Stewart grain shock loader an important link in evolution of the combine
About 30 years ago, Galen Redetzke heard about a Stewart grain shock loader owned by a Ghent, Minn., farmer who wanted to donate the relic to Minnesota’s Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls. “Galen (since deceased) was running the museum then. He heard about that Stewart and got us young guys at the time to do the work and go get it,” Lowell Gustafson recalls with a laugh. “The farmer was a young guy and I’m pretty sure he never used it. It was something that he inherited when he got the farm, and it had been sitting there since before his time.”
Lowell (now vice president of the museum’s board of directors) and others loaded the Stewart grian shock loader up on a trailer and transported it 20 miles back to the museum. “We hauled it back to Hanley Falls and it sat out there for about a year before we put new boards on the side that goes up the elevator, and the pickup there on the front,” Lowell says. “We found the plate that said it was a Stewart model and spray painted the entire thing red. I’m not really sure if it should be red or not, though. I don’t know why we chose that color. Very little information exists on the machine, and we’re no experts, so we can only say what we think from talking to other people, and our information isn’t etched in stone.”
Little restoration was required on the grian shock loader. “All the chains and everything were there and it was operable, except when you put it in gear,” Lowell says. “We had to do some work on that clutch, taking it apart and fixing it so when you put it in gear it got to working, but the rest of it was pretty easy.”
The Stewart grain shock loader was likely designed as a ground-driven, horse-drawn unit. “It had a couple of little wheels in front with a long pole to pull with the horses,” Lowell says. “We changed that and put on a good hitch so we could pull it with a tractor. It’s kind of an odd piece, a big clumsy thing; something that was discarded, and something that nobody wanted. It’s a contraption, but it’s a fun thing to look at.”
Little is known about the Stewart grain shock loader, including the year of manufacture. “I’d guess it’s from the early 1900s, or maybe earlier,” Lowell says. “I know there weren’t very many of them around this area. Most of them were used in North Dakota, I think, with wheat. I’ve seen three or four other grain shock loaders at different shows, but I’ve never seen another Stewart grain shock loader anywhere. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I’m just saying I’ve never seen them. They’re all the same style, but different brands. Some are even nicer than this one, even though they haven’t been repainted, but they’re operable too.”
Volunteers run the Stewart during parades at the Minnesota Machinery Museum and Pioneer Power Threshing Show & Old Timer’s Reunion each year. “We put out half a dozen shocks and run them through the machine and into the hay rack,” Lowell says. “The chains run at high speed and the shocks shoot right up on the hay rack, really fast. You can load a load of shocks in no time at all: it’s that fast. It’s kind of interesting. But we’ve found there’s a lot of waste with that, as the oats fall off the shocks going into that pickup and up into the elevator.”
Because of that, he speculates the loader was better suited to grains like wheat. “I’m sure wheat would work better because it doesn’t shell very easily,” Lowell says. “But all we have in Hanley Falls is oats to test the machine.”
In the old days, shocks were typically gathered into stacks to make picking them up easier. But in the case of the Stewart, Lowell thinks the shocks were just set up one or two at a time or left on the ground in a line in the field, and the loader was driven around the field from shock to shock. “You needed to have a hayrack beside the machine to catch them,” he explains. “Those old hayracks had fronts and sides, not like the modern ones used for hay bales. When we’re running the loader during the show parade, we’ve found it takes a little practice to get everything coordinated so it would work well. People are kind of in awe to see it work, because most of them have never seen anything like it. I was never exposed to anything like that in my 74 years around here.”
Lowell says he’s sure the machine gave operators fits in the old days. “Those long chains running the elevator eventually wear and break, and they’d have trouble with them,” he says. “But we have the original chains on ours yet, and they still work.”
“I think a lot of people would be surprised that people actually used a machine like that. Many people today don’t even know anything about shocks, but in the old days, that was a tough job, loading all those shocks,” he muses. “So it was quite a thing if you could eliminate that phase. A machine like this would eliminate two or three men working in the field, and the work would have been a lot easier than the dusty work of hauling and loading those shocks by hand into the hayrack. I’d say having a machine like this was just as big as when the combine came in and you didn’t have to pitch the shocks into the threshing machine.”
Parked inside the museum, the Stewart is one of the last items visitors see before they exit, says Mavis Gustafson, who directed Minnesota’s Machinery Museum at Hanley Falls for 20 years before her recent retirement. “People were amazed by it,” she recalls. “They always stopped and looked at it and asked about it. They were pretty much in awe that something like that existed. I always explained that it was the next step to the combine. It was part of the process of moving forward in agriculture, part of the story. It was clumsy, but they had to start someplace, trying to make life easier. I don’t know how much easier they made it, but that was a step in the right direction along the way.”
The town of Hanley Falls doesn’t allow machinery to sit outside, so the Stewart is brought out only for shows. “We’ve had that Stewart for 39 years,” Lowell says. “If we’d left it outside after we fixed it up, by now it would be just like when we got it. You can’t leave stuff that you want to show outside. The Stewart deserves a place in the building. I don’t think it has much value in dollars, but it’s valuable to look at.” FC
For more information: Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, P.O. Box 70, Hanley Falls, MN 56245; (507) 768-3522; e-mail: email@example.com; online at www.mnmachinerymuseum.com. Open May through September, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday; closed holidays.
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; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.