Well-Built Check-Row Planter Still Impresses

Hayes Pump & Planter Co. check-row planter surprisingly accurate.

| March 2013

One hundred years ago, long before the advent of satellites and GPS guidance systems, Midwestern corn farmers had their own version of precision planting. It was called a check-row planter, and it relied on a length of wire stretched and staked from one end of the field to the other, spooled through the planter, to drop seed kernels at precise distances along each row.

Among the most popular brands of check-row planters was a 2-row model manufactured by Hayes Pump & Planter Co., Galva, Ill. The innovative Hayes 4-wheel planter had two wheels on each side. The wheels were set at an angle to one another to firm the soil on either side of the seedbed. Among the company’s customers was central Illinois farmer Henry Schuck who, around 1910, bought a Hayes check-row planter.

Harnessed to a team

Henry’s planter was initially powered by a team of workhorses and later by a tractor. After Henry’s death, his nephew Mike Wurmnest, a farmer from Deer Creek, Ill., acquired the vintage planter. For the last several years, Mike has used an Allis-Chalmers Model G garden tractor to demonstrate check-row planting at the Tazewell Olde Threshers Assn. threshing show held annually in Tazewell County, Ill.

But Mike had long hoped to see the planter back in the field with a team of workhorses. His desire became reality last July, when Elmer Grebner, Germantown, Ill., brought his team of Belgium draft horses to the Tazewell County event (held at the Vernon Koch farm near Tremont) and harnessed them to the Hayes planter.

While some check-row planters were set up to plant on 42-inch centers, Mike says the check wire “buttons” on his vintage Hayes planter are designed to drop seed every 44 inches, with 40-inch spacing between the rows. “That still allowed farmers to cross-cultivate their fields with a 1-row cultivator,” he says. “We have several plates for the planter. Farmers could plant as few as two, three or four kernels per hill depending on their soil type and seed size by changing out the plates.”

Mike says the row width can be adjusted from 38 inches to 44 inches. “Uncle Henry probably had 44-inch rows when using horses and then moved the planter in to 40 inches when he cut off the long horse tongue and changed to pulling the planter with his Hart-Parr 18-28.” (That Hart-Parr is also part of Mike’s antique tractor collection.)