Remembering 1960s Corn Dryers and Shellers

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I was thinking the other day about some of the old machinery once used in our area that may be lost. Some was built in Minnesota; some was built by national machinery companies.

Our neighbor had a picker-sheller made by J.I. Case. It was a 2-row machine with a round tank for shelled corn. Unlike New Idea, Oliver and John Deere, this unit could only be used to pick and shell corn. On all other picker-shellers, the cob elevator and husking bed could be removed and put on the sheller.

There were no farm-shelled corn dryers 50 to 60 years ago, so you had to take the corn to the elevator (if your local elevator had a dryer). At about that time, there was a dryer built by a company in Minneapolis that you could set up to your corn crib. You put canvases around your corn crib and then blew in hot air from a big burner with a PTO-powered fan.

By the 1960s grain bins and grain dryers replaced corn cribs and became the company’s largest selling line.

If you planned on drying your corn, you put a tunnel down the center on the floor, stopping short of the far end so that you had enough corn for the hot air to be forced through to get even drying. On a round crib, you put a tunnel on the floor with a tunnel up the center and put canvas all around the crib. You left that tunnel top down in the corn also so you would have even drying.

At about that time, a company in Litchfield, Minnesota, started making a wagon dryer. It was called Arid-Air. It was a big barge box with a heater and fan on the front. You picked the box full, then put a canvas over the top. The idea behind this was you could pick and dry your corn, and put dry corn in the crib. That was okay if you had at least two of these wagons and extra tractors to run the fans. Otherwise you were kind of limited as to how much corn you could pick in one day. At the time, these dryers were fueled by kerosene.

When using combines to pick and shell, there were a lot of dryers used up here. The most popular was Behlen. There were also a few Mathews dryers (built in Crystal Lake, Illinois) and Taxowick, Butler and a few others. One that was quite popular around here and in Minnesota was Jelco made in Dassel, Minnesota. It was produced in various bushel sizes from small up to big ones for the large farmers. These dryers were automatic with controls to fill them, dry the corn and empty it into a bin. Behlen made a very popular dryer. The first ones did nothing but dry corn. I had one of those. It was a big one at that time: 400 bushels. Later I got an automatic one. All it held was 200 bushels, but once you got it set up, it would dry more corn in a day than the big one did.

Another machine was a Kato-Nokes swather made in Mankato, Minnesota. My uncle bought a 10-foot model in 1952. They made other sizes too. It had no hydraulics. It used a starter that ran off the battery to lift the reel and the platform. My uncle’s swather worked well for cutting grain; he replaced it in the late 1960s when he got a new International Harvester swather that he could also use to swath hay. The reason he bought the Kato-Nokes was he bought a new Minneapolis self-propelled combine, the first one in Meeker County. It was an SP 168 with a 6-cylinder engine with automatic transmission. He used it until 1967.

Another item made locally in Litchfield was the Cozy Cab. This came out in the early 1960s; they made aftermarket cabs for combines and tractors. They are still in business, bigger than ever after a big expansion in 2015. Milferd Smith, 64812 Csah 18, Darwin, MN 55324

More on tank conversions

Regarding Sam Moore’s July 2017 column (“Retired from battle: The Sherman tank tackles farming”): Many of us may remember an article in the June 1960 issue of Popular Mechanics titled “The Man Who Owns a Tank Corps.” It was about a guy who bought surplus military tanks and turned them into civilian uses. He ended up with 536 tanks. They had to be disarmed and moved. The engines were a hot item, but the rest of the tanks also had various uses. A good read.

Brian C. Nelson, Toledo, Ohio


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