Rebirth of the Humming Bird Thresher

A Minnesota man brings an 80-year-old Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher back to life after sitting unused for almost 50 years.

| December 2018

  • Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher
    This Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher languished in a shed for 45 years before Tom Helke took on the task of returning it to working order.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Humming Bird thresher
    Tom Helke’s father took good care of his equipment. “Dad never put anything away broken,” he says.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • Humming Bird thresher logo
    The Humming Bird name was apparently arrived at almost by accident, but Franz Wood of Wood Bros. later pronounced it the perfect name “for the smallest and fastest machine built.”
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Humming Bird thresher
    Elsie Helke offers guidance to Tom Helke (left) and his brother, Carl.
    Photo courtesy Tom Helke
  • Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher belts
    Belts are the linchpin for this 80-year-old Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Humming Bird thresher
    The Humming Bird thresher staged and ready to work at the Almelund (Minn.) Threshing Show.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher
    A scene from the past recreated: The Helkes’ 1937 Farmall F-20 tractor belted to the family’s Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher (circa 1938) at Tom’s farm near Scandia, Minn.
    Photo courtesy Tom Helke
  • Humming Bird thresher side detail
    Fine original detail on the side of the Humming Bird thresher.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Wood Brothers Humming Bird
    Elsie with the Wood Brothers Humming Bird, loaded for the trip to the threshing show in Almelund, Minn.
    Photo courtesy Tom Helke
  • Humming Bird thresher
    Tom enjoys seeing the Humming Bird in action. “The most exciting part is seeing it come to life,” he says, “getting it going with all the pulleys turning.”
    Photo by Nikki Rajala

  • Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher
  • Humming Bird thresher
  • Humming Bird thresher logo
  • Humming Bird thresher
  • Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher belts
  • Humming Bird thresher
  • Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher
  • Humming Bird thresher side detail
  • Wood Brothers Humming Bird
  • Humming Bird thresher

Tom Helke is building a family legacy around the love of old iron. And what better way than to use his father's Wood Bros. Humming Bird thresher as the central foundation?

Tom, who lives near Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota, grew up working with the thresher, which dates to the late 1930s. "We used it on our farm in southeast Minnesota near Brownsville," he says. "It sat in my mother's shed for 45 years before I thought I'd better get it out and get it going again."

His mother, Elsie, was excited by the project. "She was happy to get it up and going again instead of just leaving it sitting in the shed," Tom says. "She worked with it too in the 1960s. There's a photo of her sacking out from the grain auger spout. During that time, they worked with neighbors, and threshed neighbors' grain."

"Dad never put anything away broken"

The Humming Bird hadn't been used for nearly 50 years when Tom began to bring it back to life. When it was relegated to the shed decades ago, the thresher gradually settled into the dirt floor, eventually sinking some 16 inches ("up to the axles," Tom says) before he decided to bring it out.



"When we got it out, we turned it over by hand, and there was a little clunk," he says. "Opening the throat shields, we found a little rock in there. Dad never put anything away broken. The belts for the pulley were all in a floor compartment, so we belted it up, turned it over and it worked just fine."

The family lived on a small dairy farm and milked 20 cows, while Tom's dad, Carl, worked in La Crosse, Wisconsin. "I started milking those 20 cows when I was 11 and cleaned the barn," Tom says. "No barn cleaner or anything like that, except for us. We used a shovel and a fork to do everything."



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