The Challenging Restoration of John Deere Corn Shellers

Antique John Deere corn shellers showcase painstaking craftsmanship.


| November 2013



Eagle Corn Sheller

An Eagle corn sheller. Eagle Machine Co. was based in Lancaster, Ohio. This sheller was restored by Dutch.

Photo By Ted “Dutch” deHaan

What started out as a simple woodworking hobby has grown into something way beyond my early interests. I began by restoring an old cider press and then found myself at farm auctions, looking for items that were essentially “beyond hope” from a structural perspective. These implements — corn shellers, cider presses, feed grinders, scales and horse-drawn items like single-row corn planters — were predominately wood. All of their mechanical parts were present but because of the condition of the structure, they only qualified for a total rebuild. Almost all were free-standing, hand-operated units.

Many such pieces are very old. Some were made as early as the mid-1800s, others date to the early 20th century. I continued to focus mainly on these older “wood-frame” pieces for a number of years until someone brought me a John Deere corn sheller to restore. Although I still worked on older items like cider presses, that sheller launched me into a series of John Deere restorations, which in turn forced me to move beyond my typical woodworker comfort level. Working for private collectors, I’ve done total restorations on more than a dozen cider presses as well as feed choppers, horse-drawn planters and gas engines.

Preserving the past

Along with these projects came a variety of obstacles (or opportunities). The first thing to surface early in all my restoration work was the need for basic hardware, typically square-head nuts and bolts. Then I needed old-style wood screws. A number of solutions existed 10 to 15 years ago but many of those sources have dried up. Vintage chain presented a whole new lesson for me. Detachable link chain made of malleable iron is another story entirely.

Since most of these implements predated the availability of modern day “steel,” the metal parts were almost exclusively cast iron. Cracked cast iron parts can, in most cases, be welded. Broken parts raise significant issues, depending on their specific function. Since speeds on these machines are relatively slow, many broken parts could be repaired. Later I got involved in replacement parts.

Graphics also became an issue, as many old implements had custom stenciling that is very difficult to replicate. On my first project, I actually made a stencil and spray-painted lettering through the stencil. I was less than totally pleased with the result. I began to use cut graphics for new projects but found it very difficult to replicate original fonts and shapes as they were made from one-of-a-kind stencils cut from thin sheets of brass. Graphics software provides great flexibility in this work.

As the steel industry advanced, the use of sheet metal made great inroads in some shellers. Unfortunately, sheet metal parts had a significantly shorter life span than their earlier wooden counterparts. The replacement of sheet metal parts can require some unique forming capabilities but, for the most part, it can be done without too much grief.