A Brief History of Harvesting


| November/December 1954



The year was 1914 and I was running a 25-75 Case engine on a 40x62 separator in North Dakota. Over in another field I saw my first small gas tractor and a small size separator, a Belle City, made by I.H.C., but I don't recall the make of tractor. It resembled a mowing machine with some tanks and a one cylinder gas engine. The separator looked like an oversized fanning mill with a straw carrier attached to it. This outfit put in six week on a forty acres field and then called our outfit in to finish 600 acres for him. I thought that was one farmer that would not be in the threshing business the following year. I was mistaken though, for next year he bought a brand new tractor and a larger separator with feeder, windstacker and weigher attached. Two of his neighbors also bought new small gas outfits.

In 1925 all but three of the farmers we had threshed for in 1914 now had their own gas outfits and the big steam outfits in that section were doomed. Many of the old farmer threshermen could not afford to pull his steam outfit for custom work. In some cases the threshermen sold part interest in his steam outfit to four or five of his neighbors to keep the little machines out until he had partly worn out his big $5,000 machine. This did not work out very well as each partner wanted their own job done first. The next year would see each with a small machine and tractor.

These tractors were not the modern 2, 4 and 6 cylinder type that were developed later and the farmers found this out and paid plenty for their experience. Many of the old threshermen  cut down from the big steamers and bought some of 20-40 and 30-60 gas and kerosene type tractors. The machine companies went after the threshermen to buy the 32x52 and 36x56 size separators. They bought thousands of them and never wore out any of them, because the combine came to replace them. Steam engines that were good for another 10 to 15 years and easily worth $1,000 were sold for junk at $50 to $100. I saw 11 good steam engines loaded for junk one summer at Berlin, North Dakota. The old machines were left in fence corners for the turkeys to roost on and the cook cars were used for chicken brooders and playhouses for the kids. I have wondered many times who took the loss on those (lemon tractors) that were made in the start of the change over from steam to gas. I am sure the machine companies would not have stood up under that load and I suppose it was put into the new way of threshing and paid for by the farmer who wanted to thresh. It would take many millions to pay the old thresherman for the machines they were forced by circumstances to throw in the scrap heap. The money invested in the small type separators when they changed to the combines would make quite a large stack, but we must look up and be progressive and 'hang' the costs. And now the people are all getting crazy about the old steamers, but I am wondering if they haven't been crazy for a long time and are just coming down to earth again.

Of all the old steam threshing companies, the J. I. Case seems to be the only one that survived the change from steam to gas and they still manufacture a complete line of combines, harvesters and farm machines. All the other old companies have been affiliated or taken into the Allis Chalmers, Oliver, Minneapolis Machine Co., and I. H. C. companies. Advance Rumley, Gaar Scott, Aultman Taylor, Avery, Minneapolis, Russell, Buffalo Pitts, Nicholas and Shepard, Port Huron, Reeves, Huber, Peerless, Northwest, Baker, Wood Bros., these famous names and machines are what the old timer organizations are trying to resurrect and bring back for the younger generation to see and know how things were done in the good old days before they were born.

I think a History of Harvesting would be a splended addition to any library either private or public school, etc.

Now that the change over has been completed and paid for let us look into the future for the next change over to electric and atomic power for the farm machines. I predict it will come before the start of the next century. If an atomic battery can move a submarine it can run any machine, so keep your eyes open for the atomic power age is closer than you think and I hope I am alive to see it come to pass.