J.I. Case Company Part II: Steam Engines & Threshers
Brian Wayne Wells
(As Published in the March/April 2006 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
At the age of 23 years, Jerome Increase Case set out from his birthplace and home in Oswego County, New York in the summer of 1842. He had purchased six (6) groundhog threshing machines on credit. He traveled to Wisconsin with the intent of selling the groundhog threshers along the way. Arriving in Racine, Wisconsin, Jerome began to work on his own design for a thresher. In 1844, he rented a small shop on the bank of the river in Racine and began making threshers. This was the beginning of what would become the J.I Case Threshing Machine Company. The Company became one of the leading manufacturers of threshing machines. To power these threshing machines, the company began the manufacture of a sweep-style horsepower in the early 1860’s. (See the article on the Case sweep-style horse-power in the January/February 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The company soon realized the limitations of the sweep as a power source. This was particularly true as Case began to add innovative improvements to the basic design of their threshers. In 1880 Case introduced the Agitator thresher with the vibrating or agitating separator tables. In 1882, Case installed their patented tubular-style elevator on their threshers. Case developed their own straw stacker for the rear of the thresher which could lift stack the straw from the threshing operation into a tall stack behind the thresher. In 1888, a mechanical grain weigher was added to the top of the grain elevator. By 1893, self feeders were becoming a common part of nearly all Case threshers. These new improvements made the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company, the leading producer of threshers. However, nearly all of these improvements imposed additional power requirements on the power source powering the thresher. At this time, Case offered threshers in a variety of sizes—one model with a 28 inch cylinder and a 46 inch separating unit, a model with a 32 inch cylinder and a 54 inch separator , a 36 inch x 58 inch thresher and a 40 x 62 model. The largest of the Case sweep-style horsepower—the seven team sweep—could produce up to about 28 horsepower. However, even the smallest of the new Case threshers—the 28 x 46 model—when fully outfitted with the new improvements, required 34 hp. to run at top efficiency. Obviously the sweep style horsepower was hopelessly outdated as a power source for these new threshers. Consequently, the Case Company began to look to a new source of power for their new threshers. The Company began to manufacture of steam engines in 1869. In 1876, the Company introduced its first “traction” steam engine, a steam engine that could move under its own power. From this time forward, the Case Company also became a leading manufacturer of steam engines and particularly traction steam engines. Until the 1890s, the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company operated out of a singe factory located on Bridge Street in Racine, Wisconsin. Then during the 1890s, this building was torn down and replaced with the “Eagle” Building which became part of a new factory complex of buildings known as the “Main Works.” From the Main Works, the Case Company became a leading manufacturer of both a wide range of steam engines and a wide range of wood-frame grain threshers/separators.
In 1904, Case continued its technological innovations in thresher technology. One of the major shortcomings of wood frame threshers was the threat of fire posed by a wood frame machine working in association with a steam engine sitting next to a highly flammable stack of dry straw. Consequently, the Case Company, in 1904, introduced the first “all-steel” thresher. These threshers were sold side by side with the wood-frame threshers until 1906 when production of the wooden threshers was discontinued.
At the beginning of the 20th century, threshers were very much in demand because settlement of certain areas of the arable land of the Midwest was still ongoing. New farming operations were still being formed. One such area was western Blue Earth County Minnesota. The townships of Lake Crystal, Judson, Garden City, Lincoln and Butternut Valley Townships were organized in western Blue Earth County as settlement came to the area. Right in the middle of these townships was the village of Lake Crystal, Minnesota (1900 pop. 1,215). Located on the boundary between Judson and Garden City Townships the village of Lake Crystal is actually divided between these two townships. The settlement that became the town of Lake Crystal was built around a junction of the east/west Chicago Northwestern Railroad line with another Chicago Northwestern line coming up from Iowa in the south. Continue reading Case Farming Part II: Steam Engines and Threshers→
The Pioneer Implement House Farm Equipment Dealership of
Winnebago, Minnesota, and the Great Binder Wars of the 1890
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/Augsut 2002 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In the 1880s, farming was in its golden age. As old painful memories of the Panic of 1873 were fading, a new generation came with a whole new set of advantages to make farming easier. To be sure, mechanical cutting of wheat and oats had been developed well prior to the Civil War, with most credit going to Cyrus McCormick for the invention of the successful reaper in 1831. However, harvesting small grains still required a tremendous amount of manpower, because reapers basically only cut grain. Even raking cut grain from the cutting table was done by hand until self-raking reapers were developed – like McCormick’s own “Daisy.” (A picture of the Daisy can be seen in C. H. Wendel’s book 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishers: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], p. 20. Additionally, there is a Daisy self-raking reaper among the permanent collection at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show which can be seen in the parade at the 1992 show on the second hour portion of Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)
While the Daisy self-raking reaper was a big advance in technology, grain harvesting still required a great deal of hand labor. The first real advance in the area of small grain harvesting came only in 1873 with development of the wire-tied grain binder by the Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Machine Company of Hoosick Falls, New York. (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques [Krause Publications: Iola, Iowa, 1997], p. 160.)
The advantages of self-binding reapers were very quickly recognized by the farming public and demand for these binders skyrocketed. In 1876, 5,000 binders were purchased by Minnesota farmers alone. (Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State [University of Minnesota Press: St. Paul, 1963], p. 342) By 1880, the knotter-bill design for twine-tying of grain bundles was perfected. That same year, the Deering Harvester Company made 3,000 of these twine-tying grain binders for the 1880 harvest season. (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 23) Twine was a great improvement over wire because farmers would not have to worry about pieces of wire breaking off and getting into the grain where it might be accidentally swallowed by cows. Small bits of metal swallowed by cows tended to get stuck in the lining of the cows’ stomachs and would cause “hardware disease,” a disease which causes cows to become sickly and eat less. Thus, beef cattle will gain less weight and milk cows will produce less milk. Twine, on the other hand, if accidentally swallowed, was harmless to the intestinal tracts of cattle.
Demand for the new twine-tying grain binders caused many companies to be formed solely for the purpose of making binders and caused other, older companies to focus more directly on the booming binder market. Not only did the grain binder create opportunities for the manufacturers of farm equipment, but opportunities were also created at the retail end of the farm machinery business. Many young men became aware of these opportunities for selling farm machinery, especially grain binders, to the farming public. One such young man was John Azro Hanks.
Born on December 16, 1860, on a farm near Warren, Vermont, John Azro Hanks was the second child and first son of John Marshall and Charlotte (Bruce) Hanks. A lifelong lover of books and an avid reader, John Azro completed his schooling in Warren, and went on to graduate from Randolph Normal School in Randolph Center, Vermont. He had taught one year of school (1879-1880) in Vermont, when, in August of 1880, his parents and younger brother Fred Marshall moved to Minnesota and settled on a farm in Verona Township, Faribault County, near the town of Winnebago. They intended to get settled on a farm before spring field work would begin. John Azro, who was 20 years old at this time, remained in Vermont to teach school for another year before he too would immigrate to Minnesota in the spring of 1881. (John Azro also had an older sister – Ellen Ione Hanks – who was 26 years of age in 1880 and had been married to George Provonche since February 11, 1874.) Continue reading Pioneer Implement House and the Great Binder Wars→
Recently, LeSueur Pioneer Power member, Loren Lindsay, arranged for the donation of a late-model McCormick-Deering 10-foot binder to the Pioneer Power Association. This binder was purchased new by the late John Depuydt and his wife Mary (Seys) Depuydt in the 1940s, and was employed on the Depuydt farm in rural Mankato, Minnesota, for its entire life. The binder is being donated to the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association in memory of John by Mary and their son, Greg Depuydt.
The binder is complete and does operate, but the binding mechanism has been temporarily disabled to convert the binder into a windrower. This was a popular modification made to old binders when farming operations were changed from threshing to combining.
McComick-Deering binders were the result of a blending of all of the best features of four different binders, e.g., Plano, Champion, Deering and McCormick binders, as the result of the merger of these four companies to form International Harvester Company in 1902. Following the merger, Deering and McCormick binders continued as separate product lines until 1937 when these two lines were discontinued in favor of a single line of McCormick-Deering binders. (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester, [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 163.) Even during the period of time from 1902 until 1937, while Deering and McCormick binders continued to be manufactured as separate lines within the same company, the binders gradually became more and more similar as time passed. By 1923, the two binder lines had adopted enough of the best features of one another that the Deering and McCormick binders were already basically the same binder. (Ibid., p. 160.)
The Depuydt binder will no doubt remind many people of binders owned by their families in the past. one such binder, an 8-foot McCormick binder, was owned by John T. Goff of Mapleton, Minnesota in the 1920s. By the time that the Hanks family moved to the Goff farm south of Mapleton in 1935, the binder had been converted for use behind the Goff 1931 John Deere D. The Hanks family rented the Goff farm from 1935 until 1945. During that period of time they purchased much of the John Goff machinery, including the 1931 John Deere D and the McCormick binder. The grain binder was used every year during threshing season until 1944 when the Hanks family purchased a 1938 John Deere No. 7 combine for harvesting their small grains.
As related earlier, the Hanks family transported the McCormick binder, the No. 7 combine and all their other machinery and moved to the newly purchased 400-acre Bagan farm five miles east of LeRoy, Minnesota, on March 1, 1945. (Belt Pulley, “The Wartime Farmall H,” July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13.) By the summer of 1948, Howard and Ethel (Buck) Hanks were starting to develop confidence in their economic position. This was quite different from the extreme uncertainty which they had felt the previous year. (For the story of the year 1947, see Belt Pulley, January/February 1995, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 31.) They were now into their fourth growing season on their farm.
Many changes had also occurred in the family since the previous year. The family was smaller now. Daughter Lorraine had married Robert Westfall, and together they rented a farm near Stewartville, Minnesota. Son Bruce and his new bride Mary (Keller) had been living on the Tony Machovec farm 1/2 mile to the south of the Hanks farm. During the summer and fall of 1947, he had been working on the Hanks farm every day to earn money to enter seminary school; however, on January 1, 1948, he and Mary had moved to Chicago to attend Moody Bible Institute. Also, daughter Marilyn had married Wayne Wells. Although she lived only two miles away on the Wells farm, and although Wayne Wells did cooperate with the Hanks family during corn planting and haying seasons, she too was not around the Hanks farm on a daily basis anymore. Only eldest son Fred, 18-year-old daughter Hildreth, and 12-year-old John remained on the farm.
In a large family, each child comes to cherish those occasions when they have the undistracted attention of one of their parents. With sudden reduction in the size of the Hanks family, Hildreth and Johnny noticed that they now enjoyed this opportunity on a more frequent basis. Hildreth had just graduated from LeRoy High School in June of 1948. She intended to spend the summer on the farm and then go to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to further her education. During her senior year in high school she had been active on the school newspaper. Hildreth’s boyfriend recognized that the Hanks family enjoyed photography, and so he gave Hildreth a camera as a graduation present.
During the summer of 1948, Hildreth was haunted by the feeling that after she left the farm in the fall to go to college her life would never be the same. All that summer she used her new camera to take pictures of everyday activities around the farm. She wanted the pictures as remembrances of her farm life while she was away at school. She especially wanted to remember the times that she had spent with her father working in the fields.
It was July and the oats were ripe. Howard was busy preparing the old McCormick binder for the field. Since the Hanks family purchased the big John Deere No. 7 combine in 1944, the McCormick binder had been modified by disconnecting the bundling mechanism so that the cut grain would flow out in a continuous stream. The McCormick binder had thereby been converted into a windrower.
The day before windrowing the oats in July of 1948, Howard Hanks pulled the binder out of the machine shed. He then took the rolled up canvases for the binder down from the wire hooks hanging from the rafters in the machine shed. The canvases had been suspended from these hooks all winter to be safe from the mice. He installed the canvases on the rollers on the bed, and also on the upper and lower force feeder of the binder. He could perform this operation without switching the binder out of its length-wise transport position. Thanks to a square fitting on the drive shaft of the binder, he could use the crank that came with the binder to slowly turn the drive shaft and check the operation of the binder. Next he greased the binder with the grease gun at all of the Zerk locations.
The next morning, with his eldest son Fred already in the fields with the new 1948 Ford 8N cultivating with the Ford rear-mounted two-row cultivator, Howard finished the milking and other chores. Then he backed the 1942 Farmall H out of the alleyway of the corn crib, drove down to the machine shed and hitched the tractor to the 8-foot McCormick grain binder.
Before heading to the field, Howard stopped by the house to get his youngest daughter Hildreth, since she had expressed interest in helping her father today. As she ran out of the house, Hildreth grabbed her new camera. She jumped up onto the seat of the binder for the ride to the field. The H and the binder, riding on its steel transport wheels, then headed down the driveway and out onto the dusty little township road for the short drive to the field of ripened oats. Over the winter the Hanks family’s dog Ginger had had a litter of puppies. Two of these partially grown pups now followed the tractor and binder to the field.
The sweet smell of new mown hay is familiar to many people. Less familiar is the smell of ripened oats. It has a much fainter fragrance than hay. During hay season, the smell of hay becomes so common that it passes unnoticed after a day or so to the workers who are working with the hay. The fainter smell of ripened oats is noticeable for only a few hours after the start of the oat harvest. This smell is at times captured in a straw bale. This fresh smell of summer sunlight and warmth will sometimes be noticeable in the winter as the straw bale is opened up and the straw is spread around a calf pen. It stands out as a very faint reminder of summer in the middle of winter. Calves must smell it, too. Sometimes they will bury their noses in the straw bale, butt their heads on the bale, and then run and jump around as the straw is being shaken out in their pen.
This fragrance has been approximated in a new cologne called “Fahrenheit” by Christian Dior. The advertisement alleges that the fragrance is the smell of sunshine. It smells like ripening oats or like fresh oat straw. Actually, sunshine is a pretty good definition of the fragrance–oat straw really is sunshine in a bale! A little bit of summer preserved in a bale to be enjoyed in the middle of winter. No wonder the calves would spirit around the pen when they smelled fresh straw. This smell was in the air as the H and the binder reached the field.
Once across the road/field access and through the narrow gate and into the field, Howard used the binder crank to lower the bull wheel and raise the binder off of the transport wheels. The transport wheels and their stub axles were removed from the square holes in the axle supports on each side of the binder. The wheels were then stored next to the field gate, and the binder crank was used to lower the binder into the proper operating height. Then Hildreth helped her father turn the binder 90 degrees to its operating position.
Although there was no need for an extra person to ride the binder, Hildreth enjoyed coming along to the field. It was simply a good time for a father and daughter to be together while they accomplished some work on the farm. Hildreth jumped up into the seat on the binder and reached down with her right hand to twist the clutch lever to put the binder in gear. Then Howard started the Farmall H on the first counter-clockwise revolution around the oat field.
Because the binder had been converted to a windrower, Hildreth had only to watch the oats flow by on the upper and lower force-feed elevator and then to watch it fall on the ground in one continuous swath as her father drove the H around the oat field. As she sat there she realized that this was the last summer of her childhood. In the fall she would be headed off to college in Chicago. The occasion was not lost on Hildreth. This was an opportunity to enjoy all of the sights and sounds of the farm and even the smell of ripened oats being harvested. This opportunity might not be repeated again in the near future.
After a few rounds, they stopped, and Hildreth took a few pictures with her new camera. Howard was impressed by the height of the oats, and so Hildreth took some pictures of the binder against the oats to show the height of the crop. She also took pictures of the two puppies that had been frolicking along behind the binder.
Hildreth took these pictures to college with her. However, chances are good that while in college Hildreth did not admire and analyze the pictures as closely as they are scrutinized today by other family members who are interested in the restoration of old farm machinery.
The Depuydt McCormick-Deering 10-foot binder brings back memories of the Hanks 8-foot McCormick binder. Similarity, the current restoration of a 5-foot Deering binder by Donald Wells of Mercer Island, Washington is reviving memories of the 7-foot Deering binder that he used on his parent’s (George and Louise Wells) 160-acre farm near LeRoy, Minnesota, was about two miles west of the Hanks farm. The 5-foot Deering binder currently being restored by Donald Wells was originally purchased by George Lawson of San Juan Island, Washington in about 1917. It was used on the island to harvest wheat. When Donald Wells found the Deering binder on San Juan Island, it was owned by Etta Egeland, grand-daughter of George Lawson. The binder, which had been sitting in the field exactly where it was last used, was in need of extensive restoration. Therefore, this project continues to be on-going.
As both the Depuydt McCormick-Deering binder and the Lawson/Egeland Deering binder are brought back to operating condition, it is hoped that more memories of old binders of the past will be stirred. These restoration projects serve as a memorial to all those people who manufactured and used these farm machines of a by-gone era.
Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells