturdy, dependable and long lived machine. It is not uncommon to see a Birdsell still operating efficiently after twenty-five years of continuous service.

The BIRDSELL Is Built for Long-Term Service

THE BIRDSELL CLOVER AND ALFALFA HULLER is a time saver and a profit maker. You, as a thresherman cannot afford to overlook Birdsell features of convenience and reliability. It threshes, hulls, separates and cleans, in one operation. It does the work completely and without waste of seed. The Birdsell will handle Red Clover, Mammoth, Alsike, Crimson and Sweet Clover and Alfalfa. Specially equipped for Sweet Clover and Alfalfa. The Birdsell self feeder is part of the special equipment for handling clover and alfalfa. It is specially designed and built in our own shops. It runs at a suitable speed for uniform results. The speed and straw governor makes automatic control accurate and positive. The band knives cut up extra heavy stuff and handles bunched clover or alfalfa very easily. Another feature is the accessibility to the thresher concaves for exchange or removal.

The wind stacker is specially patterned and built in our plant The importance of keeping seed from reaching the straw pile is the reason why we build this wind stacker. It is light and has adjustable hood on end of pipe. The position of the fan, and the depth of the air shield have much to do in preventing suction of seed from sieves.

The removable slide door in the rear and the short section of hinged pipe gives easy access to shakers, sieves and stemmer. The recleaner is an important feature. Do not attempt to hull without an efficient one. (Note the illustration.) Here is where your customers will be most criticaland where results of your work will show up.

A large area has been provided for separation of straw, pods, chaff and seed. This enables the Birdsell to do a perfect job of hulling and cleaning. There are four sixes of Birdsell hullers to serve the smallest individual operator as well as the largest operator doing custom work.

The last wooden Birdsell alfalfa huller was made in 1929 and the last sold in 1930. This color poster, showing the red huller, yellow wheels, and green seed elevator and recleaning attachment, marked the end of an 85-year history of the clover and alfalfa huller.