Minnesotans Sweep Up Vintage Sugar Beet Equipment


| January 2009



beetMinn_scrubchain

The first rear-delivery scrub chain, built by the late Raymond Baatz, Nielsville, Minn. He used a 6-row Hesston, scrub tower from a Heath and elevator from a 4-row Farmhand. Photo by Ron Peterson, Fisher, Minn.

There may be more antique sugar beet equipment tucked away on Red River Valley farmsteads in Minnesota and North Dakota than any other place on earth.

After all, sugar beets have been grown commercially here since 1919, and the region leads the nation in sugar beet production with 600,000 to 700,000 acres grown annually.

A few years ago, Crookston, Minn., farmers Allan Dragseth and Roger Odegaard set out to preserve the area’s history of sugar beet production. In 2004, they formed the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Museum, Inc., purchased two buildings and several acres of land and began retrieving vintage equipment from tree rows and old sheds.
Today, the museum occupies 13,000 square feet of indoor display area and 11 acres of outdoor display and farm ground. Exhibits include horse-drawn walking plows, cultivators, weeders and beet lifters, and dozens of tractor-powered beet thinners, toppers, harvesters, lifters and loaders dating from the 1940s to ’60s.

Allan, a self-described “saver” whose grandfather and father began growing sugar beets here in the early 1920s, says he and Roger probably donated 40 percent of the equipment on display, with the remainder coming from farmers within an 80-mile radius.

“We have 15 1-, 2- and 3-row beet harvesters, including International Harvester, King-Wize, John Deere, Farmhand, Marbeet, Hesston and Scott Urshal models,” says Allan. “One of our unique items is a Harvall harvester that looks like a torture chamber. It was developed by American Crystal in the mid-1940s, and has shoes that dug the beets out of the ground, and two spiked wheels about 6 or 7 feet tall that impaled the beets and raised them up to spinning discs that cut off the tops.

“We also have a machine with the first rear scrub chain developed by the late Raymond Baatz. He started with a 6-row Hesston, and added the scrub chain tower from a Heath and the elevator from a 4-row Farmhand. He changed the spiral on the grab rolls to deliver to the center, so it worked from the start.”