Renovating a Case Binder

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Both binders loaded in front of granarylean-to at right.
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The binders in the lean-to.
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Binders sitting in my yard.
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Cutting oats at Rose City Show grounds.
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''Resource pile.''

My name is Joe Steinhagen and I want to tell you a short story about my Case binder acquisition.

It all started when a friend of mine at work (we’ll call him Rick because I don’t want anybody pestering him for further items that aren’t for sale) told me that that he was moving onto his deceased grandfather’s farm and there was a lot of antique farm equipment there that he needed to get rid of. He knew of my interest in old machinery, steam engines, threshing machines, and such, and wondered if I wanted to look at it before the junk man arrived. I have heard of these types of stories before, so I didn’t put too much stock into anything coming out of it.

Well, about a year after he had mentioned it to me, to my surprise, he said that he was moved in and living at his grandfather’s farm. All the relatives had come and taken whatever they wanted and there were two things with beaters on them in the lean-to on the granary that he wanted to get rid of. Rick, not being a farm boy and having no interest in antique farm equipment, didn’t have any idea what kind of machines these were. Arrangements were made for my collector friend Jim Pospisil (unfortunately, John Deere) and me to come out and have a look on the following weekend.

This took place in February 1999, so we dressed appropriately and took snow shovels with us, because you never know how deep the snow will be.

After receiving directions, we drove to Rick’s place. He lives on the flat, fertile prairies of western Minnesota, and there was a lot of snow. After I introduced Rick to Jim, Rick led us to the lean-to attached to the granary where the machines were stored, and we had to shovel some snow to get the door open. We then peeked inside and determined that a flashlight would be needed to see anything, because the lean-to was much deeper and darker than we had thought it would be. The light from the flashlight revealed a lot of miscellaneous junk piled in front of what were definitely two grain binders way in the back. Now I’ve always kind of wanted to own a grain binder, because the only way to figure out what makes them work is to work on them.

It was very dark inside as I worked my way to the back, and I couldn’t determine what brand they were. I would have been happy if they were IHC, but after climbing over the junk that was piled in front of them and finally finding a name stamped on them, I couldn’t believe that they were Case binders. That was the first time I had ever seen a Case grain binder! Closer examination revealed that they were both 10′ power binders. One had steel wheels and the other was on rubber, but they both had forward controls. They looked to be pretty much complete, but they had been in the shed so long that they’d settled into the soft black dirt so that the platforms and sickles were on the ground and the transport wheels were down to the hubs in the dirt. I asked Rick if he had the canvasses and he said he didn’t know what a canvas was. I described what a canvas looked like and he said sure, they were piled up in the attic of the house, did I want to see them?

I said sure, but what else do you have to get rid of outside? We proceeded to go through every building on the farm looking at stuff. Apparently his grandfather never threw anything away. We saw all the usual farm stuff plus lots of old things including horse drawn equipment. There were planters, cultivators, mowers, and a John Deere corn binder that was sitting outside there was not much left of it. In the chicken coop there were two 110 year old church pews that were deteriorating, a wooden-wheeled bicycle that was partially smashed, and lots and lots of magazines and newspapers stacked up all over inside these buildings. I picked up some of these publications to have a look and some were Reader’s Digest from the early ’70s with the mailing wrapper still on them. Others were popular farm magazines from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Another stack was of the local newspapers from the ’40s. So I asked Rick what they were planning to do with these types of things. He said there was a pit behind the barn where they had been burning this stuff as fast as they could. So I told Rick that they maybe should consider giving the newspapers to the local historical society for preservation. A little later in the story you will see how this burn pit brought up another disturbing thought.

While we walked around through the deep snow, Rick told us what he knew about the farm and we could see that this held true. He said it was already about 500 acres at the turn of the century, and that it was obviously a grain farm run on horsepower. Behind the granary there was even a grain pit and a grain leg for handling grain. The barn was built to accommodate horses, not milk cows. After we looked everything over outside, Rick invited Jim and me to come into the house to have a cup of coffee and look up in the attic at the binder canvasses.

The house was two and a half stories with a big front porch. It was built about 1910 and had been constructed with all the typical furnishings of that era. One unique thing about this house is that it has never been remodeled, just kept up. It still has all of the original woodwork, hardwood floors, and even the original wood cook stove in the kitchen. Since the canvasses were in the attic, we got the grand tour of the house on the way up. As we passed the bedrooms on the second floor Rick mentioned that each bedroom has its own sitting room. Apparently this was quite a house in its day. The parlor room was done entirely in red crushed velour and was used only twice a year: at Christmas and during summer family reunions.

As we climbed the last staircase going up to the attic, 1 noticed that all the hand banisters were still the original wood on all the stairways.

The attic had an interesting array of antiques in it. There was a leather baby buggy with wire wheels and 100-year-old Norwegian books. On one side of the room were many old wall hangings and pictures and a roll phonograph. Lying in the windowsill were four very big spark plugs. In the corner was a large stack of binder canvasses all rolled up! There were obviously extra ones, as I counted thirteen different canvasses.

I told Rick I would definitely be interested in the canvasses, along with the binder. We began to leave the attic, and as I started down the stairs, I noticed that under the railing was an owner’s manual for an IHC cream separator. I picked it up and asked Rick if the separator was still on the farm. He told me it was in the basement of the house. Underneath the separator manual was another book the operator’s manual for the newer of the two Case grain binders, in perfect shape.

Mixed emotions came over me upon seeing this. It brought me joy to realize that the original owner of the farm probably saved every owner’s manual for every piece of equipment that was ever on the farm. But then recalling what Rick had said about the burn pit brought me great sadness. I didn’t even want to think about all of the history that had been consumed in there in the last year.

A price was agreed upon for the two binders and the various other pieces that I was interested in purchasing. I told Rick that we would plan to pick everything up in a couple of weeks to haul it all home. (I have learned that when you buy something it is best to get it into your possession as soon as possible.)

First Attempt

Within two weeks I had everything lined up for an attempt to haul it home. I knew the binders were in the ground, but because it was soft, dry, black dirt, I didn’t think we should have any problem pulling them out. We ended up with quite a caravan going over there. My friend Ed Novotny and I were in my Dodge 4×4 pickup pulling a Bobcat on a trailer. Another friend, Scott Erickson, his son Tommy, and Jim Pospisil drove Scott’s Ford 4×4 pickup pulling a 10′ x 30′ low implement trailer. When we got there I was amazed to see that the four foot deep snowdrift in front of the lean-to had melted. It appeared this task was going to be easier than I had anticipated. What I didn’t realize is that when all the snow had melted the water had run into the shed and everything inside was frozen solid. All we could do was to load the loose stuff and bring that home and wait until spring.

Second Attempt

We went back again in the later part of May when everything was dry and warm to try again. I had a boom for the Bobcat so we could reach into the building and hook onto the binders. We then were able to pull them out and push them right on the big implement trailer. After the machines were loaded, we began to clean out the building for parts that went with the binders. We ended up with quite a pile of stuff that we found either in the dirt or hanging on the walls. Included in this was a horse hitch with trucks and also some Minnesota binder parts. The horse trucks had to be given to Jim immediately, because it was John Deere and I couldn’t have those in my yard!

Because of the load and width of the trailer we had to travel on the gravel back roads all the way, so it was a long trip home . But there was some pretty country scenery between here and there so it wasn’t all that bad.

The Resource Pile

Upon completion of the unloading process and a closer inspection of the two units, I discovered the knotter assembly was missing from the older binder. I called Rick and asked if I could come over and look in the junk pile for the knotter. He was agreeable to that.

Now every farm has to have a junk pile, but this farm’s was a little larger than the usual one. It measured approximately 6′ x 8′ x 15′. I like to refer to these as ‘resource piles’ because of the endless possibilities of finding’ a treasure in them.

The following Sunday afternoon I drove over to Rick’s and started looking through this pile. Never did find the knotter, but I came up with about a half a pickup load of old stuff. There were a lot of tools, pitcher pumps, 100-year-old metal clock faces, tire chains for tractors, and the tools needed to remove and install flues in a steam engine. This makes me believe that there probably was a steam engine on this farm along with a sizeable separator and possibly a steam plow. I again thought back to that burn pit and shuddered to think of a steam engine original manual getting burned in that. All of the equipment that had been on this farm and the absent owner’s manuals continued to haunt me. The burn pit must have gotten more than I care to think about.

Rick informed me that the junkies were coming soon to get the junk pile. I told him to let me know what day they were coming so I could watch them load it. That way I maybe could see what was in the middle of the pile. But they came a day before they said they were going to come so I missed it. Then the junkies wouldn’t let me on their place to look for the knotter, so it probably is gone forever.


I didn’t need two binders, so I decided to make just one binder out of the two. The obvious choice was the newer one, because of the fact that it was on rubber. The first thing I did was to unroll all of the canvasses on the lawn and see how much mouse damage there was. It turned out there were three new looking canvasses that had no damage, three used ones that matched the three new ones, and the rest were different sizes. The odd sized ones may have been for a Minnesota binder, because there were some other Minnesota parts in the resource pile. I decided to fix the three canvasses that were in need of repair. Luckily, the Amish operate a canvas repair shop close by in Long Prairie. Because they still use this type of equipment, I figured they could do the best job of repair on them. It was also interesting to visit with them and observe them using ‘for real’ the same type of equipment that we use at our threshing shows.

After delivering the canvasses it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I backed the binder on its transport into my two-and-a-half-car garage at home, turned it sideways and began the process.

The parts from the two reels were combined to make one. There was only one power shaft, so I took the transports off and put the hitch on with power shaft. I discovered that the knotter that was on this machine was rusted tight, so I learned all about knotter disassembly and timing.

As I continued working on this newer machine I began to realize that there was very little wear on it. Everything was quite rusty, but I could see that the roller chains and gears showed very little wear. Every pin that went through a hole still fit very tightly. Also, you could still see the part numbers stamped on the wooden rollers, and of course the canvasses still looked new. I concluded that this machine had seen very little use. The only thing that looked really bad was the paint, as the machine had sat out for 50 plus years on a dirt floor and over the years the dust had settled on the machine, held moisture, and rusted the paint. If you could tip it over, you would see nice paint underneath.

After I had gotten absolutely everything loosened up, oiled, greased, and the knotter working and timed, the twine installed, the hitch and power shaft installed, the bundle carrier installed, and the canvasses installed, it was ready to try.

Now as I said, I had done all of this work in my 2-stall garage at home (some days it was about 95 degrees inside). The day came to try it out! All I did was roll the hitch out of the door, borrow Scott’s B John Deere, hook the power shaft and hitch up, and slowly engage the clutch. Everything turned just fine. One reel slat would hit a grain guard because it was too long but that was easily remedied. I could trip the knotter and it would tie a knot.

I was really anxious to try it out, but I wanted to make sure it was going to work before I took it up to our threshing show at Rose City, Minnesota, 30 miles away. I went to John Benesh’s farm (Scott’s father-in-law) and borrowed two bales of alfalfa hay to run through to make sure it would pack, tie, and eject a bundle. It didn’t like that hay, it just balled up under the elevator canvasses making only one bundle, but it appeared to work and I was pleased with that.

Rose City

With grain cutting only one week away, it was time to get the binder up to the show grounds. I folded everything in and down, put the steel wheel transports on, and hauled it to the show grounds, assembled everything again and waited for the day to cut. We don’t have a shortage of binders at the grounds. We can usually expect Norm Salto’s 8′ John Deere, Harvey Danielson’s 6′ ground-drive IHC, and we also have had John Peterson show up with his 10′ IHC power binder, which can really make bundles.

Harvey was kind enough to lend me the use of his SC Case tractor, which fit perfectly to the PTO height of the binder. The levers were within reach (remember, it’s a forward control), and this SC has a hand clutch which worked really well because you kind of had to sit sidesaddle on the tractor to keep an eye on things behind you.

I told Norm my main objective was to be able to make one round with mine to prove to myself that it worked, then I would be happy. He said if it worked he wasn’t going to put his binder together, Harvey and I could do the cutting for the year. Norm helped me make the final adjustments, then rode along to make some on-the-go adjustments for me. All I had ever done before was to drive the tractor for him pulling his binder, so I didn’t really know much about this binding game except how to make square corners in the field.

Everything worked perfectly. It missed about three bundles right away as the rust cleared away and the carrier had to get polished up. After that, it worked very well. But I will have to say forward control 10′ binders make for a busy tractor operator, and if the grain is heavy, it really makes bundles. I don’t know for sure, but I think your arm would be really sore from pulling on the trip rope after a full day.

Our show was two weeks after we cut and shocked the grain. I covered it and left the binder at the show grounds. At the show, I displayed it with a sign stating that it was the only operating Case binder in the Upper Midwest. There were people at the show who were in agreement with that statement.

I decided to take the binder home to store it for the winter. Rather than have to hire somebody to haul it for me, I converted the steel wheel transports to high-speed 14′ car tires and bearings. Now I can just hook the binder behind the pickup and pull it down the road. Works real well.

Last Word

About four months after the show, I ran into Rick at work and he told me that an uncle of his was asking about the binders that used to be in the shed on his brother’s farm. Immediately, I had a sinking feeling that somebody wanted something back. But Rick told me that he explained to the uncle that they both went to a good collector and they will be well taken care of. Then the uncle told Rick an interesting story about the binders. He said that the woman of the farm did all the grain binding and she basically wore the old one out. She had gone to town to the local Case dealer, which in 1942 was the hardware store. There she ordered a new binder without telling the man of the farm. Well, the binder came in and the Case dealer called the farmer up and told him that his binder was in and to please come and get it. The farmer asked him what he was talking about and the dealer told him that his wife had ordered a new binder and it was in. Well, the farmer told the dealer that due to the shortage of help due to the war, he was going to combine his grain next year and therefore he didn’t want the binder. The dealer had the final word and told the farmer that since his wife had ordered it, and the dealer didn’t want it, he would have to take it. The farmer went to town and picked it up, used it half of one season and put it in a shed and there the two binders sat side by side from 1942 until 1999 when we pulled them out. No wonder everything seemed in such good shape on it. It wasn’t even broken in yet.


This short story, which got long, brings up a point. That is, these finds, although rare, still can be found with luck.

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