“I was probably 6 years old the first time I rode with my dad in the combine,” he recalls. “It was an old International. We used it to harvest flax, and I can remember sitting in the grain bin, having flax pour in on me. I’ve just always enjoyed combining; I’ve always been interested in them.”
So it comes as no surprise that a 1958 John Deere 45 is among Herb’s restoration projects. Completed in early summer of 2008, his combine marked its 50th birthday in rare style. “You don’t see many restored combines,” Herb notes, “but this one is field ready and operating.”
Herb, who lives in Springfield, Idaho, bought the combine from neighbor George Jackson in 2002. George bought the piece “nearly new” and used it to harvest about 200 acres – mostly wheat – every year until 1984. After he retired, the combine was abandoned to the yard. “He never did shed it,” Herb says. “But our climate is dry. It’s only been the last few years that you see people shedding equipment out here.”
In some respects, restoration of the 45 was easier than expected. “It didn’t take much to get it going,” Herb says. “It didn’t show that much wear: It was more rust than anything. It needed a new coil, it had a water leak in the cooling manifold and the radiator wasn’t any good; bearings, sprockets, that kind of thing.”
He worked on it, on and off, for a couple of years. “I sandblasted the header, did tin work, primed it and put it in the shop,” Herb says. “I’m really hesitant to say I ‘restored’ it. I painted over some grease and I didn’t try to fix all the rust spots. But it’s pretty well original. The decals on the reel bats aren’t original: I just thought they’d look nice. In general, it turned out good and it was fun to work on.”
He finished in early July, just in time to enter the combine in the Pioneer Day parade in nearby Aberdeen, Idaho. “George – who’s 92 – drove it in the parade and he really enjoyed it,” Herb says. “It was quite a hit. A lot of people commented that their dads had used combines like that.”
But the parade was just a test drive. Herb’s true goal was to take a photo of the 45 in action, working alongside a pair of 2007 John Deere 9760 STS combines. When the big day arrived, Herb took the 45 out, got everything ready, cut a little grain and got in position to cut with the new combines. Then, as luck would have it, the 45’s clean grain conveyor chain broke. It takes time to get parts for a 50-year-old combine, and by the time that happened, the season had ended.
The action shot is on hold until the next harvest. But Herb’s already learned a lot about his combine. “One thing I found out: It won’t run across the ground,” he says. “Most of our ground is irrigated, and they’re getting 120 to 130 bushels to the acre. These old combines were getting 80 to 90 bushels at best when George was using this one. You really have to crawl.” After his brief run, Herb unloaded about a half bin – the bin holds about 45 bushels – into a potato truck hinged on one side. “The auger isn’t tall enough to reach a regular truck,” he says.
In its day, the 45 was probably on the small side for local farm operations, Herb says. “In 1960, around here you saw a few more John Deere 55s than 45s,” he says. “When you look at scrap piles, as I did when I was looking for a radiator, you find more 55s than 45s. The 55 might have had a bigger header (the 45 has a 10-foot header) and engine.”
But don’t look for the 45 to be a regular at shows and parades. “It weighs about 7,000 pounds,” Herb says. “It’s a little heavier than a tractor but not outlandish. The biggest limitation is that to trailer this, you’ve got to pull down the clean grain elevator and take off the radiator screen and elevator on top of the grain tank. It’s a couple of hours of work to get it to 11 feet 6 inches.”
A member of the Idaho Rusty Object Nuts (IRON), Branch 7 of EDGE&TA, Herb whiles away the winter months working in his shop. “I pretty much do all my own work,” he says. Since retiring three years ago, he’s restored a Farmall H, in honor of his father; an Allis-Chalmers WD (the first tractor he bought after moving to Idaho in 1970); a John Deere A; and a Ford 8N. Several other classics are in line for restoration. “My place isn’t going to blow away,” he says with a laugh. FC
Read Herb Bohrer’s follow-up letter to Farm Collector (complete with photo of his combine working between two modern John Deere combines): “Relic John Deere combine goes to work.”
For more information: Herb Bohrer, email@example.com .