A Field of Dreams

| October 2003

Everyone has dreams, but a handful of dreamers turn their nighttime visions into reality - such as an old-iron lover who once dreamed of an old combine. 'This was the dream that wouldn't go away ... It was literally a dream ... I dreamed of taking one of these old combines and restoring it,' says Len Holo of Eau Claire, Wis., matter-of-factly describing how his 1949 Massey-Harris No. 21A combine restoration began two years ago. The revelation wasn't merely happenstance, however. It was more akin to actor Kevin Costner's epiphany in the movie, Field of Dreams. Len awoke the next morning unable to shake the indelible vision that haunted him for the next month.

His daughter, Lynda, provided the impetus and encouragement to carry that dream to the next level. Far from just another shop job, Len dreamed of a specific goal: Commemorate the 1944 Harvest Brigade's multi-state harvest by 500 Massey-Harris No. 21 and No. 21A combines for the war effort in parts of the West and Midwest. Len's commemoration effort, which is planned for spring and summer 2004, will take him and the combine south from North Dakota through Kansas, Oklahoma and into northern Texas. Along the way, he'll display the combine at selected sites. Then Len will reverse the trek and make his way toward the northernmost tip of the Dakotas, plotting his course to closely match the original Harvest Brigade. Before Len could fulfill the dream, he first had to find and restore a special combine.

Combine quest

Len began his search for as many Massey-Harris No. 21 and No. 21A combines as he could get his hands on beginning in October 2001. Garnering assistance from Ralph and Charles Schneulle of Blair, Neb., and Ralph's son, Michael, he looked in salvage yards around the immediate area, but the fruitless effort forced Len to scour salvage yards and implement businesses outside Wisconsin. Once he put feelers out in a broader area, results started to trickle back in the form of sightings and sundry information. 'It's kind of easy to find them if you know what you're looking for,' Len admits. 'I started finding them pretty quick once I started looking.' Len's goal was to find as many derelict machines as it would take to construct a single perfectly restored combine. The first combine was located in Kindred, N.D.

The Kindred combine was a No. 21, which sported a canvass header. It didn't have a serial number tag, but Len was confident it dated to about 1945 or 1946. Friends located the sleeping giant, and the farmer who owned it readily parted with it provided Len would haul it away. 'I took the whole thing during a big snowstorm,' he remembers. 'I'd come all that way to get it, so I figured that I was too far from home to back out.' The combine was in very poor condition since it had been sitting exposed in a grove of trees, but it wasn't a complete loss. Len salvaged numerous parts including a windrow attachment and a gas tank in good shape.

The next few combines that Len located were also in poor condition. By luck, he spotted a 1947 No. 21 in Peever, S.D., with rare dual drive-wheel options, but it was too far-gone to restore. Len gave the owner $50 for the machine, mainly for its mostly intact engine and its 14-foot auger attachment. Another combine came from Blair, and Len thought this one would be the one to restore, but his hopes crumbled just like the old combine's parts as he dismantled it in mid-April 2001. 'As I started washing it, it literally started falling apart from the acidic sap of pine needles that had fallen on it over the years,' Len recalls. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Len focused on yet another combine in Hankinson, N.D., where he nabbed a set of factory-original rims. All other combines Len located were fitted with aftermarket styles, which made it an important find because he was closer than ever to his dream machine.

Unfortunately, Len's search hit a brick wall after a few initial successes. Len let all of the machines sit all winter long, and then in April 2002 he bought a classified ad in a farm magazine desperately searching for that special No. 21 he could restore. 'I was scared that I wouldn't find one good enough to restore, so the advertisement was my last effort to find a good one before I expanded my search farther east and west,' Len says.