Balin' Beauty

| July 2003

The photograph John Wolfe held in his work-weathered hands was faded and tattered, but the striking image was unmistakable. The photo showed a giant oak tree fallen across an old International Harvester Co. hay press, seemingly trapped forever by the tree's tangled branches. Fortunately for John and the hay press, that scene was just the beginning of the story.

After a few days spent cutting the old oak into firewood, John managed to uncover the hay press: a 1914 International Harvester powered by a 4-hp IH-made Titan engine. Even though he rescued it in fall of 2002, the Faucett, Mo., native was very familiar with the machine. He'd first seen it on Clyde Miles' St. Joseph, Mo., farm where John and his family have baled hay and raised crops since 1949.

Clyde's father bought the hay press new, John says, and used it on the farm where they raised wheat, as well as alfalfa sold each year to feed livestock at the nearby St. Joseph stockyard. The hay press served the Miles family well until it was replaced by modern baling equipment after World War II. More than 30 feet long with its wooden tongue, the hay press was too big to fit inside the barn, so it was parked behind an old shed and fair game for falling trees.

Although the hay press was exposed for more than 50 years, Clyde had placed a sheet of tin roofing over it years before deflecting the rain. 'It wouldn't have been worth a plug nickel without that tin,' John declares.

John tried to convince Clyde to sell the press when his family rented the Miles' farm during the 1960s, but he always refused. Then in the early 1970s, Clyde gave the press to John and he's owned it ever since. The hay press remained on the Miles' farm until the tree nearly destroyed the antique, how-ever, and John realized that the machine must be removed and restored or it would be lost forever.

John's an old hand with old iron, so the effort was a labor of love. The IH hay press was a good fit for the life-long farmer, because he also collects IH tractors and Cub Cadets. He owns 35 of the famed red farm machines - all manufactured before 1960 - with some still in use around the farm. Few of his tractors are restored. 'There's just not enough time,' John says.