The eighth installment of the late Dr. Bixler’s history of the Aultman & Taylor Company appears below. The Album is serializing Dr. Bixler’s book, which affords rare insights into the life and times of a major American manufacturing firm. For more than 20 years, Dr. Bixler’s unpublished manuscript lay virtually forgotten in the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library. Then, acting on a tip from George Richey, Dr. Robert T. Rhode found the book, edited it, and prepared it for publication in the Album. In this installment, Dr. Bixler highlights Aultman & Taylor’s Separators.
Click here for part I of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part II of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part III of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part IV of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part V of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part VI of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part VII of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Aultman & Taylor built six distinct types, or classes, of separators. They were the Vibrator, Mexican, Dixie, Globe, Columbia, and the New Century. Since a description of their Vibrator separator appeared in an earlier chapter, no mention will be made of it at this point. Following the initial success of the Vibrator, the company continued to experiment, making changes and improvements on their separators.
Many of the companies named their separators for the purpose of emphasizing the qualities peculiar to their machines. With the exception of the Vibrator the Aultman & Taylor Company did not follow that practice. The names that they chose for their separators did not reflect their qualities and neither were they descriptive of the mechanism of their machines. Rather, it appears that the names of their separators were chosen primarily on the basis of the popular appeal of a name at a given time.
Thus, the “Mexican” was due in part to the popularity of their machinery in Mexico. It also had an adventurous appeal, since Mexico was not too well known at the time. “Dixie” came partly as a result of a popular song entitled “Way Down South in Dixie,” which was composed in 1859 by Daniel Decatur Emmett, a native of Mount Vernon, Ohio. The name not only became popular in the South but also had a nostalgic appeal to the Civil War veterans, many of whom were patrons of the Aultman & Taylor Company. Above all, the firm enjoyed a thriving trade in the Southern sates. The “Globe” was placed on the market in 1888, and that name signified the worldwide use of their machinery.
The “Columbia” appeared in 1893. That name had its origin in an American ballad entitled “O Columbia, the Gem of the Oceans,” popularly known as the “Red, White, and Blue.” It was composed in 1847 by Thomas A. Becket, a resident of Philadelphia, Pa. Columbia was often represented by a woman dressed in red, white, and blue. That ballad also became popular during the Civil War, and its popularity continued unabated well past the turn of the century. No patriotic gathering or Fourth of July celebration was complete without the singing of that song.
The “New Century” was ready to be placed on the market at the turn of the century, hence the name. So it is clear that the names chosen for the firm’s separators had a popular appeal.
The Dixie Separator
The improved Dixie was known as the famous “Starved Rooster” machine. Being simple in its construction, it appealed to many threshermen.
A company catalog stated, “All of the 1897 Dixies will have sheet iron pans between upper and lower shakers at rear end, to prevent straws from shooting into the sieves. The 20×32 will have five rakes and will be 21 inches longer than in 1896; it will have a flaring front, giving four inches more feeding room at the mouth of the cylinder.”
The company catalog described the separation of the Dixie separator: “All Dixies, except the two smallest sizes, have 12-bar cylinders, made out of the best soft open-hearth steel. The 17×28 and 20×32 have nine-bar cylinders. The cylinder spikes are of a special grade of steel, and all stamped with our trademark, to protect our customers from imitations. The concaves are adjustable, by means of a ratchet, to suit the condition of the grain and straw. Behind the cylinder is the heavy sheet steel beater with three wings, which takes the straw from the cylinder and assists it in knocking out the grain and carrying the straw onto the upper shaker, and absolutely preventing choking, which is so annoying and the cause of so many breakages. It also acts as a dust conveyer, as it creates quite a blast, and carries the dust out of the rear end of the machine. Now look at our shaker; it is of the utmost importance, as it is one of the chief mechanisms of a grain separator. We have four to six breaks to the straw against one to three in other machines, thus affording a great advantage over all other makes of separators. The four larger Dixies have six, the 20×32 five and the 17×28 four rakes. All sizes have notched fish backs in sections, forming two additional breaks, which cause a much thinner and speedier flow of the straw as it passes over the shakers. This adds very materially to the separation. It is through shaking of the straw and the thin flow that saves the grain. The distance which the straw must travel in our machine while in constant agitation before passing out of it, allows it no opportunity to hide any grain and carry it on to the straw pile.”
The Dixie separator’s cleaning apparatus received the following catalog commentary: “The cleaning apparatus is next in importance. Ours is an over blast supplemented by a deflector. The function of the deflector is to divide the blast in such a manner as to distribute 1-1/8-inch of it between the sieve and chaffer on lower shaker. The object of this division is to separate the chaff from the grain before it reaches the sieve, thus preventing the clogging of sieves. It is an impossibility to clog our sieves. No other machine can boast of anything like it. Our front sieve adjuster is so arranged that one or more sieves can be used.”
Finally, the catalog described the lower shaker or grain pan: “It is very important that the grain pan is absolutely true, and this we accomplish by a peculiar construction of our crank shafts. The crank chairs are toward the outer ends, two on each side in opposite directions, so that the motion of the two outer and two middle pit-mans is alternately. All sizes of Dixies have four pitmans. All our ’97 Dixies have sheet steel grain pans.“2
The Columbia Separator
It was in 1892 that the company built its first Columbia separator, which was tried out at Crookston, Minn., in the spring of that year. During the following year F.W. Galland sold their first 42×64 Columbia separator, which also went to Minnesota. That machine established a record of doing more work in a shorter time than any other machine in the territory. It was a popular machine from 1893 to 1901. During those eight years the firm probably built and sold 1,500 to 1,600 of them. The last Columbias were produced in 1901, and they were superceded by the New Century.
The catalog for 1897 states: “The cylinder has 12 double bars, which are made out of the best grade of soft steel. It is laid off by skilled mechanics, who give their entire attention to this work. The same parties also spike it. The next thing of importance is the balancing of it. This is in charge of a competent man, who has an experience of 25 years in the same line of work.”
The catalog offers this description of the fan: “The fan has an over blast. It is provided with a regulator that can be set so as to throw the wind on any part of the sieves, as the occasion or the condition of the grain may require. This feature is invaluable. The fan is driven from the cylinder shaft. The Columbia is a very quiet running machine. You can hear the hum of the cylinder, and that is music to the ear of every farmer and thresherman. Four sets of fishbacks and slatted work constitute the upper shaker. The first three sets move together – the rear one is reversed, moving forward, when the other three move backward. Now the great throw of the upper shaker comes into play, hustling the straw out so fast that it has no chance to bunch. This hustling of the straw in a thin stream over the edges of the fish backs, with the four breaks, caused by the four sets of fish backs, elevating it to an incline of 16 inches from the cylinder in the rear set of fish backs, gives us the perfect separation we claim and enables us to separate all the grain and even the chaff from the straw.”3
The catalog for 1900 carried an illustration of the Columbia separator, to which was attached a Russell wind stacker and a Parsons self-feeder. The Columbias were the company’s first separators to which those attachments were added.
The New Century Separator
On Nov. 12, 1898, it was reported to the board of directors that a new separator had been designed by Galland and built by the company. It had been subjected to practical tests that proved it to be a superior separator and cleaner. Isaac Harter Jr., presented a motion authorizing the building of 15 to 20 of various sizes of the new separator and the distribution of them over the country, so that they would be given as much testing as possible. Although Harter’s motion authorized the building of 15 to 20 the company actually constructed only three experimental Centuries during 1899. Also during 1899, the firm experimented with the Dixie but neither the experimental Dixie nor the New Century were in shape for manufacture.
Galland sold the company’s first New Century separator, the number of which was N20162. That separator was tried out at Austin, Minn., during the season of 1900. The results of the trial were most favorable and gave the company assurance that the new separator would be successful. During the year of 1901 the firm went into full production of the New Century separator.
It was in all respects the most successful, efficient, and popular of all the separators that the company built. This was due to the fact that many improvements were made on it as the years went by, so that it indeed had few peers among all of the threshing machines. That it was a popular machine is evidenced by the fact that there were a number of years when the company was unable to meet the demand.
Upon its introduction the firm gave wide publicity to its most salient features. One of the most extensive and complete descriptions of that separator was published in the company’s catalog for 1904. Later catalogs presented modifications of that description as improvements were made from time to time.4
The following description of the New Century separator is taken from the 1904 catalog:5 “Instead of complicating the separating mechanism, our reciprocating device simplifies it, and it will at once appeal to those who are not slow to appreciate a good thing when they see it.
“The straw shaker consists of two banks of shake bars which are reciprocal in their operation, one relieving the other at every half revolution. It adapts itself to any kind of grain and seed.
“The straw is conveyed over the shaker in a thin spread under great agitation which means almost perfect separation. The shaker is in perfect balance and only rotates 175 to 180 times per minute, while other single agitating racks are required to make from 210 to 225 agitations per minute to get rid of the straw. Our shaker has two agitations to each rotation, making 350 to 360 agitations per minute, and this is accomplished with less power. Can you realize the great advantage we have in this device? Each rotation moves the straw 20 inches, except where the risers retard it. It is easy to operate as it has but one belt for 10 feet of shaker.
“There are three sets of risers so arranged on each section as to thoroughly break up and spread any bunch that may come from the cylinder and thus materially aid in the separation of the grain from the straw. By this means the straw is more evenly delivered on the stacker or into the blower, affording a more uniform speed and delivery. It will be observed that with all of these advantages over other single vibrating racks we agitate the straw harder and take it out thinner than is possible by any other device. The racks being in perfect balance makes our shaker an easy runner and necessarily very durable. We do not remember of having furnished a single crank during the last two years, although many hundreds of the New Century have been sold by us. It has also been the cause of much comment how few repairs have been ordered for the New Century.
“The frame of the New Century being comparatively short and low does not require it to be so heavy and brackets not so large. It is so designed that no part of the separator has large spaces between the frame or panel work. It has two rear posts to support shaker or blower. The small dimensions of height and length of the separator with the large high main sills and short posts insure strength so that self-feeders, weighers, and blowers may be attached without impairing the strength or durability of the separator proper. Bracket irons are so constructed that they fit on two sides of the posts and cap pieces, making our frame strong and durable.
“The siding of the separator is of pine and so constructed that it will contract and expand in any climate without injury to the machine or without marring its comeliness.
“The trucks are of steel, quite heavy and strong, width of tire being three to 10 inches in accordance with the size of the separator. They are so placed beneath the separator as to aid in the draft, the rear wheel being 39 inches and the front 34 inches in diameter.
“Feed tables are of the proper size, just long enough for bundles and to allow rapid feeding. They are very simple and fold towards the cylinder.”
The Oregon Special Separator
The New Century Oregon Special was an extraordinary separator that was designed and built to thresh headed grain. A relatively small number of these separators were built primarily to meet the demand of the company’s trade in the Western and Northwestern states.
The Oregon Special had a 32-inch, 12-bar cylinder with 162 spikes in it. Since the work was spread over so many spikes, less power was required to operate the separator than would have been needed with fewer spikes in the cylinder.6
However, in the case of the headed grain the situation was quite different from that when grain in full-length straw was being threshed. The average length of straws of headed grain was only a few inches, and there was nothing to hold it while the cylinder threshed the grain. When a head of grain hit the cylinder, it was only a fraction of a second until it was gone. If the grain was not threshed out in that fraction of a second, it was not threshed.
A few of the Oregon Special separators were used to thresh bundled grain. It was imperative to have a straw rack behind the cylinder capable of handling an unusual volume of straw. The Aultman & Taylor rack had the capacity to handle the straw from bundled grain.
With four men pitching sheaves into the feeder of his Oregon Special, Walter Blakely asserted that he could thresh 3,600 bushels of grain every day with the weigher dumping a half bushel of wheat every five seconds. That feat of threshing was accomplished with his 15 HP Aultman & Taylor engine.
On another job he threshed 480 bushels of wheat in an hour and 20 minutes. The field of wheat from which that threshing was done yielded 48 bushels of wheat per acre. The shocks of wheat were so thick that it was necessary to back into the field to get the first load.
When the straw came out of the blower having the appearance of stuffed sausage, it was then that good threshing was taking place. On the other hand, when the wind stacker was blowing holes in the straw stack, as one thresherman put it, “You could starve doing that.”7
As already mentioned, the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company manufactured only a few Oregon Special separators. It may have been too expensive to build them. The competition between the companies was so keen that companies built machines that were less costly and that they were able to sell at a better profit.
Rarely was there a time when an Aultman & Taylor New Century separator did not function properly. On those occasions the fault was usually with the operator, who did not read or observe the instructions with respect to the speed at which the separator was designed to operate. The directions on the proper speed were usually to be found at the front of the separator under the cylinder. But even when the speed fell below that stipulated by the manufacturer, the Aultman & Taylor separator would continue to operate. It could not be stalled, but, when it ran below the required speed, grain was lost.
Interested individuals and inventors contributed ideas and suggestions for improvements on the separator. Illustrative of such practices was an offer made by A.C. Sattley.
At the directors meeting on Jan. 4, 1905, Sattley of the Sattley Stacker Company was called into the meeting for the purpose of presenting the merits of a separating device, the patents for which his company had control. He agreed to ship to the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company one of his devices for experimental purposes and also to send an expert to assist in the experiments at the expense of the Sattley Stacker Company. No other reference to those experiments was made in any of the company’s publications, so it is not known whether that device was incorporated into their separators.8
During 1917 the company built 11 “Low-Down,” or low-deck, separators. They differed from the standard New Century separator in the construction of the rack. It was fitted with a three-way crank instead of a two-way. The change in the construction of the rack reduced the height of the 20×32 machine by four inches; the 23×36 and 27×42 by five inches; the 32×50 and the 42×64 by eight inches. The riddles and chaffers were 48 inches long irrespective of the size of the separators. The Low-Down separators were designed to fulfill a long-felt need in the Eastern part of the country where considerable barn threshing was done. A machine lower in height was required to overcome the difficulty encountered by many machines when entering barns having low doorways. After 1917 the company built both high-deck and low-deck separators.9
A fair estimate of the number of separators that Aultman & Taylor built was approximately 40,000. That would include the Vibrator, Mexican, Dixie, Globe, Columbia, and New Century. The company built almost as many New Centuries as all of the other types combined.
No Steel Separators
At the annual meeting of the stockholders on Jan. 20, 1898, the president was instructed to investigate the steel construction of a separator and to report his findings to the directors at their November meeting of that year. The minutes of that November meeting contain no report on the steel separator, nor was any report on that separator ever presented. Neither is there any record in existence that gives even the slightest indication that the company ever built a steel separator. Moreover, former employees of the company with whom the writer conversed were in total agreement with the preceding statement.
This point has been stressed to obviate an erroneous opinion expressed by some that Aultman & Taylor built a few steel separators.10
Contemplated Sale of Thresher Department
An interesting sidelight is contained in one of the president’s reports to the directors. On Jan. 18, 1900, there appears the following statement: “If the thresher department is not sold and we attempt to get out anything like an average output at the present day, it is going to necessitate vigorous action.”
It would appear on the basis of the above statement that the company must have contemplated selling the thresher department. Whatever may have been the considerations in that instance, the thresher department was not sold, but it is interesting to observe that its sale was even given consideration. It is to be remembered that those were the years when the firm’s water-tube boiler business flourished, and during a few of those years the company was unable to fill all of their orders for boilers. It may well be that consideration was given to the elimination of the building of threshers and devotion of their efforts entirely to the building of engines and boilers. In view of the fact that the succeeding years for the most part were profitable ones and that they were scarcely able to meet the demands for the New Century separator, it appears at this distance that to dispose of their thresher business would have been a blunder of the first magnitude. Fortunately they were spared that mistake.11
1. Brown, C. A. The Story of the National Ballads. New York: Thomas Crowell.
2. Aultman & Taylor catalogs, 1897, 1898, 1900.
3. “Fishback” refers to notches on the agitators or shakers that propel straw back toward the rear of the machine. Sometimes the notches were covered with metal or prongs projected upward from the fish-backs.
4. Aultman & Taylor catalogs, 1897, 1898, 1900.
5. Aultman & Taylor catalogs, 1904-1923.
7. Personal letters and conversation with Walter E. Blakely.
8. Aultman & Taylor catalogs, 1904-1923.
9. Record Book, Minutes of the Meetings of the Stockholders and Directors of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company.
11. Interview with Herbert C. Rupp.