Beating Swords into Plowshares

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Left: During a short-term contract in the late 1940s, workers at Beechcraft assembled 15 corn harvesters per day. The finished units (which were painted bright red) were shipped by rail from the Wichita, Kan., plant to implement distributors and dealers throughout the Midwest. Those with sharp eyes will note at the top right of this photo a line of partially assembled aircraft, Beechcraft’s primary line.

Today, when companies lose major contracts,
workforce reductions are a grim but familiar routine. It was not
always so: Look no further than the case of an aircraft
manufacturer in the post-war years.

Sometime in April 1949, Beech Aircraft Corp., Wichita, Kan.,
received a million-dollar contract from the Great American Farm
Implement Corp., Chicago, to produce several thousand ready-to-roll
corn harvesters.

In manufacturing corn harvesters, Beech was not diversifying. In
fact, the company was desperately trying to generate enough work to
justify keeping experienced employees on the payroll. Although
Beech continued to manufacture its mainstay aircraft, in the years
immediately following World War II, many government contracts were
cancelled, leaving the company with a shortage of production work.
In an effort to keep its workforce intact, Beechcraft jumped at
varied opportunities, including the manufacture of pie pans and
refrigerator racks, in addition to agricultural implements.

The Great American corn harvester was a power
takeoff-powered machine. It harvested one row of corn, and was
capable of harvesting eight to 12 acres per day. The machine
weighed 1,800 pounds, and was so well balanced that one person
could easily hitch the unit to a tractor.

The Great American corn harvester was a power takeoff-powered
machine. It harvested one row of corn, and was capable of
harvesting eight to 12 acres per day. The machine weighed 1,800
pounds, and was so well balanced that one person could easily hitch
the unit to a tractor.

It was not without its shortcomings, however. One Beech worker
noted design problems with the unit’s gearbox, where some of the
turning shafts ran against the cast housing. In dusty conditions,
the shafts didn’t stand up well at all. The result: A field
modification program to add bearings and seals to the gearbox.

The first unit was scheduled for production in May 1949, and the
contract was to run into November 1950. The number of units
produced is unknown.

– Farm Collector is grateful to reader Ralph Look, who
submitted this information and who seeks any information related to
Great American corn harvesters. Mail responses to him at: 8006
Watson Lane, Wichita, KS 67207.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment