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Forage Harvester Development Marked by Fits and Starts

A Scotch baronet, an agricultural engineering professor and others had a hand in improving the forage harvester.

| November 2015

  • During the 1920s, Professor Floyd Waldo Duffee of the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Wisconsin was conducting research on a hay chopper now referred to as the forage harvester.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • The machine was capable of harvesting whole-plant corn or haylage crops. A conveyor elevated the crop to a wagon towed behind the harvester.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • Fox’s first pickup hay chopper from 1930, powered by a McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • The 1932 Fox chopper that was used by Brook Hill Farms for some 12 years.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • An action photo of the experimental corn chopper as put together by Fox. The man at far left is riding on a corn binder with no binding mechanism.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • The Fox 54B cutter with a corn attachment mounted.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • A model 54BM chopper with an optional 40 hp Red Seal engine and the mower bar attachment.
    Photo courtesy Sam Moore
  • A PTO-driven Fox Forage Master Model 54 cutter with the pickup head attachment.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • George Michel’s homemade field forage harvester. From the October, 1939, Farm Journal.
    Photo courtesy Farm Journal

Scotch Baronet Sir Charles Ross (1872-1942), a soldier who served in the second Boer War and World War I, inventor of the Ross rifle used by Canadian forces early in World War I, and a rich and eccentric land owner of some 366,000 acres in Scotland with about 3,000 tenant farmers, also appears to have developed the first crude field forage harvester.

Elmer J. Baker Jr. wrote in a 1963 column in Implement & Tractor magazine that, while attempting to get away from hand labor on his estates, Sir Charles “drew on a fertile imagination and concocted a dream machine, the production of which he hastened to put into effect by coming to the states. He had heard of a firm (LaCrosse Plow Co.) that could make anything, if you told them what you wanted.”

Baker continues the story. “By July 1925, the machine was ready for field trial. It was pulled by an authoritative tractor, (and) was operated by an 80 hp motor. The machine was mounted on what looked like a Cat 10 undergear. A 6-ft. cylinder-type hay loader was pulled at the side to elevate a swath or windrow. The roughage was delivered to the feeder of a big 22-inch cylinder-type ensilage cutter, which blew the chopped silage to a trailer behind. Thence by truck to the silo. Rube Goldberg never did a better job of designing.

“But the point is: It was the first field ensilage harvester ever to see the light of day and successfully cut silage from a standing crop and deliver it ready for elevation to a silo in one operation. The best agricultural engineering brains in the world had never done as much or as well up to this point.”

A better idea?

One man who saw Ross’ invention in action was Floyd W. Duffee, an agriculture engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin. Duffee immediately saw ways to improve on the Ross machine and made sketches, as Baker wrote, “of a field ensilage cutter as it should be made.”

According to Baker, Duffee showed his drawings to several implement makers, including one large manufacturer who, “by location and size should have been most interested (but who) snarled at Duffee for presuming to think that he could suggest anything of promise that the company’s designers had overlooked.”

10/27/2015 8:42:15 AM

My Dad, Curtis D. Allen WWII Marine, brought one of the first ensilage cutters/harvestors to southeast KS. He and Bill Guy, GI Bill Agriculture instructor at Coffeyville, KS, custom harvested ensilage in the southern counties of southeast KS post WWII. Their harvestor was a Skyline brand one row crop harvestor with a Wisconsin 4 cylinder gasoline air cooled engine for power. The Skyline was manufactured in Wichita, KS. The engine was the weakest part of the harvestor due to operation in the heat of the summer. We completely overhauled the Wisconsin engine every year prior to the custom harvesting.


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