Harvesting Old Iron: Antique Threshing Machines Restored

Wood Bros. and Sterling antique threshing machines rediscovered and restored to working condition.


| January 2012



Wood Bros Antique Thresher

Restoration of the Humming Bird took four years. "Just as an example," Bruce Anderson says, "there are 100 pieces of wood in each straw walker, and six straw walkers, so that’s 600 little pieces of wood."

Photo by Nikki Rajala

Orville Anderson grew up around a 32-inch Wood Bros. threshing machine that was part of the threshing ring that operated near his home in Madelia, Minn. “He was the grain hauler,” says Orville’s son, Bruce Anderson, “and in that ring part of his responsibilities were to help grease and maintain that threshing machine, so he was pretty well versed in it.”

So it was no surprise when Orville bought a circa 1910 Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher in 1987. “In those days you could still get antique threshing machines at farm auctions for $5,” Bruce says, “or $25 if someone was bidding against you.”

The antique thresher travels sixty miles on steel

The huge Humming Bird came from the Storden, Minn., area, some 60 miles from Madelia. “We loaded the pickup with every type of tool we could think of when we went to get it,” Bruce recalls. “Jacks, planks and everything.” Before the Humming Bird could be pulled by a four-wheel drive pickup, it had to be jacked up out of the dirt and planks were placed under the wheels. “We pulled it 60 miles on highways on those steel wheels,” Bruce says. “We had quite an adventure pulling it home.”

As it was being pulled, for instance, a front wheel came off, dropping the axle onto the road and almost snapping the pole off. “We had to jack it up on the highway and take some parts from a back wheel to the front to hold the wheel on,” Bruce says. Later, a part from the blower fell off. But by the time the Andersons returned to retrieve the part, another driver stopped, picked up the part and drove away. “So some part of the machine got away from us,” Bruce says. “We never did find out what it was.”

Restoration of the Humming Bird promised to be a huge project, so it was put on hold while Orville restored 13 other threshers, including a 22-inch Case that didn’t need a lot of work, a Case double-wing feeder from about 1910 and an almost-new Oliver Red River Special. “It was a ball-bearing machine with rubber tires,” Bruce recalls. “A nice, smooth-running machine.”

Giving the antique threshing machine a close look

Meanwhile, Orville dug in deep, studying and researching the Humming Bird. Many of the thresher’s parts had been modified and several tin pieces were missing. When he finally went to work, he stripped the old machine down to the bones.