A Gold Medal for a McCormick Binder: The No. 63 British Grain Binder Trials

Reader Contribution by Sam Moore
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Editor’s note: In English-speaking nations, “corn” is the term used for the most common cash crop in a country. Thus “corn” in its traditional usage may refer to a different grain in England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the U.S.A. In this case “corn” is likely used to refer to all three trial grains at once.

The cover of an 1887 McCormick catalog in which the gold medal for the “Best Twine Sheaf Binder” at the 1881 Royal Agricultural Society trial was mentioned. (Catalog in author’s collection)

From an 1881 Scientific American is the following account of a twine-tie binder trial at Derby, England.

After a week’s postponement, rendered necessary by the unripe condition of the crops, the trials of sheaf-binding machines, using any other binding material than wire, instituted by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, began on Monday morning, the 8th of August. By nine o’clock, the time appointed for beginning, there was a large number of gentlemen interested in these trials already collected on the farm of Mr. Hall, at Thulston, and the distances that many of them had come testified to their interest. The morning was perfect for reaping, though ominous clouds in the southwest led many to hazard conjectures, which unfortunately turned out too well founded, that the Royal Agricultural Society would not on this occasion escape the fate which had visited them so often. The corn stood ripe and upright in the various plots into which the fields had been divided, and the ground was level and dry.

(There were supposed to be twenty entries, but only seven actually took part). These were as follows: W. A. Wood, McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, Johnston Harvester Company, Samuelson & Company, J. & F. Howard, Aultman & Company, and H.J.H. King. All these machines were to be seen at the show, except the second, which was delayed by the stranding of the steamship Britannic, and had only lately arrived in rather a weather-beaten condition. The trials were to be made upon oats, barley, and wheat, and the plots were about half an acre. Shortly after half-past nine, the judges and engineers having arrived upon the ground, a start was made upon the oats by the three machines belonging to Wood, Samuelson & Co., and the Johnston Harvester Company. It should be mentioned that the strength of this crop of oats varied a good deal in different parts of the field. These three machines all had the automatic trip – that is, the binding gear is thrown into action by the pressure of the straw accumulated, independently of any action by the driver. The sheaves from Samuelson’s machines were extremely neat and well separated from each other, a point to which farmers attach great importance.

It seems impossible to secure the binding of every single sheaf. Even with the best binders, an occasional miss will occur, in which the corn is thrown out unbound. However, with Samuelson’s machine this was extremely rare, and the neatness of the sheaves produced was remarkable. No doubt the shortness of the crop in his plot may have had something to do with this, as longer straw is more likely than short to connect two sheaves and produce that hanging together, which in other machines so often precedes a miss in the binding. Mr. Wood’s machine had a stronger crop with longer straw, and hanging together of the sheaves occurred far too frequently, and was almost always followed by a loose sheaf. The Johnston harvester went through a very fair performance; there was no hanging except at turning the corners, and the plot was finished in a shorter time than with the others. Notwithstanding the automatic character of the gear for binding, we believe that the sheaves produced in these machines vary very much in weight.

At about 10:20 the next lot of machines started. They were those of McCormick, Howard, and Aultman. Of these, the first only has the automatic trip. We believe it made no miss in binding during this trial, and the sheaves were neat, though, perhaps too tightly bound. There was no hanging together or check in this run. The machine of Aultman & Co. was not so successful in separating the sheaves, though this was not so often followed by an unbound sheaf as in some other machines. Sometimes as many as three sheaves, clinging closely together, were ejected at one time. To avoid this, a man walked by the machine and assisted the delivery of the sheaf. The tension of the string which binds the sheaves varies a good deal in this machine, some of the sheaves being too loose, while others are too tight. In Howard’s machine there is a tendency in the sheaves to cling together, but this is not often accompanied with missing the binding. Mr. King attempted a run, but his machine had not been fully adjusted, and after one course the trial stopped. As far as one could judge from this short performance, the chief fault in the sheaf produced was the uncertain position of the string upon it, sometimes near the bottom of the straw, and sometimes among the corn. Unfortunately at 11:25 the rain began, and experiments were stopped till the afternoon. It was no light shower, but a heavy downpour of some hours’ duration, which soaked the crop through and through. We think it a pity that the experiments should have been continued at all, under circumstances in which practical harvesting would have been out of the question.

However, after a short lull in the rain, the machines of Wood, Samuelson, and McCormick went into the wet barley. The Wood machine worked most rapidly, but the clinging of the sheaves and the failure to bind were again very apparent. The stubble left by this machine was the shortest and most even of the three. The machines of Samuelson and McCormick left a very ragged, long, and uneven stubble, though the delivery and binding of the sheaves seemed to be as good as in the oats trial. The remaining machines, with the exception of that of Mr. King, then attempted a trial; but Howard’s machine having too smooth a face to the driving wheel, was unable to drive the gears in the wet ground. The damp weather had no doubt tightened the canvas carriers, and added to the work; but this was the only machine that was found incapacitated because of the rain. Unfortunately the plots of this machine and the Johnston harvester were in juxtaposition, so that Johnston was blocked by the former, and could not proceed, and Aultman’s machine alone went through with its work. There was no improvement in the separation of the sheaves, and the misses were rather more frequent than earlier. The sheaves, too, were somewhat wanting in neatness. These barley trials must be looked upon as unsatisfactory, on account of the condition of the crop, and it is to be hoped that all these machines may have a more favorable opportunity of demonstrating their abilities.

The following are the awards of the judges: Gold medal – McCormick & Co.; Silver medals – Mr. Samuelson and Johnston & Co.; Highly commended – Mr. H. J. King, for tying and separating sheaves. 

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