Minnesota man restores rare Minnesota-made Wagner-Langemo Hooverizer threshing machine
Roger Haugen remembers seeing threshing machines operate in fields, but only worked with them one time. “As a little kid, I can remember running out and jumping on the truck and riding out into the field,” he says. “I only threshed once, and I think that was when everybody was already done with the old threshers, and a guy decided to thresh to get a straw pile in his yard.”
But that one experience must have left a lasting impression, as he now has five antique threshing machines in his collection of old farm relics. Roger’s interest in old iron goes back to 1955 when his father took him to see tractors at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag. “I thought, ‘Good grief, why do we have to go down there? We have enough old tractors around here.’”
But it must not have been all bad. “After seeing movies that Dad took, I made the trip to Rollag in 1956,” he recalls. “A friend of mine had bought a 1919 20-40 Case and restored it. I’d seen that tractor parked in the trees for years. In 1959, he sold it to me.“
That was the starting point for Roger’s collections, which today number 15 tractors, five threshing machines, phonographs, radios, cream separators (“Anything dairy,” he says) and more. “Maybe if you came up here you could figure out why I collect all this stuff,” he says with a chuckle.
One of Roger’s prize acquisitions is a 1922 Wagner-Langemo 24-41 “Hooverizer” thresher (learn more about the Hooverizer in related article on page 21). “A fellow by name of Alfred Chapman down by Dent, Minn., was rumored to have more than 300 threshing machines in his collection at one time,” Roger says. “When I first went down there, he had more than a hundred, all lined up in a monster parking lot at the edge of Dead Lake. In 1994, I heard he was having them crushed and sent up to Canada, so in the fall I figured I’d better go down there and save some of them.”
On that trip Roger bought a 40-64 Minneapolis threshing machine. His friend, Norman Bjerndahl, was looking for parts for another Minneapolis when they stumbled onto a building with a few more threshing machines inside. “Norman said, ‘I think there are a couple of Wagner-Langemos in there.’ We went in and looked them over,” Roger says. “I didn’t think much about them until I started doing some research and discovered they were kind of rare. I knew once they were gone they’d be gone.”
He took a trailer down and ended up buying both of the wooden threshers. “They were in such bad condition, nobody in their right mind would even have hauled them home,” he says. With help from his wife, Alaine, Roger tore into the one in the worst condition. “I thought if we could restore this one,” he recalls, “the other one wouldn’t be any problem.” Eventually he discovered both were equally rough and he sold the second unit.
Roger started by removing the thresher’s wood shell. Individual panels were bolted to a metal frame. He salvaged the original wood, half-inch thick panels of wainscoting identical to those once used to make kitchen cabinets.
Then came the decision of what color to paint the restored piece. Traces of original red and green showed under a pulley. “Tom Langemo, Edward’s grandson, gave me a good picture of a factory-colored machine,” Roger says. “That helped a lot.”
Roger’s daughter, Gail Hustad, and her then-husband Bill Rutherford drove 50 miles almost every evening to help paint the old relic. They covered both sides; the decades-old wood soaked up paint like a sponge. “It took a lot of paint,” says Roger, who tells people he only had to paint one side because it was sucked all the way through to the other side.
When that was finished, it was time to replace the wood shell. “I marked the pieces when I removed them,” Roger says, “but bolting them back onto the frame in the right spots was probably the most difficult part of the entire restoration.”
As the project progressed, the “to do” list only grew longer. Digging deeper into the machine, Roger discovered the straw racks needed to be rebuilt. “They were completely gone,” he says. He thought the shoe (the area where air blows the chaff away) might be good, but it wasn’t, so he had to rebuild that. “It’s not the blower that throws the straw out onto the straw pile, but another one in the middle of the machine,” he explains, “probably two feet around and about as wide as the threshing machine.”
The thresher’s wheels were in fine condition. “These threshers were pretty small, run with a small tractor like the Fordson,” Roger says, “so they didn’t travel farm to farm all fall like the big threshers.” And because it was built of wood, the thresher had little rust, other than that found on a small amount of channel iron.
Another of Roger’s daughters, Wanda Schoenhardt, a Minneapolis-based sign painter, painted the Hooverizer signs and made decals. “The paint was still wet by the time we got it ready to take to the show at Rollag,” Roger says. “I never thought the process would take that long. It always takes three to five times as long as you think. The more I worked on it, the more I found. I’d never planned on standing up in the middle of it on the ground, with everything gone except the frame and roof.”
Identifying the Hooverizer is a bit of a challenge, in that no company records are known to exist. “Nobody knows about the serial numbers or year of production,” Roger says. “I know this one is an earlier version, and since the company started in 1919, I’d say this one is about a 1922.”
The only obvious difference between his two versions is the feeder. Early models contained a short Langdon feeder. Later, after about 1925, a longer Hart feeder was used. Though Roger’s Hooverizer is also marked with the “Hart” name, he doesn’t use that to date the piece. “I didn’t know the differences until I did a little research,” he says.
Roger displayed his Hooverizer at Rollag for nearly 10 years before he advanced to Stage Two. “During that time it was a static exhibit, painted and looking decent,” he says. “But it didn’t run.” That changed in 2007, when show organizers announced plans to operate all 14 threshers displayed at that summer’s show. “Up until then I had never run the machine,” Roger admits.
But he had all the original belts and chains for his Hooverizer. Using old pictures, Roger and friends Wimpy Anderson and Karl Stange figured out how the belts went on. The chains required a bit of adjustment. After removing a few links, Roger says, they worked fine.
Next they discovered the main pulley was shot. “It took three of us all afternoon to get it off,” Roger says, “and without help from these two guys, I would never have made it.” Jim Briden put a sleeve in the new pulley and the machine was ready to try.
On the first day, the Hooverizer ran 10 minutes before it broke down. “That was better than the second day,” Roger says, “when it only lasted five minutes.” Since then, the machine has run longer and longer. The last time it was used, an entire wagonload of shocks went through it before it threw a belt.
The one negative of the Wagner-Langemo thresher is a straw auger at the back. “With a smooth grain pan, the Hooverizer has to be set up on a little slant so straw will slide to the back,” Roger says. “If it’s set up level, the straw stays up front and doesn’t slide out.”
The operator needs to open the back door occasionally to see how the straw is doing. “The straw auger is setting right below you as you open the door and it’s running so fast you can’t even see it,” Roger says. “If you stuck your hand or anything else in there, it would be gone. It’s not dangerous if you know what you’re doing. But it’s definitely not OSHA.”
The Wagner-Langemo stands in a class by itself. “This thresher is a different machine than others,” Roger says, “because it’s made mostly out of wood, and instead of allowing straw to fall into the blowers, it uses a straw auger. It’s the only machine I’ve ever seen with a straw auger.” FC
For more on the history of Wagner-Langemo, read History of Wagner-Langemo and Its Threshing Machinery from the August 2011 issue.
For memories of threshing, read Close Call with Wood Bros. Separator from the August 2011 issue.
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.