The Birdsell Alfalfa Huller

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Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. O. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma 73501S-74
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Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. 0. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501 S-74
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Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. O. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501S-74
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Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P.O.shaking tables in between. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501 S-74
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Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P.O. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501 S-74
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4 SIZES 27 x 32, 30 x 36, 36 x 44 , 40 x 52 ,To Suit Every Size of Tractor
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SKEBall Bearing
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Courtesy of Steve Wilson, Director, Museum of the Great Plains, P. O. Box 68, Lawton, Oklahoma, 73501

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

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.

The Birdsell Alfalfa Huller was the only machine made especially
for hulling and cleaning alfalfa seed, a small seed weighing only
l/30th as much as a grain of wheat. Many farmers often boasted of
retrieving 16 bushels and 28 pounds of seed using the huller, as
compared to nine bushels from a grain separator with a hulling

The museum’s machine, a No. 3 huller, was capable of hulling
and cleaning 70 bushels of alfalfa seed in nine hours. Made in ten
different sizes, the Birdsell hullers were equipped with a 27 to
40-inch threshing cylinder and weighed from 4,800 to 7,100

Later models of the clover and alfalfa hullers were equipped
with modern feeder attachments, front, and wind stackers, top
right, to blow straw away from stationary machine.

The museum was donated its huller by Mrs. Wilma L. Dugger of
Amarillo, Texas, whose father, Peter T. Lienemann, purchased it in
Woodward, Oklahoma, in 1902 and used it to thresh alfalfa in
Beaver, Harper, and Ellis counties in the northwestern part of the
state until about 1915. At that time it was parked in a barn near
May, Oklahoma, where it remained in a near perfect state of
preservation over the years.

The huller could be powered by a steam or gasoline engine. Often
steam tractors were used. Peter Lienemann powered the No. 3 with a
portable one-cylinder international engine, which also was moved
from field to field by a team of four horses.

While doing research on the huller, the museum learned that
extreme pride was taken by the Birdsell family in building their
specially made clover hullers. Lumber for the machines were often
air-dried from three to five years. Axles were made of selected
hickory, hubs were from the best black birch, the felloes of best
white oak, and the tongue of straight-grained ash or white oak.

Cut away from Birdsell huller shows interior workings. Threshing
cylinder appears top right, hulling cylinder lower right, and

The museum also was able to locate John C. Birdsell III, last of
the Birdsell line, who closed the corporation in 1949, 94 years
after the clover huller was invented by John Comly Birdsell. The
company built its last huller in 1929 and sold its last one in

John Birdsell III presented the museum with a few remaining
mementos of stock certificates, stationery, and a gold-stamped
notebook showing the famous clover huller and wagon once
manufactured by the large South Bend factory. Unfortunately, none
the company’s business papers, catalogs, or colorful
advertising posters were preserved except by a few private
collectors and special libraries.

Now on display at the Museum of the Great Plains is this 1902
Birdsell alfalfa huller. It was used in northwestern Oklahoma until
about 1915.

Painting from a 1920 Birdsell catalog shows alfalfa huller at
work in the field being powered by steam tractor.

The museum is displaying its bright red huller in its gallery
with a photographic and informative exhibit explaining the
operation of the machine at work in the field. Being shown in
conjunction with the exhibit are small horse-drawn implements and
plows in addition to a photographic portrayal of farming techniques
on the Great Plains between 1880 and 1930.

The museum hopes to add other kinds of threshing machines to its
agricultural collection, and is currently seeking threshers made
specially for peanuts broomcorn, beans and peas.

The BIRDSELL Clover and Alfalfa Holler

1930 marks the 75th year of Birdsell service and helpfulness to
the farmer. High standards and superior products have contributed
much to our growth and our ability to satisfy farm requirements. A
little bit better than the usual best has always been our
watchword. The best hardwood, iron and steel obtainable are used in
the Birdsell huller. It is made to operate for years without
appreciable wean Our rigid specifications and standards of
workmanship produce a sturdy, dependable and long lived machine. It
is not uncommon to see a Birdsell still operating efficiently after
twenty-five years of continuous service.

The BIRDSELL Is Built for Long-Term Service

profit maker. You, as a thresherman cannot afford to overlook
Birdsell features of convenience and reliability. It threshes,
hulls, separates and cleans, in one operation. It does the work
completely and without waste of seed. The Birdsell will handle Red
Clover, Mammoth, Alsike, Crimson and Sweet Clover and Alfalfa.
Specially equipped for Sweet Clover and Alfalfa. The Birdsell self
feeder is part of the special equipment for handling clover and
alfalfa. It is specially designed and built in our own shops. It
runs at a suitable speed for uniform results. The speed and straw
governor makes automatic control accurate and positive. The band
knives cut up extra heavy stuff and handles bunched clover or
alfalfa very easily. Another feature is the accessibility to the
thresher concaves for exchange or removal.

The wind stacker is specially patterned and built in our plant
The importance of keeping seed from reaching the straw pile is the
reason why we build this wind stacker. It is light and has
adjustable hood on end of pipe. The position of the fan, and the
depth of the air shield have much to do in preventing suction of
seed from sieves.

The removable slide door in the rear and the short section of
hinged pipe gives easy access to shakers, sieves and stemmer. The
recleaner is an important feature. Do not attempt to hull without
an efficient one. (Note the illustration.) Here is where your
customers will be most criticaland where results of your work will
show up.

A large area has been provided for separation of straw, pods,
chaff and seed. This enables the Birdsell to do a perfect job of
hulling and cleaning. There are four sixes of Birdsell hullers to
serve the smallest individual operator as well as the largest
operator doing custom work.

The last wooden Birdsell alfalfa huller was made in 1929 and the
last sold in 1930. This color poster, showing the red huller,
yellow wheels, and green seed elevator and recleaning attachment,
marked the end of an 85-year history of the clover and alfalfa

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