The Gleaner S88 combine is almost identical to this S77 model photographed in 2011 at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, and published here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
I recently read in the Farm and Dairy, our local farm paper, that Gleaner, a subsidiary of AGCO, had announced their new S8 Super Series transverse rotary combines. To a geezer like me with experience only in the rub bar cylinder and concave type machines that were powered by good old honest 4 or 6-cylinder spark-ignition engines, the description sounded like so much gibberish.
Consider: the new machines are said to be “[A] full line of Tier 4 Final, Class 6 through Class 8 platforms and the industry’s first Class 8 transverse rotary combine” and are being “Launched on the Optimum Performance platform.” Not only that, but the combines “are the culmination of design refinements that further reduce the liabilities of weight, size, fuel consumption, wear and complexity while maximizing capacity, grain quality, reliability and durability.” Well! I should hope so!
Gleaner’s marketing manager, Kevin Bien, went on: “We’ve created a light, nimble combine designed so that the horsepower is used to efficiently cut and thresh the crop, not to move a heavy machine or overly complex system through the field.”
The Class 8 Gleaners are said to be some six tons, and Class 7 four tons lighter than competitive models. Now this I understand, as would anyone who’s ever gotten a heavy machine hopelessly mired in a wet field.
Now comes the good part: “Cooler running dual-turbo Tier 4 Final engines pack power. New to Gleaner are the AGCO Power 9.8L seven-cylinder engines, which will power both the S88 and S78 models. These…engines combine selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and external-cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology to meet EPA emissions mandates.
“With efficient, effective diesel exhaust fluid dosing that combines SCR and dual turbochargers with externally cooled EGR, these engines avoid the need for heat-generating diesel particulate filters, so they run cooler and last longer.” Huh? Exhaust fluid dosing? I sure don’t understand modern engines, and we haven’t even gotten into the hydrostatic drive and the separating mechanism itself.
However, our grandfathers and great-grandfathers probably scratched their heads over the mysterious self-tying grain binders that seemed to work almost by magic as the complicated machines kicked out grain bundle after grain bundle, each secured with a length of twine tied around it with a neat knot. And think of it! The whole operation was untouched by human hands. Herbert Quick, born in 1861, grew up on his father’s Iowa farm where the primary crop was wheat. He wrote of the wonderful new Appleby self-binding mechanism that his father put on his Marsh harvester: “It was a marvelous machine to me. It waited until the horses had drawn the thing along so far as to accumulate enough of the cut grain to make a sheaf, and then reached over with a metal finger carrying the twine, compressed the gavel into a sheaf, knotted the twine about the bundle and kicked it off or threw it into a bundle carrier. It was a triumph of mechanical genius.” And probably not one in ten farmers who used the thing had the foggiest notion of how it worked. Cyrus McCormick the Third wrote of those days in 1931: “Machinery was a mysterious thing to farmers, and an owner’s diagnosis of trouble was usually wrong.”
Listen to the description of the Junior Deering Twine Binder in an 1886 Deering Company catalog and try to put yourself into the shoes of a farmer of the day who probably is cutting his grain with a cradle scythe: “Extremely light weight, extremely light draft, great strength and durability, complete adaptability to every to every possible condition of crop and ground and a reliability in good working that no adverse circumstances can overcome.”
Then the catalog gets technical: “The Deering simplified knotter and the Deering rear-geared binder are used on the Junior, as are also the Deering adjuster extension, features that are peculiar to the Deering Self-Binders, and that form a large part of their great success. The Junior reel has a capacity for moving higher, lower, further back and further forward than any other reel. The combination steel and wood main wheel, so thoroughly proved on Deering machines, and the raising and lowering devices and the method of shifting the binder back and forth (having been strengthened), are the same as in 1885. Unlike its imitators, the Junior Deering has a full-sized main wheel and binder decks that slope rapidly to the knotter.” That sturdy farmer of 1886 may also have said, “Huh?” after reading that.
One has to hand it to modern farmers – they need to know a whole lot more about complicated subjects than we did. Not only is the machinery much, much more complicated, but there are such things as precision farming, where computer programs in conjunction with GPS systems guide all sorts of machinery in the field in order to attain maximum crop yield with minimum input of fertilizer, seed, herbicides and fuel. They also have to have a much heftier bank balance than their grandfathers – all of that fancy stuff costs big bucks. Of course, if it all works as it should, the crop will bring in the money.
There is one fly in the ointment though; one that today’s farmer’s ancestors had to deal with as well and that computers can’t do much about – the weather!