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Restoring a Wooden McCormick-Deering Threshing Machine

Friends team up to breathe new life into a 1923 McCormick-Deering threshing machine.

| October 2016

  • Jim and Tim unfold the feeder from transportation mode.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Most of the thresher’s history is unknown, but Jim does have documentation showing that Edward Schier bought it in the early 1940s and used it on his farm near McMillan, Wis., until 1956.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Years ago, as portions of the thresher’s feeder became worn, a previous owner patched the holes with what are now antique tin signs.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • The Hart cleaner, which removed weed seed from the grain, was optional equipment. A bushel scale and a bagger, driven by the auger shaft, was also an option.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Examination of the thresher’s underside revealed traces of original paint. “The T-axles still had original paint,” Tim says. “That’s how we knew what colors to use.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • The thresher’s original workmanship was impressive, Tim says. “For being a machine shop in the 1920s, they did amazing work,” he says.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Friends Jim Koltes (left) and Tim Fischer.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Original detail on the thresher was just clear enough to enable production of new decals.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Original detail on the thresher was just clear enough to enable production of new decals.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • The thresher in its “before” state. The two men invested more than 2,000 hours in the restoration.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus

This is a story about the restoration of a 1923 McCormick-Deering wood-frame 22x38 threshing machine. But in actuality, this story is bigger than an old thresher, even if it is a rare piece. This is the story of an old thresher brought back to life by two people working side by side. It is the story of two men learning from each other. And in the end, it is a story of a friendship. As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The thresher

The threshing machine was in good shape for its age, but condition didn’t matter to the seller. He just wanted rid of the old thing. He put a classified ad in a magazine. If he didn’t get any takers, it was going to the junkyard.

“I saw the ad in a paper or a farm magazine in the fall of 2013,” Jim Koltes recalls.

“He reads every ad in every magazine ever published, ever,” says his neighbor and friend, Tim Fischer, in mock exasperation.

Jim owns a 1913 Nichols & Shephard 20-70 steam engine his dad bought for $250 in 1945. For 40 years, he, his brothers and his dad used the engine to steam tobacco beds, killing weed seeds. Jim wanted a Red River Special thresher (the line was built by Nichols & Shepard) to pair with the steam engine, but they’re hard to come by. When the McCormick-Deering turned up, he decided to hedge his bet. He’d continue to look for a Red River Special, but in the meantime he’d keep a fine antique out of the junkyard, and mark an item off his bucket list.

The friendship

The two men met when Tim moved into the neighborhood near Jim’s home in DeForest, Wisconsin. “We’ve become great friends,” Tim says. “I’m a city boy from Green Bay. I didn’t know what a corn plant was when I moved here. Jim’s taught me a lot.”


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