Antiques Collector Restores Osborne No. 8 Reaper

Osborne No. 8 reaper eased back-breaking work of harvest.

| December 2012

When David Petersburg attended an estate sale in the mid-1990s, he had no idea what he might end up carting home. Certainly he did not expect to come home with an Osborne No. 8 reaper dating to the early 1900s. “I work at finding horse-related equipment and I like 19th century stuff, primitives you might call them,” he says, “primarily because everybody else had a cultivator and plow, and that didn’t interest me.”

The Petersburgs owned draft horses for a number of years. During that time, they were often invited to bring their horses to a threshing show at Claremont, Minn., to give rides to show-goers. There, they became good friends with their German neighbors with whom they shared a common interest. “They were into tractors and a variety of antiques,” he says, “and my interest in old iron kind of perpetuated from there.”

Damaged Osborne No. 8 reaper not a looker

When the Osborne No. 8 reaper came up for sale, David wasn’t certain what it was and neither was anyone else at the auction. Looking suspiciously like a pile of junk, it wasn’t generating much buyer interest. “It was in such bad condition that nobody wanted to bid on it,” he says. “But I had the same reaction I have whenever I’m going after a piece of equipment. I’m like a little kid that can hardly contain himself. I guess that’s part of the passion of collecting old equipment like this. It’s very exciting for me.”

After pulling the machine out of the shed where it had been stored, David says he could see damage caused by the building falling in on it. “Also, there were wear marks inside the apron and up against the divider boards, and the only way that could have happened was if it had been pulled too fast when it was in gear, or else when it was running somebody wasn’t paying attention when they were cutting grain. The freewheeling was out of adjustment, bolts were loose and there was some damage to the bed and so on.”

Sizing up a basket case

Every antiques collector sizes up potential acquisitions in his own way. When David evaluates old machinery, he doesn’t think in terms of whether the piece is a good candidate for restoration. His acquisitions fall into one of three categories: It’s a parts donor, a piece to resell or a piece to restore. After he got the pile otherwise known as an Osborne No. 8 reaper home, he set it in an open area so he could remove broken pieces and assess what needed to be done.

“Eveners, singletrees and other wood parts I usually have lying around, or else they’re pretty easily made or modified to be correct,” he says. “Some pieces I can do pretty quick. Then I get the rest of the machine cleaned up, check the gearing and make sure it’s lined up, see that the teeth are adjusted and nothing needs to be repaired. Once that’s accomplished, I repair broken pieces or fabricate new ones.”

Three of the reaper’s rakes were badly damaged, but one was in reasonably good shape. David used that one as a pattern for replacements. A cabinetmaker cut a cross-section from one of the broken rakes and found three types of wood had been used in its construction: hickory, maple and ash. The small fingers appeared to have been made of maple. Ash was used for the backboard, and the base component was made of hickory.