The Birdsell Alfalfa Huller

| September/October 1974

Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. 0. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501.

Peter T. Lienemann of May, Oklahoma, left, powered his Birdsell alfalfa huller with portable one-cylinder International engine in foreground. Both it and the huller were each pulled from field to field by a team of four horses. Here Linemann is threshing grain about 1905.

Lawton, Okla. A rare piece of agricultural history was rolled into the gallery of the Museum of the Great Plains recently after several weeks of cleaning and preservation work in the museum workshop.

Looking more like a colorful machine once found in a circus, the museum is displaying one of the few now existing Birdsell alfalfa hullers, a scarlet red wooden machine with yellow and black trim and yellow spoked wheels with black and red stripes radiating from each hub.

The machine measures seven feet 11 inches high, seven feet two inches wide, and 21 feet seven inches long without tongue. Made by the Birdsell Manufacturing Co., of South Bend, Indiana once the largest factory of its kind in the world few of the wooden alfalfa hullers survive today. At one time the factory was producing 1,500 to 1,800 clover and alfalfa hullers annually.

The huller was invented by a New York farmer named John Comly Birdsell who in 1855 gave the world the first combined clover thresher, huller, and cleaner. Birdsell incorporated and placed his first machine on the market about 1870. By 1905 the company boasted that its hullers girdled the globe. A stationary machine that was pulled to the alfalfa field by a team of four horses, it was made similar to the grain threshing machines that were eventually replaced by tractor-pulled and self-propelled combines. The Birdsell huller threshed, separated, hulled, and cleaned the seed all in one operation. In addition to having a threshing cylinder like the grain separator, it also had the hulling cylinder.