McCormick No. 101 Self-Propelled Combine Still Working

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The Ryan family's No. 101 (right side view) is clad in its original paint and decals.
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More than 40 years after it was manufactured, this combine continues to earn its keep on the Ryan farm in Greece, N.Y.
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Dr. Gerald F. Ryan is a cardiologist in Rochester, N.Y. He was raised on a dairy farm in Saranac, N.Y., and was a captain in the U.S. Air Force. He and his sons – Mark, Joe and Kevin – work hundreds of acres, specializing in sweet corn for sale at local markets and their roadside stand. "Doc" Ryan also is an avid collector of IHC farm toys and memorabilia.

Ryan Farms had been looking for a small, self-propelled combine for use in their Greece, N.Y., farming operation. An upcoming auction bill listed a McCormick No. 101 self-propelled combine, perfect for the Ryans’ grain harvesting needs, especially since the family prefers International Harvester machinery.

The McCormick 101 self-propelled combines had earned a reputation as being solid workers with a dependable record over nearly 40 years. The Ryans – Mark and “Doc” – made plans to attend the auction.

As often happens in the farming business, though, time got away from Mark as he hurried to finish planting a 10-acre parcel of sweet corn. By the time he arrived at the auction, the combine had been sold. Mark tracked down the successful bidder and looked him up. The combine’s engine, the man said, was all he was after.

It was, Mark thought, a double opportunity. After persuading the buyer to sell, Mark was able to save the No. 101 from losing its engine, and, at the same time, obtain the combine he and his dad had been after. For $400, Mark purchased the combine before the buyer even got a chance to move it from the auction site.

Driving the combine from Byron, N.Y., to Ryan Farms in Greece, N.Y., took Mark more than four hours. The 12-foot head made driving the combine along rural and suburban roads challenging, to say the least. But the trip was worth it: When the Ryans got their hands on the combine, they found a machine that had had very little use, and was still dressed in its original factory paint and decals.

Still, memory of that interminable drive generates a laugh for Doc: Mark drove the entire way in low range gear because he didn’t know the 101 had a faster, high range setting.

The famous No. 101 Harvester Threshers were first built in 1956. Farmers quickly fell in love with these great machines that were once advertised as having “harvest hurrying capacity.” Factory ads boasted about the No. 101:

“Helps you avoid field and weather losses. Steady, even feeding to the big positive-driven rasp bar. Cylinders give clean, positive threshing, and it’s unmatched for field shelling of corn with easily-mounted corn head. Precise, easy-to-make outside adjustments speed the change from small grain to larger seed to beans, and then to com. Attachments to meet every harvest need.”

It was a popular combine with production running until 1961, when the No. 303 self-propelled combine was introduced, replacing the 101.

The Ryan No. 101 self-propelled combine was one of the first self-propelled combines in the Monroe County area. It’s obvious that it was never allowed to sit outside overnight. The combine’s original owner is not known, but the second owner was Jack Shakeshaft, Churchville, NY, where it was used to combine wheat and oats for about 20 years. Outdated but not outworked, the No. 101 was retired to storage for several years. My research indicates that it turned up in a farm machinery auction, where Mark Ryan found it. Today, the Ryans treat this little combine with the respect it deserves. Only minor maintenance and repairs have been necessary since they took ownership.

All this combine talk reminds me of a local fanner, Bob Fleming, who did custom harvesting in this area with his McCormick combine back in the 1960s. Another farmer friend, Dick Maier, a real combine scholar, told me that Bob used a McCormick No. 303. The No. 303 had the same gasoline engine as was used in the Farmall 706 tractor. That was a huge engine back then.

My dad used to grow some wheat, but not enough to warrant using his own combine. I can still see Bob coming up the road with that big red machine to combine our wheat. It was always an exciting time for us kids.

A friend of mine, Bob Rickman, who grew up on a farm down the road from ours, told me of Alf Volkmar, another custom harvester popular in our area 40 years ago. Alf used a unique Minneapolis Moline Uni-tractor, he recalled. It was a three-wheeled power unit that would take a Uni-Combine, Uni-Baler, Uni-Husker or Uni-Forager. It steered by a single wheel on the back of the machine.

Today’s modern combines offer so much more ease and comfort with their computerized controls and air-conditioned, fully-enclosed operator’s cabs. But Mark chuckles and says he really enjoys the open cab of the No. 101. I believe this combine has outlasted most from its time, and many machines a lot newer. It has clearly demonstrated its tenacity over the decades, and I predict it will continue to outlive many combines rolling off today’s production lines. FC

Gene Preston grew up on a family farm in western New York, and continues to grow produce while using his restored Farmall tractors and machinery. During the off-season he also enjoys writing about using and collecting old farm machinery. Contact him at or phone (716) 225-7218.

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