Nothing Beats the Ol' Case


| October 2003


Case combine cut wheat and left sweet memories

I still marvel at the invention of the sickle bar and reel. Those innovations enabled the grain binders and combines to harvest the golden grains we grew on our Michigan farm in the mid-20th century.

I'd sit on the old McCormick-Deering 10-20's seat as it pulled and powered the combine in low gear, almost at an idle, while the heavy Case combine trailed behind me, and devoured the tall stems of wheat. The sickle knives created their own unique sound and rhythm, so quiet and smooth - and deadly - in their task of slicing anything standing in their path. Age and wear would eventually alter their smooth motions to a loud clatter through years of use.

As I watched the grain fall to the canvas behind the sickle, laid down by the silent slats of the reel as it slowly turned above, it occurred to me that the sickle did the dirty work. It unmercifully cut the once-growing, living wheat. The reel seemed gentle by comparison. Just as a soldier eases a dying comrade to the ground, the reel softly, quietly laid the once-tall grain onto the canvas below. From there, the unknowing stalks were a split-second from total destruction. The canvas was striped with thin, wooden slats and seemed oblivious to its part in the deadly work. Continually moving, always upward, it threw its grain into the flailing arms that lay hidden just out of sight.

Separating the tiny kernels of wheat from the straw and chaff was done in secret. Belts sang, arms moved, shafts turned and chains rattled on both sides of the big combine. The only evidence of the commotion inside was a steady flow of clean, reddish-brown wheat kernels dropping into the 25-bushel hopper. The broken, bent straw stems fell gently atop the stubble almost at the exact spot where they stood swaying in the breeze just seconds before.



In the early 1950s, my dad purchased a 6-foot Case combine, looking for the biggest metal thresher that he could find. Wider, larger and much taller than the neighbor's Massey-Harris or John Deere 6-foot combines, the Case was so big and heavy that the tongue holding it to the rear of the tractor had to be welded and reinforced several times during its tenure on our farm.

Balanced on two large wheels, the combine pushed the old 10-20 slightly sideways when we turned on an  incline. It did do a wonderful job of cleaning the wheat, however. We didn't get too much chaff back from the mill after drying our load, but it took more than an hour each morning for Dad to grease the dozens of zerks that dotted the gears, chains and pulleys on the larger combine.














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