Growing up in a small farming community in Alberta, Canada, Ken Perkins remembers windrowers being used on all the farms in the area. So years later when he heard about a John Deere machine with a reel on it that was stowed away in a barn on a farm just 20 miles away from his home in Bennett, Iowa, he had to check it out.
What he found was a barely used PTO-driven 12-foot John Deere windrower. “In our area, the windrower is not widely used,” Ken says. “You usually have to drive across two states to find stuff like this.” The windrower, which he dates to around 1955, had been sitting in the barn, untouched, for more than 40 years. But the owner wasn’t eager to sell. So Ken waited – seven years – and in April 2010, he found himself looking at some Case equipment at another local farm. The owner of the Case equipment just happened to be the brother of the man who owned that John Deere windrower.
“The subject of the windrower came up,” Ken says. “A soft-spoken man, the brother of the guy selling the Case equipment, said he had a windrower to sell, in a whisper.” It was the same windrower Ken had seen years before. They agreed on a price and the relic was his. When Ken went to retrieve the windrower it was in the same spot he had found it seven years before.
Windrowers (sometimes called swathers) are used to cut small grains like wheat, oats and barley and are a good tool for cutting hay to feed to calves. Windrowers are still seen on farms today, but are most commonly used on crops like canola or flax – “Really, any plant where the seed gets ripe, but the shock is still fairly green so it needs time to dry,” Ken says. Windrowers use a sickle bar to cut the grain, then the grain is lifted by a reel onto a canvas that puts the crops into a windrow. “The grain dries, and then a combine is used,” Ken explains. “The windrower was the first step.”
After sitting for 50 years, the windrower was pretty dirty. Ken wanted to be gentle when cleaning it, so he started by rinsing it with a garden hose. Then he sprayed it with WD-40 to loosen the rust. Three months later, he sprayed the piece with Simple Green before pressure washing it.
Once it was clean, Ken realized what a special piece he had. “The leading edge of the wood is still square. [In use] the wood will wear very quickly, but it hasn’t,” he says. “And the original tires it was bought with are still on it.” He thinks the canvas is the original too. A sickle bar blade was sitting on top of the implement when Ken got it, so he thinks the still serrated blade that is on it was the second one and has never been used.
Ken pairs the windrower with his beautifully restored 1951 John Deere AR. It fits right in with the rest of Ken’s collection, which includes five tractors as well as disk tillers and sickle mowers. “I was raised in Alberta, and we used this type of equipment and it caught my eye,” he says. “I grew up with it so my collection includes that stuff.” FC