Farm Collector


A friend asked if I’d listened to the news this morning. I confessed I hadn’t, and he said he’d heard that the Ohio Department of Agriculture had just banned round bales. I swallowed the bait and asked why they’d do such a tomfool thing. My friend grinned and said it was because Ohio cows weren’t getting a square meal! That old joke introduces the subject of this month’s column, the development of round balers, which many think are a fairly recent invention.

During the late 1800s, a large hay market developed to supply the growing population of ‘town’ horses as the gap between town and farm increased.

Many different inventions were fashioned to satisfy this demand, most having to do with baling technology. Compressing hay into bales made it much easier to ship and store, and stationary wire-tie hay presses became very popular. These bales had some disadvantages though; they were heavy and hard to handle, and bits of wire could be fatal if swallowed by the animals. Also, square bales could be saturated with rain, and subsequently mold and rot.

On Oct. 18, 1910, Ummo Franklin Luebben of Lincoln, Neb., received a patent for a ‘new and useful baling press.’ Luebben’s press made round bales instead of square ones, and they were tied with binder twine instead of wire. Luebben claimed his bales retained all of the plant leaves and were waterproof, allowing them to be piled in the field and left until ready for use. Luebben also claimed the open core of his round bales eliminated the danger of green hay spoiling from heat buildup. Not all of these claims proved valid.

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A 1910 activities report at the Kansas Agricultural College Experimental Farm contains the following description: ‘The first crop was cut on May 23. This crop was light, and half was injured by rain after cutting. At this time, baling alfalfa green was tried. The Luebben baler was used. Hay was baled as soon as cut, and (also) after it had started to cure. Neither stage of curing was a success. The hay molded and even rotted in the bale. The alfalfa that was thoroughly cured was the only hay that kept well. The Luebben baler is all right if a large amount of hay can be cut and cured; a condition that is very hard to secure without getting it wet. It needs a large force of men and teams to run it at full capacity.’,

Luebben’s baler never achieved much success, even after the firm developed the Luebben vacuum curing machine to use along with the baler. The curing device was supposed to eliminate the curing period for un-baled hay in the field, where it was subject to rain.

With the Luebben round baler, hay could supposedly be baled while still quite green, and then the vacuum machine would draw out the excess moisture. A picture of the machine shows a wagon, mounted with a small gas engine running a vacuum pump, an overhead cable conveyor and two large, galvanized steel tanks, each holding about 30 bales. The tanks were filled using the overhead conveyor, and then the vacuum pump was run until the desired amount of moisture was drawn off.

Luebben claimed two men could cure three tons of hay per hour with the machine. He also claimed that when the Luebben baler and curing machine were used together, hay cutting, baling and curing could be done in a single day, resulting in higher-quality hay that would fetch $4 to $5 more per ton than hay baled over two or more days.

In 1943, Allis-Chalmers announced a new, one-man pick-up baler billed as ‘an entirely new design,’ although it was based on Luebben’s 1910 patent, which A-C’s Harry Merritt had acquired.

The announcement said, ‘One man -the tractor driver – handles both tractor and baler. The baling operation is automatic and ordinary binder twine is used instead of wire. Bales are cylindrical in shape, the hay being rolled into a tight, compact bale, similar in appearance to a strip of carpet rolled and wrapped. Since the stems are curved around the bale and tightly held, they serve to shed water and to reduce absorption, making the bale more resistant to weather.’

The bales were about 3 feet long and weighed 65 to 70 pounds.

Wartime restraints delayed the Roto-Baler’s large-scale production until 1947, when the machine proved an immediate success. During the 1947-to-1974 production run, 75,301 Roto-Balers were built at the LaPorte, Ind., Works.

To promote the new piece of equipment, Allis-Chalmers set up displays at county fairs across the country. I remember seeing one at the Canfield, Ohio, Fair, where several round bales slowly revolved in a steel frame while water dripped on each bale. The water ran off the bales like a duck’s back, and these displays resulted in the sales of thousands of Roto-Balers.

The machine needed a double windrow about 4 feet wide to make well-formed bales; a single, narrow windrow made a cigar-shaped bale – fat in the middle and tapered at each end. After the bale was formed, the twine-wrapping mechanism was tripped and the machine’s forward travel stopped while the bale was tied and ejected. Tying and ejecting required PTO power, and these were the days before live power takeoffs, so it was necessary to shift the tractor into neutral and engage the clutch until the bale was ejected.

Then, the farmer disengaged the clutch and waited for the square-cut gears to quit spinning before shifting into gear again and re-engaging the clutch to resume forward travel. Allis-Chalmers eliminated this problem by developing the WD tractor, featuring a hand clutch to halt the tractor’s forward motion, but not the PTO, and a regular foot clutch, which controlled both.

In the late 1960s, Iowa State University engineers tested a machine that made 660-pound round bales and, by 1971, with the help of Gary Vermeer of Pella, Iowa, the big, round balers we know today had been developed. FC

– Sam Moore became interested in agricultural machinery while growing up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. Now, he lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.

  • Published on Jun 1, 2002
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