New Idea hay loader is breath of fresh air at Minnesota old iron show
Glenn Holicky became an old iron collector when he was in his 20s. But his love of old machinery began when he was just a child. “Dad bought a new Massey-Harris combine when I was 7, and I was just amazed by that machine,” he says. “He’d get into the field with it and after a while he’d say, ‘If we could keep the combine moving all the time, we could make up a lot of time during the day,’ because it took at least five minutes to stop, unload and get going again each time the hopper was full.”
His solution was to have Glenn drive a Massey Ferguson 35 tractor with a wagon alongside the combine when the hopper got full. “I was so excited to drive alongside the combine under the unload spout while the grain was unloaded,” Glenn recalls. “I was proud and amazed by the combine and it just grew on me. I couldn’t wait for school to get out and the grain to turn yellow so I could help with the harvest.”
That fervor burns bright today: Glenn has a complete collection of every Massey-Harris self-propelled combine ever made, except the original one his father had. “He traded it in on a larger one, and years later I looked for that old combine but I couldn’t find it,” Glenn says. “But I do have one of the scale models.”
When Glenn started collecting old machinery, he wanted something different – so he started collecting old combines. Remembering the equipment he grew up with, his first choice was Massey-Harris. But a New Idea hay loader slipped in almost by chance.
Ten years ago, Glenn and his father-in-law, Bob Riebel, were at a farm south of Lake Washington, Minn., with two trucks and trailers, loading machinery Bob had bought. “We hadn’t gone there for the hay loader, but that was part of the deal,” Glenn says. “The guy wanted us to take it so everything would be cleaned up.”
The New Idea languished in a shed for six years until Glenn gave it a second look. Looking for new ways to liven up demonstrations at the Le Sueur County (Minn.) Pioneer Power Show, he remembered the piece in the shed. “I figured a lot of the kids in the 20-to-30-year-old age range had never seen anything like this,” he says. “So we loaded it up five years ago and took it over to the show grounds and started using it.”
Dating to the 1930s, the hay loader was in good shape; all it needed was oil and grease. “It worked beautifully,” Glenn recalls. “A lot of these kinds of machines were built by New Idea, John Deere and McCormick-Deering, and a lot of them are still around, but the wood is rotted off many of them. It was pretty unique to get hold of this one, because it’s in such great shape. We’ve kept this one shedded all the time.”
For the first couple of years, Glenn hooked up the loader to an International Model H tractor with a wide front end. Last year he decided to try it with horses. When friends offered use of their team, the plan moved into high gear.
“That’s how a loader like this was usually used,” Glenn explains. “The horses straddled the hay while the hay loader went over the swath and picked it up. The hay went up the rake teeth and was pulled up until it slid off the back of the loader into a chute and into a wagon.”
There, a couple of men with 3-tine pitchforks forked it back until the wagon was full. Back in the day, sling ropes would then be attached to the barn’s carrier to lift the load of hay and dump it in the barn. Alternatively, Glenn says, some farmers forked the hay into the mow or else made round haystacks in the field.
To operate the machine in demonstrations, usually twice a day during the show, Glenn brought a round bale of marsh hay, unrolled it and used pitchforks to spread it into two swaths. Then the loader was pulled over the swaths just as it would have been in the field. After each demonstration, the swaths were reformed – a lot of hard work for three days. Last year, after rain showers kept the demonstration in dry docks, Glenn figured the hay would be too wet if it was unrolled, so he tried, well, a new idea.
“I was leery of straw, because I’ve never loaded it before,” he says. “I was afraid it was too fine and the loader wouldn’t push it up. In order for the machine to work, the hay on the bottom has to keep coming and push up the hay on the top, so it takes 25-30 feet of moving over a swath to have enough hay to feed it all the way up to the top.” But in practice, the straw worked fine.
The hay loader’s heyday came a bit before Glenn’s time, but he had an idea how it worked. “What surprised me was how well it worked,” he says, “picking up the swath and putting it right into the wagon like it was supposed to.”
Years ago, he says, if the hay was dry, a farmer would use a 5-foot hay mower and go right down the swath with the hay loader. If the hay was thin or had been wet, the farmer raked it into a swath to dry and then picked it up. Clogging the loader could be dangerous, Glenn figures. “The wheels would slip and the pressure could break some of the boards,” he says, “as wood is what was used to pull the hay up and over the back and into the chute.”
Glenn and his brother, Gary, had been looking for a 1-row New Idea corn picker to help make a more realistic experience for visitors at the annual Le Sueur show. “I knew New Idea made a fantastic corn picker for its time,” Glenn says. “I’d seen them still used into the 1970s. They built a really nice picker that would pick corn nice and clean, and the machine was popular.”
Glenn and Gary found a No. 7 New Idea 1-row corn picker at an auction. Their winning bid won them a piece in fine working condition. “Almost nothing needed to be done,” Glenn says. “Those pickers were pretty trouble-free. We tightened a few chains, oiled and greased it up good and brought it to the show. Those pickers never really were worn that badly because they never picked a thousand acres; they picked 20-30 acres and went back in the shed. None of them were worked very hard.”
Glenn said he’s heard New Idea also made a very good steel-wheel hay rake, one with two wheels in front and two swivel wheels in back. “That would fit in the with the New Idea hay loader,” he says. “We’re using a pretty modern rake now, a New Holland 56, so I thought we’d better get back to the era of the steel wheel hay rake and make it more authentic.”
The New Idea loader can’t be used in a stationary position. “It is ground-driven, powered by its own two front wheels,” Glenn notes. “Years ago they didn’t haul them; they pulled them down the road.”
When the machine was pulled from field to field, a pair of slip clutches – one on the outside of each axle – allowed the loader to be moved to its next position without the workings moving. “That shut off the pickup and loading part until they got into the field,” Glenn explains, “where the clutches were engaged and the machine started up.”
Glenn says the New Idea hay loader has become a hit at the Le Sueur show. “People really love it,” he says. “They come down to the field and sit on straw bales we’ve set out and watch. They’re just amazed by that loader. It’s one of our star attractions; so many people have never seen one in operation. One year I wasn’t going to run it, and my wife said, ‘You have to run it. People are waiting to see it.’ People are just thrilled with it.”
That kind of enthusiasm keeps Glenn fueled up. “This hobby can be a lot of work, but I’m still looking for more old stuff,” he says. “Old iron brings up good memories of people working together.” FC
For more information:
— Glenn Holicky, 36086 221st Ave., Le Center, MN 56057.
Read about the beginnings of a successful and inventive company in Joseph Oppenheim's New Idea.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: email@example.com.