Making do on an Iowa farm during the Depression years included buying a 1926 Fordson-mounted Gleaner combine.
Find yourself nostalgic for the good old days? This tale of buying and hauling a combine may change your mind. As told by Edgar and Irene Stout to Richard and JoAnn Stout, Washington, Iowa, in 1989:
My father-in-law often said that the early 1930s were good years to start farming because you could buy everything so cheaply. I have since wondered how you could buy anything, cheap or expensive, if you had no money. But in the spring of 1930, I was 23, single and optimistic as I started farming. My father had bought a farm 5 miles north of Washington, Iowa, and it was on this farm I made my start.
Threshing was on its way out in 1930, but when my older brother, Lloyd, bought a combine and wanted me to help him, I agreed. I drove his Regular Farmall while he rode his No. 20 10-foot IHC combine. We did custom work around the community and often as far away as 20 miles from home. The cutting charge at that time was $3 per acre and for each day I worked for him, Lloyd would combine 1 acre of my grain. It always seemed to me that my grain came last, after everyone else’s.
We left home at daybreak and ran until we finished the next day’s work and he would go off to line up other jobs. It was my responsibility to get the tractor and combine to the next location. This was often after dark. Sometimes on the way to the next field, I would come upon a bridge too narrow for the combine. Bridge planks were not usually fastened down then, so I would take some of them up and stack them high enough so I could drive over the bridge and the combine bin would clear the banister. Most of the time that worked fine, but once the combine fell off the planks and was hung up by the bin. I had to jack up the combine and put the planks back under it.
After moving the machinery, I would be met by Lloyd and we would go home. I would still have chores to do and often it was very late before I finished for the day. Besides all those minor drawbacks, there were the usual problems of brothers working together.
While I was single, these problems seemed small, but I had married in February 1933. Although Irene was born and raised a farm girl and was well accustomed to chores and fieldwork, she was not too enthused about me being gone all day, every day, for a month or more. That meant she would be left with the bigger end of the chores and other work.
So, putting all those things together, I decided what I needed was a combine of my own. Not only could I cut my own grain, quickly, easily and cheaply, I could make some money doing custom work. Because I was a Ford and Fordson man from way back and I had an American Fordson, I was attracted to the Gleaner combine. I had seen one at the Iowa State Fair and had been corresponding with some Gleaner owners. Finally, F.D. Guill, Dalton, Nebraska, offered to sell me his 1926 Fordson-mounted Gleaner for $90. All I had to do was drive to the panhandle of Nebraska and bring it home.
My youngest brother, Benjamin, wanted to go with me quite badly. When Irene and I got married, we had not had a honeymoon, so we thought maybe this exciting trip might take the place of one. So Benjamin got the chore job and Irene got the trip. We borrowed the combine money from Lloyd and scraped together some cash for travel expenses. We set off early on June 6, 1933, in high spirits. We were driving a 1929 Model A Tudor with poor brakes and pulling a trailer made from a Model T chassis. The trailer had a wood rack on it measuring 12 feet long by 3 feet wide by 6 inches tall.
We traveled west, making good time, but somewhere west of Omaha, we had a little excitement. The brake pedal rubbed against the battery cable. This caused a short and sent up a shower of sparks. As I worked to unfasten the cable, I broke the battery. We walked to a nearby house to ask for help. They had no phone, so I left Irene there while I walked back to a small gas station to buy a new battery. One of the people at the station drove me back to the house where Irene was and then to our car and trailer. While I was gone, the people at the house entertained Irene with stories of how fast a parked car could be stripped of parts in that area. So the sight of our untouched rig was welcome indeed. We continued on our way and spent the first night at a hotel, spending $1 for our room.
We arrived at the Guill home southeast of Dalton about mid-morning. We spent the rest of the day taking the Gleaner apart and loading it. We put the heavy parts (like the cylinder and mounting irons) in the back seat of the Model A and the rest we tied to the trailer. The load leaned quite badly, but we finally finished loading at about six o’clock that evening.
Mrs. Guill had fed us dinner and supper and urged us to stay overnight, but we were anxious to be on our way. Since the cost of the new battery had taken much of our traveling money, Mr. Guill let me keep back $10 of the purchase price and I promised to mail it as soon as I got home. He told us of a shortcut back to the highway. The shortcut was freshly graded, we lost our way and had to ask for directions and then it started to rain. When we finally found the highway, it was quite late and we decided to stay overnight at a Tourist Camp. Neither of us had a watch; when we woke up, we decided it was morning and started out again. Later we saw a clock and realized we had only spent two or three hours in the cabin. Irene often wondered what the cabin owner must have thought when we stayed such a short time.
Our short night gave us extra driving time, so we crossed Nebraska and reached Omaha by evening. An amusement park or carnival was letting out customers as we arrived and the road was thick with cars and people. By now our brakes were gone and I had a difficult time stopping my rig even when I had plenty of space. I pulled over to the side and parked. I stretched out on the running board and, using the fender for a pillow, slept soundly for a few hours while Irene remained awake in the car.
As we were driving east of Omaha, second gear went out of the car and we had to use low to get up the hills and low to go down the hills. Old Highway 34 had just been paved and it was one hill after another. Our money was about gone and we agreed the car’s need for gas was more important than our need for food, so we fasted the rest of the way. We spent the last of our money on gas in Albia, about 75 miles from home. Our simple home looked like a palace to us as we finally arrived the afternoon of June 10.
I first borrowed and later bought a pair of fenders from one of my neighbors, mounted the Gleaner to my Fordson and used it that summer to cut my grain. I tried doing some custom work, but that didn’t work out too well. All I seemed to get were the small jobs, the weedy fields or the jobs no one else would take. The next year, Lloyd went to Kansas and bought a 1927 Gleaner. He loaded it on a hayrack without taking the header off. A highway patrolman later stopped him and made him reload.
In July 1935, I got my Gleaner stuck. It was a wet year and the Gleaner just could not take damp or long straw. Finally I had to hire Lloyd to finish cutting for me. In May 1936, I was in the junkyard and there was Lloyd’s Gleaner. He had traded it to an IHC dealer and the dealer had junked it. I bought it and used parts from it and parts from mine to make another machine. The header and separator from the 1927 had roller bearings, so I used them. I used the mounting irons, elevators, augers and bin from the 1926 Gleaner. Those made a machine that I mounted on an Irish Fordson. I had bought this tractor new in 1934 mounted on 11.25x24-inch rubber tires. A couple of years ago, I looked up the serial number of that tractor and discovered it was a 1931, not a 1934 model. Farmers were so short of money in the early 1930s they could not buy much machinery and the dealers had a three-year backlog.
In July 1936, I had worked for several days getting the Gleaner combine on the Fordson tractor and getting the machine into shape so there would be no trouble in the field. I had been cutting grain for four days and wanted to finish that day. We got things going after the dew dried. My brother-in-law, Ernest Wagner, was hauling loads to the granary with the team, Charlie and Pete, with a double box on a Model T chassis. It was an easy pull, so they would really step out. One combine bin full was the same as a load. So Ernest would go in to the granary, scoop it off and be back for the next bin full. Several members of the family were there that day. In the afternoon Irene and my sister, Aline, went out and took some photos. After that, things went to pieces.
My son, Richard, at 14 months old, was upstairs with my niece, Wanda Stout, five months his elder. Richard fell out of the upstairs window, 10 to 12 feet to the ground. So I came in from the field, leaving my youngest brother, Benjamin, who had been riding with me, to run the combine and keep harvest going. Irene and I took Richard to Washington to the hospital, where the doctor X-rayed his leg and diagnosed a green-stick fracture and put a cast on it. Coming home, we saw the combine sitting in the field. Eighteen-year-old Benji was practically in tears because something had broken on the combine and he couldn’t keep it going. But we did manage to finish the harvest that day.
I used my 1926-’27 Gleaner through 1938 and then bought an early Allis-Chalmers pull-type combine, used. It cut a 5-foot swath and had an elevator bin unload. The things I said while running around the machine, throwing off belts to unload the bin, would make another story. After sitting over 40 years in the dirt and weather of southeast Iowa, with hogs using it for a back scratcher and me using it for a ready supply of iron pieces, the Gleaner soon had little resemblance to its former beauty. But as we crept across Nebraska and Iowa in 1933, we thought we had a rare treasure. FC