1939 New Idea Manure Spreader Restoration

Iowa man restores his father's horse-drawn New Idea manure spreader

| October 2010

Louis Klemm's earliest memories of his father's manure spreader are not exactly affectionate. "We used it when we picked corn in the fall for the hogs," he says. "I was maybe 6 or 7. Spiders – those big black-and-yellow ones, we used to call them banana spiders – would hit me in the face as I walked through the field. Every day after school in the fall, dad would come get us and we hand-husked corn. And every Saturday we hauled manure."

But time has a funny way of changing perspectives. Today, that spreader sits at center stage of a collection of family pieces Louis has carefully, meticulously preserved. "I just made up my mind I was going to restore it," he says. "People would say they couldn't figure out why I'd want to fool with a manure spreader. But it's a family piece, and that made it important."

The horse-drawn New Idea Model 10 was built in 1939. Louis' dad bought it new from a dealer in Newton, Iowa, paying perhaps $200-300 ($3,139.25-4,708.88 in today's terms). That same year he spent $900 on an Allis-Chalmers WC with a plow and cultivator – substantial purchases in the years between the Great Depression and World War II. "You'd have to be thinking things were going to be good," Louis muses.

Restored over the course of two years, the spreader was not a complex project, but it was comprehensive. Long exposed to the elements, the rig was nearly a basket case when Louis rolled up his sleeves. "I took it all apart," he says. "The guy at the machine shop ground the heads off of all the rivets and punched them out. Replacing 230 bolts took a long time. I kept going back to the hardware store to buy bolts."

He used the wire brush on his drill to clean metal parts and built a new box of No. 1 pine (complete with routed edges). Missing parts, decal placement and lettering came from a donor spreader he bought at an auction. "I got to the auction at 7 a.m. and waited 12 hours for that spreader to sell," he recalls. "I'd told my wife I wouldn't give more than $800 for it, but I ended up spending double that. But I don't drink, I don't smoke and I don't go bowling, so I just decided I'd fix up dad's spreader."

Getting the floor and sides to line up proved the biggest challenge. "You couldn't put the sides on and then the floor," Louis says. "It wouldn't work." For the lettering, he used tracing paper to copy lettering from the donor spreader, transferring the template to the panels that would make up the new box. He then painted the lettering by hand, resting the panels on sawhorses so the paint wouldn't run. "I'm hell for punishment," he says with a smile.