Decorative Miniature Straw Bales

Illinois collector's miniature straw bales are a popular show attraction.

| August 2005

Clarence Keiser, Witt, Ill., prefers his straw bales on the "manageable" side - that is, 6 inches wide, 6 inches tall and 14 inches long, to be exact. In recent years, he's been a regular at vintage farm equipment shows near Witt, where he sells his easy-to-carry miniature bales for $3 apiece to folks who use them in decorative ways.

Clarence says he didn't really start out to build a miniature baling business, but enjoys it just the same. He bought his homemade baler from a Chatham, Ill., man who built it, and then had to sell it because of illness.

"The parts were rehabbed from various other pieces of farm machinery," Clarence says. "The flywheel, for example, has 'IHC' stamped on it."

A Massey-Harris collector at heart, Clarence mostly uses his 3 hp, throttle-governed No. 2 Massey-Harris stationary engine to power the baler, although he says an electric motor works well, too. He bought the 1920s-era Massey-Harris engine from a private museum. It starts on gas and switches to kerosene, and is water-cooled, although Clarence runs antifreeze in it. He operates the engine at 250 rpm to make the bales, and says he can fashion 12 to 15 pint-size pieces from a regular-size square bale.

Each of the minis is bound with wire, just like the full-size models. Clarence makes winter work of creating a supply of wire to use through the show season. Each piece has to be about 40 inches long to wrap around a bale lengthwise, with an eye on one end for secure fastening; two are needed per bale.

The engine he uses on the miniature baler isn't Clarence's only piece of Massey-Harris equipment. He says his father's first tractor was an International, "but then he went to Massey in 1948," and Clarence is with Massey still. He's been collecting vintage pieces in recent years and among his tractors are a 1938 Challenger, a 55D Western-style dating to 1950, and a Model 44 diesel dating to the early 1950s.