LET'S TALK RUSTY IRON


| September 2004



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Sam MooreSam Moore

Gleaner's combines and Fordson tractors made the perfect combination

The famous Fordson tractor is credited with bringing mechanical power to thousands of farms thanks to its low selling price, and was known as 'the poor man's tractor.' Despite the fact that Fordsons were difficult to start, had no governor or brakes and an often-fatal tendency to flip backward, a whopping 739,977 Fordsons were sold during their 10 years of U.S. production, mainly because they were cheap and farmers trusted Henry Ford.

Yet, Ford built no implements to go with his best-selling tractor. As a result, hundreds of farm equipment manufacturers filled that void and designed a variety of accessories and attachments specifically used by Fordsons. One catalog published in 1928 by Bateman Bros, of Philadelphia, Pa. - a distribution house for farm implements and supplies - describes some of the implements a farmer could buy for his Fordson. The catalog includes a mounted corn picker and a potato digger, as well as a row-crop cultivating attachment for the Fordson. The most interesting implement mentioned is the Gleaner self-propelled harvester-thresher, built exclusively for Henry's little wonder.

A Gleaner glimmer

Gleaner combines were developed by the Baldwin brothers, Curtis, George and Ernest, although Curtis was the oldest and seems to have been the brains behind the enterprise.

Curtis C. Baldwin was born in 1888, and grew up in a sod house in the wheat country of western Kansas. During the hot summers of his boyhood, Baldwin pitched wheat sheaves into a threshing machine from dawn to dusk and grew sick of the unending toil. He later said he decided, 'A machine that could make this drudgery unnecessary would be a blessing, and I was fired with ambition to build such a machine.'

Baldwin patented his first 'Standing Grain Thresher' in 1911. The machine was pushed through standing grain by four horses and was powered by a small gasoline engine. The Standing Grain Thresher stripped the grain heads from the stalks and used an air blast to force the grain heads into a threshing cylinder.

That same year, Curtis and his brothers formed the Baldwin Co. in Nickerson, Kan., to build the machines. About 100 of the harvesters were sold, but farmers later learned the machine couldn't handle weedy or downed crops, and grain loss at the stripper drum was excessive. Curtis worked at improving the machine but left the company in 1918. He joined the Savage Harvester Co. of Denver, where he developed a combine to mount on the Savage tractor. The Savage enterprise failed, and Curtis then briefly worked for the Advance-Rumely Thresher Co., LaPorte, Ind.