Farm Collector


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

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

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

  • Published on Nov 1, 1969
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