Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler is a Perfect 10

A rare Allis-Chalmers No. 10 Roto-Baler shines in a Minnesota collection.

| August 2017

When Gary Agrimson bought a rare 1959 D12 Allis-Chalmers tractor more than 30 years ago, it summoned memories of growing up on a dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota, where his father used Allis-Chalmers tractors. “That D12 was in pretty bad shape, and I needed more information on it,” he says, “but there were only a few in this area. I’ve always liked older machinery and old times.”

At a farm toy show in Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1990, he met Ed and Larry Karg, who had a similar tractor. That connection helped Gary in restoring his D12. “Ed said he was thinking about starting an Allis-Chalmers club, and as one thing leads to another with collectors, I became one of the first officers of the Upper Midwest Allis-Chalmers Club.” Each year the club stages its Orange Spectacular show in Hutchinson. 

Because he had a Roto-Baler and other basic farm implements, and he was an officer, he was given the responsibility of presenting field demonstrations for the club. “That meant harvesting the ripe grain for the show, always the fourth weekend of July,” Gary says. “That’s how I really got started purchasing, restoring and maintaining Allis old iron, and getting to understand them. That’s how I got collecting the combines and Roto-Balers.”

Baler popular but perilous

Roto-Balers were popular because round bales shed water better than square ones. “Like having a thatched roof,” Gary says. “The water runs right off them.” But that wasn’t why his father, Paul, bought a Roto-Baler. “I was there,” Gary recalls. “I know exactly what happened. Behind the wagon, we pulled a hay loader, which lifted the hay up and stacked it on the wagon. At home, we backed the wagon into the barn, took a hay hook, picked up the loose hay and put it in the hay mound. That is an extremely slow process. Then Dad heard about the Roto-Baler. They said it could roll up 10 acres of hay in a day with no problem, 1,000 bales on a good day. So in 1954, when I was 6, he bought one.”

But the Roto-Baler soon proved to be a dangerous machine. When the machine’s tying system failed, the operator would get off the tractor to get the twine back in place when the conveyor shut off, as it did on each bale. If the operator didn’t shut off the PTO, the conveyor would start again while the farmer was working, and it would take off arms and legs, or worse, sometimes resulting in fatalities. “It can still be dangerous today,” Gary says.

Because of the danger, Paul never let Gary operate the Roto-Baler. “By the time I got big enough to carry a bale,” he says, “Dad had sold that one and bought a square baler. I was the bale loader behind the square baler.”