The Barns in Marcus, Iowa – JR Pearson’s museum – is full of exceptional horse-drawn farm implements gathered during the past 30 years. But there’s always space for a new rare piece. His latest addition is a No. 4 Victor double-huller clover machine manufactured in 1889 by Newark Machine Co., Columbus, Ohio. The all-wood huller has original paint and pinstriping.
“There aren’t many clover hullers around. When I saw what good condition this one was in, I knew I wanted to include it in my museum,” JR says. “And because it’s smaller than most threshing machines, it fits inside the museum much better.”
After bringing it home, JR used water to clean accumulated dust and dirt off the huller. He then applied a penetrating urethane clear coat to help preserve the wood and enhance the machine’s original color and striping.
“The clear coat gives the wood a gloss look that makes it easier to read any lettering on it and makes pinstriping stand out,” JR says. “If you take an old sign and wet it with water, you’ll be able to see the wording much better, until it dries out again. The clear coat retains that gloss.”
Key part of crop rotation
JR dates the huller by the original operator’s manual that came with the machine. According to the manual, which is dated 1889, the No. 4 was the largest of Newark Machine Co.’s line of four hullers. The original sale price of $475 (the rough equivalent of $12,000 today) included the huller, a wagon, wagon brake, neck yoke, double and single trees, stacker and Grube’s new patent seed cleaner. If a customer wanted just the huller, the price of the additional items was deducted.
“Our machine for the 1889 trade is about as near perfect as it can be made,” the manual proclaims. “This machine has been manufactured by ourselves and our predecessors for the past 26 years and during that time valuable improvements were continually made.”
In the late 1800s, red clover had become an essential part of crop rotation in the U.S., both providing fodder for livestock and enriching the soil by turning it under with a plow. Improvements in clover hullers were a key to that, and to creating a market for clover seed.
Threshing and hulling, in one machine
John C. Birdsell is credited with production of the first combined clover huller in 1855. That first effort was plagued by design defects, but improvements over the next two years were effective. In 1857, Birdsell’s patented huller was exhibited at the New York State Fair in Buffalo.
The unit’s combination of threshing and hulling functions set it apart from standard threshing machines. Birdsell’s design included a bolting apparatus to separate the seed from the straw, a conveying apparatus to take the seed to the hulling cylinder, and a winnowing apparatus to clean the seed from the chaff after hulling.
According to an account in Stoddart’s 1883 Encyclopedia Americana, prior to Birdsell’s invention, threshing and hulling were performed separately, “after the clover heads were broken off by the flail or with the tramp of horses, by first tossing the straw with forks until the straw and heads were separated from each other, then sacking the heads and seed and carrying them to a huller, running them through, re-sacking and conveying back to the barn where the whole was cleaned with a common fanning mill.” Enough seed was usually left in the chaff for sowing on the farm that raised it, and the cleaned seed was sold.
Clover hullers were capable of cleaning seed from 20 to 30 acres of clover per day. If the clover crop was good, more than 100 bushels of seed could be cleaned each day. The December 1880 Milwaukee Annual Trade and Commerce report noted that from 1870 through 1880, red clover sold there between $3.75 and $5 per bushel.
Newark Machine Co. began building farm machinery, sawmills and fodder cutters in 1854. Hullers were added to the line in 1863. The company was sold several times and eventually incorporated as The Newark Machine Co. A disastrous 1884 fire caused the company to relocate to Columbus, Ohio, from 1885 until 1913.
Innovative design maximized yields
In operation, clover was hand-fed into the huller’s threshing cylinder, with straw passing over vibrating racks to the rear. Hulling was accomplished with a drum beneath the threshing cylinder. Much of the seed escaped with its husk on the first pass through the machine, so a large tailings (or return) elevator carried it back for a second pass. From that point, seed went through a small re-cleaner located on the side of the machine.
The 1889 No. 4 had cast iron sides on the upper huller, into which the clover was first fed. “These sides cannot wear out, shrink, warp, rot and give trouble, which is the case with wooden sides,” the owner’s manual reads.
The huller also featured Newark’s eight-beater open cylinder, “which has important advantages over the closed or drum cylinder and over the over-shot cylinder.” Rubbers used in the cylinders were “of the best quality steel,” 1-3/4 inches long from the cylinder and 7/8 inches wide, fluted to roughen the surface between them.
A dust confinement feature eliminated the need for a blower to push dust away from the machine. Fluted rubbers on the beaters were easy to maintain and replace. Seed was rubbed out of hulls “as fast as it can be fed into the machine.”
Once seed was separated from hulls, it dropped into the lower huller. The Victor’s lower huller cylinder was open, a “new, novel and useful” feature, allowing access to the beaters for maintenance purposes. In closed cylinders, rubbers were known to wear, loosen and sometimes ruin concaves by running through them.
A lucrative seed crop
Huller testimonials fill several pages of the owner’s manual. Many customers affirmed that the Victor clover huller was “all you claim for it.” Testimonials came from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado. “The money farmers could make on clover during the 1880s was pretty good,” JR says.
JR has no plans to use the museum-worthy piece. Before bringing it into his museum, he made sure there was no grain in it that might attract mice or bugs. Most of the huller’s original belts came with the machine. He’s having new ones made to replace the few that were missing. “I expect museum visitors to enjoy seeing and learning about this unique machine for years to come,” he says. FC
For more information: Museum tours by appointment only. Contact JR Pearson, 5506 B Ave., Marcus, IA 51035; (712) 229-4809; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at email@example.com.