Box 712 Devils Lake, N.D. 58301
Whenever I pick up an advertisement or catalog of farm equipment I am struck by the fact that they are at once very like and yet very different from the catalogs of a half century ago. They are just as interesting in their clarity and detail, but so different in their educational approach. It used to be that they were intended to educate the prospective customer about the advantages of using some particular machine and to show how the thing was made. Also, the method of operation was described in detail so as to ensure that the operator would give it the best possible care and avoid as many breakdowns as possible.
Today, the emphasis seems to be on how many extra features the machine has and how attractive in appearance it is, with little regard for whether or not the buyer will derive any economic benefit through it's use, or his work be better done thereby. Speed is too often the only thing mentioned. The number of plows pulled and the number of acres covered are stressed, but the quality of plowing done is too often forgotten. The comfort of the enclosed cab and the number of acres or bushels harvested are stressed, but how often is the problem of clean separation or the proper adjustment of the combine even mentioned?
The proportion of combine operators who do not know the principle of separating the wheat from the chaff is very likely as great today as it was when the difference between the vibrator and agitator systems of separation were a source of bewilderment and confusion among most threshermen, who too often had only the vaguest idea of their meaning.
The J.I. Case Company did it's best to clear up the question with their very excellent book 'The Science Of Successful Threshing' which became almost a classic for the industry. Unfortunately, there is no book on the market today that can take it's place in serving as a manual for operating combines.
The manufacturers of threshing machines before the turn of the century certainly must have been the champion optimists of all time. Who else would have the faith and the courage to make a machine out of wood and a few poor castings and steel shafts, and ship it two thousand miles to some farmer who more than likely had less than no mechanical ability, and expect it to work well enough to enable the buyer to pay for it? But this they did, and out of such small beginnings grew most of the grand old names which are still a by-word among old time threshermen. However, with all their efforts to educate the farmer operator in the proper operation of their machines, even the manufacturers themselves were sometimes led rather far a field. Take as one instance the 'double-belted' machine, in which the straw shakers, grain pan and cleaning fan were all driven from both sides by separate belts. It no doubt looked good on paper and very likely sounded very impressive as a salesman's talking point, but my own experience taught me that the small belts to the augers and elevators caused ten times as many stops as all the other belts put together.
In one respect, the old time machine company representatives and their salesmen seemed to have a greater faith in their products than their present day counterparts. I have in mind an incident witnessed by a neighbor who attended the State Fair at Grand Forks at the time when the I.W.W. were at their worst. A lot of machines were being ruined by bundles being loaded with barb wire, horse shoes, chains and junk, I know of one good Buffalo Pitts separator that was wrecked when a twine ball began to wind around the cylinder and tore it right out of the machine. That year both the Avery Company and the Aultman-Taylor T.M. Company brought out their full spiked cylinder machines. These were supposed to be 'pitch-fork proof' and at the fair each company had one set up to demonstrate them. The Avery representative started the show by threshing a pile of old lumber. The Aultman-Taylor man did the same, picking out boards with nails and spikes in them. Next, the Avery man threw in a bunch of old hardwood eveners, clevises and all. Not to be outdone the A.T. man did the same but finally conceded the match when the Avery man brought up a wheelbarrow full of bricks and threw them in. I don't know if that fellow had an O.K. from the Company for that stunt, but he really had faith in his machine.
Stories like that, always make me feel that those old days must have been a lot more interesting because I've never been lucky enough to see anything like it at that fair.
One summer my father was chosen to go as a delegate to a church convention in a country parish out west, and since he didn't like the idea of driving that distance alone I went along to help drive. The delegates were to be housed in farmhouses in the neighborhood, and as we drove into the yard of the farm we were sent to, we saw a car ahead of us, with Iowa license plates. The occupants, an elderly couple had just a-lighted and the lady was just entering the house. The man still stood by the car, talking to the farmer. As soon as my father saw him he said 'I believe I know that fellow. He's the one my brother bought that west quarter from.'
The old gentleman recognized my father at once and they had a real happy reunion. He was a big man with a big voice and a big mustache. He was the father of the farmer we were to lodge with, and he lived in Iowa, though he still owned the farm which his son was buying on shares. He was also a custom thresher and owned a rig in Iowa, another in North Dakota and had recently disposed of one somewhere in Canada. As he was talking he led us across the yard and through some trees to another part of the yard where he kept his equipment.
It looked like a small fairground. On one side was a big shed and scattered around it were several old engines and separators, all Port Huron stuff. He was a Port Huron man. Besides using all Port Huron equipment, he had been an agent and dealer for them.
One engine appeared to have been only recently moved out of the shed and according to the old fellow it was in perfect shape and all ready to go out threshing but he had simply retired it. He gave us to understand that there was nothing whatever wrong with it and became quite indignant over the fact that though it was still an excellent engine he had had to replace it because a new one was even better. It was the first Port Huron engine I had seen and I wasn't too well impressed by those crazy drive wheels, with rims made of a ton of cast iron! I'd seen too many cast iron wheels discarded because of a crack which sometimes would leave one or two spokes standing free and useless with a big chunk of iron on the top like a sunflower on the stalk. Some neighbors made pretty fair water tanks from steel wheels but most cast wheels weren't even good for that. They weren't designed for North Dakota fields. I've learned since that the Port Huron Co. was actually proud of those wheels and even bragged about them when they were first introduced.
The old gentleman led us around to all the old engines, then to the separators and gave us a real sales talk on the Rusher 43 inch and as he warmed to his subject both his volume and his pressure mounted till he developed quite a head of steam.
Standing forlornly by a fence I noticed an old weathered separator, it's blower hanging down to the ground at one end, the feeder unhooked in front and resting on the ground, leaving the cylinder exposed to the weather. That machine had never had a belt on it. Not one kernel of wheat had ever passed that cylinder. The teeth were rusty but still rough like new teeth. Why? The machine was too small, only a 36-60! The secret was out. I had heard of these 'big machine men' who could never get machines big enough and who called anything smaller than a 36 inch machine a 'pepper box'. This was the first one I ever saw. He explained; 'No machine smaller than a 40 inch is any good for threshing if you want to make money at it', he roared. Some blinkety blank factory man had talked him into ordering entirely against his better judgement, mind you, but after he had brought it home he just couldn't bring himself to even try it. If only he hadn't removed it from the railway station he could have made the company take it back. Evidently he couldn't even bring himself to try to sell it to someone else.
When the storm subsided he took us into the big shed and showed us his new outfit, a big Minneapolis all sleek and shiny, with a full canopy top, and a 40-64 Minneapolis steel machine with a 14' feeder.
As we walked back to the house I kept thinking of that 36' machine all wasted away, and how easily the whole thing could have been settled, maybe by no more than a few minutes over a cup of coffee. It seemed a sad monument to one man's predjudice and another's stubborness. I'm sure that the Port Huron Company couldn't afford to alienate very many of it's agents that easily, and at the same time, as for being a good representative of the company, that fellow didn't seem to be very effective. It makes one wonder how many other companies had as weak contact with their agents.
That brings to mind another affair related to me by a very old and dear friend. In 1917 he also went to the State Fair at Grand Forks. At the time he was in a real pinch for horses, due to the war. It happened that the Avery Company was showing a big 40 hp undermounted engine which was then out of production and which the factory representative offered to him at a considerable reduction. The deal included a 42-72 separator though he told me that his main concern was the engine which he hoped to use for plowing, though he admitted that as soon as he got the outfit home he realized that it was too big for that.
The local agent blew up when he heard of the deal, blaming everyone but himself, the company, the Grand Forks dealer and the man who bought the rig. Well, who was to blame? The Company? It was their engine, but was no longer being made and they had it on their hands for three years and were trying to unload it. The Grand Forks dealer? He was merely showing it at the fair, for the company. The man who bought it? He didn't go to the fair for the purpose of buying it. It was there and it was offered to him and at an attractive price and he took advantage of the offer. The truth is that the local dealer was merely an agent or rather a salesman, since he had no shop or warehouse of any sort for keeping parts and whatever he sold arrived on flat cars and the buyers usually took the machines right from the loading ramp. This was the case with nearly all dealers then except Case and Buffalo Pitts, who each had regular depots and dealers.
While I've been writing this, the March-April issue of the Iron-Men Album has arrived, with it's usual collections of interesting articles. I like especially the very enjoyable letter from Val Frey of Me Lennan, Alberta. I have heard of two different occasions where oiled leather was used to repair a Ford connecting rod, but am sure that pork rind would serve much better since it is more resilient and more or less selflubricating.
Mr. Frey's account of how he got that big Rumely out of the hole surely deserves to go down in history. The 36 hp Rumely must have as big a boiler as was ever used by any traction engine, and the very thought of pumping one up with two hand pumps gives me the horrors, and to 90 lbs. yet; I've pumped up lots of tires and been well satisfied with 45 pounds. They must have had better pumps in Canada than the junky things that were furnished with the old Overlands.
The trick of pulling the separator out by the belt is not new, in fact, it was recommended by James H. Stephenson in his 'Farm Engines'. I know of several occasions when it was done, though only once with a rig where I was working, and then I was some distance away so I missed it.
I agree that Mr. Frey deserves the title 'Iron-Man' and will look forward to more letters from him and others of the same fraternity.