Massey-Harris self-propelled combine put an end to threshing.
This 1945 Massey-Harris 21A combine features the unit’s original lampshade-like Air-Brella. “It has a fan to blow away the chaff,” Steve Weeber notes. “I would highly question how well that would work. Maybe it’d work on a windy day, but otherwise I think it’d blow chaff right down your collar.” Because the combine was to be used for custom work, Steve’s father, Woody Weeber, installed dual wheels. “That was way ahead of its time for farm implements,” Steve says.
When word got out in 1945 that 500 Massey-Harris 21A combines would be made available throughout the U.S., Woody Weeber - then of Sharon Center, Iowa - made a beeline for his local Massey dealership. "There was a tremendous demand for those combines, but he was one of the first there," says his son, Steve Weeber, rural Iowa City, Iowa. "Later they sold them above sticker price. But the dealer told dad 'A deal's a deal,' and he got his at sticker price."
Woody had seen smaller, pull-type combines in action but he was fascinated by the first wave of self-propelled units. His confidence in the new technology was well-founded. "That combine put an end to threshing around here," Steve notes. "When it made its first pass around the field, everybody cheered. It meant no more binding and stacking, no more threshing machines, no more lugging straw and oats across the field."
Woody's was one of the first self-propelled combines in eastern Iowa, and certainly the first in his neighborhood. But Massey 21 and 21A combines were well known throughout the U.S. as the stars of the Harvest Brigade, the 1944 multi-state harvest by 500 Massey Harris 21 combines. Woody's 21A was even celebrated as an entry in Iowa City's July Fourth parade in 1945. But then it was time to go to work. Woody ran the combine from 1945 until about 1956, when he bought a new Massey-Harris 80 Special, and sold the 21A to neighbor Wayne Duwa.
Wayne ran the 21A for at least 20 years before buying a used 80 Special. The old Massey combine was relegated to a dark corner in the shed, but rallied once more. "Wayne actually used the 21A in the 1990s," Steve says. "One day the 80 wouldn't start, so he went out and fired up the 21A and away it went."
In the late 1990s, when Woody and Wayne talked to Steve about having the 21A restored, Steve took on the project. Steve had been wanting to restore the 80, but his restorer - Paul Lehman, Perry, Iowa - lobbied hard for the 21A. "Oh, you must do the 21A," he told Steve. "It's a historical piece."
Once into the project, Paul briefly got cold feet. "When he got it sandblasted," Steve recalls, "Paul called and said 'This thing is so ugly … are you sure you want to go ahead?'" Steve gave the green light, and Paul completed the project. In 2004, the combine was donated to the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, where it is on permanent display … and where Steve drives it in show parades. Some things never change: More than 60 years after the Massey first delighted crowds at a July Fourth celebration, it's still a crowd pleaser.