Rotary Reaper Saved from the Scrap Man

Curtis Baldwin's innovative Rotary Reaper comes roaring back to life.

| October 2016

  • Wilfred Ables with the Rotary Reaper at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • The Rotary Reaper cut with a special sickle in combination with tapered steel guards (shown here) and delivered with a spiral conveyor.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • The Rotary Reaper is semi-mounted on an International Harvester Farmall F-20.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • The combine’s lift and drives.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • The Rotary Reaper’s sieve unit going together.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • A tree was growing through the combine’s outer wheel assembly, so the previous owner cut off the branch and left the iron in the tree. Years later, when the tree died and crumbled, Richard retrieved the assembly.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • Richard hand-lettered the manufacturer’s name on his Rotary Reaper.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • Curtis Baldwin’s Bear Cat combine with reel.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Hauling the unrestored Rotary Reaper from Kansas to Iowa.
    Photo courtesy Wilfred Ables
  • A pull-type Rotary Reaper on display at the Old Threshers grounds, Culbertson, Mont.
    Farm Collector archives
  • A 1940 photo of the Rotary Reaper at work in the field.The only non-rotary processing elements in the Rotary Reaper are the cutter bar and cleaning shoe.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Author Richard Stout
    Photo by Richard Stout


PATENT NO. 2,212,465 – SERIAL NO. 113
CYLINDER, BAR, OVERSHOT, CHAIN DRIVE, 34 inches wide, 1,200 rpm; 9-foot swath
LENGTH OF SEPARATOR: 140 inches of raddle chain
BIN CAPACITY: 38 bushels

Wilfred Ables, who lived west of Clay Center, Kansas, came home with many unusual farm machines over the years. He told his neighbor, Jim Unruh (who is also my son-in-law), that he was hauling home an uncommon combine that he had gotten at a farm sale. Jim sent photos to me. It was unusual, all right. It was a Rotary Reaper, built in the early 1940s in Ottawa, Kansas, by Curtis C. Baldwin.

I had reworked a Fordson-mounted Gleaner combine in part, but this was a really different machine. I saw Wilfred at the Waukee, Iowa, swap meet the next May, and he wanted to know when I was coming out to buy that combine. In July, I went out to Kansas. Wilfred had laid out the parts somewhat as they should go together. Wilfred did this kind of thing a lot with old cars, tractors or what not. Someone would come, drooling and dreaming over what the project would look like when it was done. Wilfred said you had to pick the cherries when they were ripe.

The Rotary Reaper was unusual in that it had a stripper head and used blowers instead of elevators to move grain into the bin and return the tailings. Years before, someone had torn the sieve unit apart and took the two fans to be used on a truck to unload grain.

When Wilfred was hauling the combine home, a wheel unit had a tree growing through it, so he just cut the unit off with a fire axe and left it in the tree. Luckily, when he was loading it, a fellow said there was a bin in a nearby barn with “Rotary Reaper” lettered on it, and Wilfred also took that home.

Later, when I got to know Gene Lahodny, Concordia, Kansas, and Ernest Nutsch, Washington, Kansas, they told me that three Rotary Reaper combines were sold north of Morrowville, Kansas, a mile or two south of the Kansas/Nebraska border. Lew Prellwitz, Albert Nutsch and Joe Nutsch each got a combine. Two of the machines were tried and sent back to the factory. The Prellwitz combine, which was semi-mounted on a Farmall F-20, was used for two years in about 1940. The second year, they put a Model A Ford engine on for auxiliary power. The blowers for the bin and tailings were a problem when trying to cut tough grain.


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