Farm Collector

The Little Self-Propelled Baler from New Holland

The day was bright and hot and there was a flurry of activity at the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Association’s 58th annual show last summer at Pastime Park, Plain City, Ohio. A Russell steam engine was belted to a veneer lathe, an Eclipse steam engine was working a shingle mill, a pair of Rumely Oil Pull tractors were belted in tandem to a single Baker fan. Nearby, horse-powered wheat harvesting equipment took wheat from the field to the kitchen: threshing grain, pressing straw into bales, winnowing chaff from grain and grinding grain into flour.

In the midst of all that motion, a New Holland self-propelled hay baler was ready to go to work. At 3 p.m. the threshing crew would separate wheat from stalks using a big Rumely Oil Pull belted to a Red River Special separator. Then it would be time for Bob Bowersmith and his 1957 New Holland Model SP-166 self-propelled hay baler to take center stage.

A native of Plain City, Bob now lives in Radcliff, Ky. Retired from more than 24 years in the U.S. Army, he never lost touch with his roots in rural America, especially his hometown. Seven years ago, he and Jim Cassel discovered the unusual New Holland baler at an Indiana farm auction. Unfortunately, bidding did not reach the seller’s reserve price. But the pair did not give up, contacting the owner on subsequent occasions and trying to work a deal. Finally, they succeeded. Having completing restoration of the self-propelled baler, the two now exhibit and demonstrate the New Holland at farm shows, including the Plain City show, where it is used in the wheat harvest.

Although New Holland had a solid track record of producing quality hay balers for many years, the company built just 305 of the self-propelled balers. Always striving to modernize, mechanize and make life easier for farmers, New Holland successfully introduced many improvements in their hay-handling machines. The SP-166 was the company’s first attempt to produce a machine to reduce the number of pieces of equipment a farmer needed to make hay.

New Holland was not the only manufacturer to develop self-propelled balers. Minneapolis-Moline brought out its Uni-Tractor in 1950. This machine was a unique power system upon which could be mounted a series of attachments, including a Uni-Windrower, a Uni-Forager (forage harvester), a Uni-Harvestor (combine), a Uni-Huskor (to harvest ear corn), a Uni-Picker/sheller (to harvest shelled corn) and the Uni-Baler (hay baler).

The New Holland self-propelled hay baler is made of components from several different manufacturers. It uses the traditional New Holland baler system, including the pick-up and feeding unit, the plunger and bale chamber, and string-tying system including twine chambers, needles and knotters.

It has a Cockshutt front end with steering mechanism and wheels. It uses two air-cooled Wisconsin Model TFD 2-cylinder engines with 3-1/4-by-3-1/4-inch bore and stroke. The engines develop 15 hp each; one engine provides power to move the baler and the other powers the baling mechanism itself. The SP-166 has a 4-speed Ford truck transmission with three working gears and one road speed of about 12 mph. One gas tank mounted under the driver’s seat provides fuel for both engines.

One generator is used to charge one battery for the electrical system. The single electrical system provides power to the starter on either engine. Otherwise, the two engines operate separately with separate controls for each. The little self-propelled baler is small and easy to steer and move around. It is very responsive and, with the two engines, sufficiently powerful. During wet seasons, some farmers resorted to mounting a dual wheel on the motor side to provide better flotation, but Bob’s baler does not have a dual wheel.

Bob says when he tightens the screws on the bale chamber, he can produce 60- to 80-pound bales of straw. He aims to punch out a 70-pound bale, just for ease of handling. It doesn’t take long for him to bale the straw pile from the daily threshing demonstration. It is fascinating to watch the little New Holland baler and its operator work together, just like they were made for each other. And it gives Bob great pleasure to return to his hometown each July to participate in the annual tractor show. He meets old friends, visits his family and gets to show his unusual baler – and drives in the hometown tractor parade. FC

For more information: Bob Bowersmith, Radcliff, Ken., (270) 351-5013.

James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. Email him at

  • Published on Jan 1, 2008
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