Massey-Harris Farming (Part III): The Clipper Combine
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/August 2004 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
Civilized man has grown plants for consumption since 8000 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). This change from the hunting and gathering stage of human development to the growing of food products is referred to as the agricultural revolution. One of the first crops planted by civilized man was a form of wheat grain. Processing of wheat into flour was so common among civilizations around the world that bread became known as the “staple of life” and wheat became known as the “shaft of life.” The processing of wheat involved a lot of manual labor. Since the earliest of times, the grain was harvested after it had turned golden amber color under the hot summer sun. However, even at this stage the grain contained moisture. Harvesting or reaping would sever the plant from its roots and allow the grain to “sweat” and dry completely. This sweating generally occurred after the grain had been gathered together in bundles and placed in “shocks” in the field. Once the grain had thoroughly dried out, the bundles would be gathered up and threshed by hand. Then the grain had to be winnowed or separated from all the chaff that may be left in the grain following threshing. Thus, harvesting and threshing and winnowing of the grain remained three separate time-consuming hand operations for the processing grain. This method of processing grain remained unchanged for centuries. In 1831, on his family farm in Virginia, Cyrus McCormick took his first big step toward mechanical grain harvesting with his reaper. Improvements to the reaper, eventually, allowed the machine to automatically bind the grain into bundles. Mechanization of the threshing process was also accomplished by the development of a threshing machine in the 1860s. However, this threshing machine was a stationary unit and the bundled grain had to be brought from the field to the thresher for threshing and winnowing of the grain. Originally steam engines were used as power sources for these stationary threshers. By 1877, the Buffalo-Pitts Company was able to advertise a thresher/separator, that would not only thresh, but would also winnow the grain.
Further development of a small portable thresher-separator that would combine the operations of harvesting, threshing and winnowing in one single operation was carried on in the Central Valley of California by three different corporate concerns—the Stockton Combine Harvester and Agricultural Works; the Daniel Best Agricultural Works and the Stockton Wheel Company. (After 1892, Stockton Wheel became the Holt Manufacturing Company.) In 1925, these three companies would merge to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company. The early combines produced by each of these three companies were of mammoth proportions and required 24 to 40 horses to pull the machine across the field.
A separate gasoline engine was uned just to power the machine itself. California’s steady weather allowed the grain to be harvested while it was still standing in the field rather than being cut and dried out in a windrow. Likewise, all across the western United States and the westerdn provinces of Canada, grain was harvested while standing. In these western states grain was raised in fields stretching from horizon to horizon. Thus, the Great Plains became known as the bread basket of North America. Only in large-scale grain farming areas like the Great Plains were the huge combines profitable. In the Midwest, farms were much smaller—generally only about 160 acres. Furthermore, the arable land of the average farm was often shared with other crops and with pasture for animals. Usually only about 30 to 35 acres of grain would be raised on a typical 160-acre farm in any given year. A big combine was not profitable in this type of farming operation. Farms in the Midwest had to await development of a small combine. Development of the small combine for use on the small farms of the Midwest took a circuitous route and some early attempts were not entirely successful. One early attempt to develop a small combine began with Curtis Baldwin and his brothers, Earnest and George, who formed the Baldwin Manufacturing Company (later to become the Gleaner Manufacturing Company) of Nickerson Kansas in 1915. The efforts of the Baldwin brothers resulted in a Fordson-mounted combine in 1923. This combine was named the “Gleaner” combine.
The popularity of the Gleaner combine was tied directly to the popularity of the Fordson tractor. In the early 1920s, the popularity of the Fordson made the Gleaner mounted combine a popular sales item, but later in the late 1920s, when the Fordson declined in popularity, so too did the popularity of the Gleaner. The Gleaner mounted combine ceased production altogether in 1927. In the 1930s, the Baldwin Company went into bankruptcy. New owners bought the company from the Baldwin brothers and changed the name of the company to the Gleaner Manufacturing Company of Independence, Missouri. The new Gleaner Company began designing and producing a series of pull-type combines. Revealing the company’s long-time ties to the Ford Motor Company, early versions of these pull-type combines were powered by Ford Model A industrial engines. However, these attempts at producing a pull-type combine were not successful over the long run. Gleaner pull-type combines proved to have design flaws and never became popular with the buying public. Only after 1951, did the Gleaner Company became successful for the combines they produced. However, this success was not based on development of a pull-type, or even mounted, combine. Rather Gleaner became famous for the development and production of its line of completely self-propelled combines.
The most successful small pull-type combine was the 3,000 pound All-Crop- Harvester developed and manufactured by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of West Allis, Wisconsin (a more complete story of the All-Crop Harvester was published in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and is also exhibited here on this website).
The All-Crop Harvester was first introduced to the public in 1929. Following in the train of the success of the All-Crop Harvester, other farm equipment companies began producing their own version of a small pull-type combine. However, the All-Crop Harvester had a 90 degree turn in the progress of the straw through the combine.
Most other companies adopted a “straight through” design for their small combines. The straight-through designed cut the grain (or picked up the grain from a windrow) threshed and separated the grain from the straw and then deposited the straw on top of the same stubble at the rear of the combine in roughly the same location where grain had been cut or picked up. In this way, the straight-through combines avoided the sharp left turn the chaff and straw would take as it progressed through the All-Crop Harvester. One of the farm equipment companies to develop a straight through combine was the Massey-Harris Company of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Starting with a design by E. C. Everett, Massey-Harris introduced their small straight-through combine in 1938. Everett’s combine was called the “Clipper” combine.
Although the Massey-Harris Company was a Canadian company and maintained most of its manufacturing facilities in Canada, virtually all Clipper combines were made in the United States at the company’s Batavia, New York facility. The 3,000 pound Clipper pull-type combine was marketed with either a 6-foot or a 7-foot cutter bar model. Both models featured a 5-foot cylinder and a 5 foot wide separating table. In its first two years of production (1938-1939), the simplicity, small size and low price of the Clipper made the combine a sales success. In those first two years the Clipper cut well into the market share dominated by the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. Right from the start of production, the Clipper combine was available only on rubber tires. Like many farm equipment companies before World War II, Massey-Harris contracted with the French & Hecht Company of Bettendorf, Iowa, to supply round-spoked wheel rims for these rubber tires on the Clipper.
After the war, Massey-Harris switched to disc-type wheel rims for their rubber tired wheels for the Clipper combine. Like most companies in the post-war era, Massey Harris obtained these disc-type wheels from the Electric Wheel Company of Quincy, Illinois. Because of this abrupt change of contract, “pre-war” Clipper combines are distinguishable from the Clipper combines manufactured in the post-war era.
Concurrent with the start of Clipper combine production, Tom Carroll, an engineer for Massey-Harris began to work on a self-propelled combine. By 1942, Carroll had completed a design for a self-propelled combine that would become the Massey-Harris Model 21 combine. This was the world’s first truly self-propelled combine. The Model 21 combine was ready for production, but wartime restrictions prevented its manufacture. Massey-Harris set about convincing the United States War Production Board that the Batavia, New York factory should be allotted sufficient steel and other raw materials to produce a limited number of Model 21 combines.
Massey-Harris sought to build sufficient Model 21 combines to conduct extensive field tests on the combine. These field tests would, the Company felt, convince one and all that one-man-operated self-propelled combine could harvest much more grain with less investment and in money and manpower “than any other machine or combination of machines in existence.” The War Production Board was persuaded and Massey-Harris was allotted enough materials to produce 500 Model 21 combines. These combines were sold to custom harvesters in March of 1944. The new combines would begin harvesting in Texas and move north across the Great Plains to the Canadian border, combining nearly 1 million acres and threshing 15 million bushels of grain in the 1944 harvest season. This became known as the Massey-Harris Harvest Brigade and served as an excellent advertising promotion for the company. The Harvest Brigade was so successful that it was expanded for the 1945 harvest season. The Harvest Brigade attracted public attention at the time and has attracted the fancy of fans and restorers of Massey-Harris equipment ever since. Thus, as the 60th anniversary of the Brigade approached more and more restorers expressed interest in participating in a reenactment of the original Harvest Brigade. Thus, on September 22, 2001, a large number of Massey-Harris tractors and equipment were brought to a 130-acre plot of land in rural Chillicothe, Illinois, to plow, prepare the seed bed, and plant winter wheat on the plot of land. This event, organized by Dale Lawrence, was dubbed the “Great Planting.” The wheat formed a good root system over the fall of 2001 and then went into a dormant stage over the winter. With the arrival of spring, the wheat started growing again and by early summer in 2002, the wheat was ready to harvest. Harvest Day was planned and was called the “Great Harvest.” A collection of Massey-Harris combines owned by Wes Armstrong, Gary Emsweller, Vernon Winterroth and Ray Swanson gathered together to harvest the wheat at the Great Harvest Day. (See “A Massey Connection” by Cindy Ladage in the July/August 2003 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) At the annual show held on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association in rural LeCenter, Minnesota on August 26 through 29, 2003. This annual show was to feature the same Harvest Brigade combines as had participated in the Great Harvest Day the year before in Illinois. In anticipation of this field demonstration, some of the grain that is usually planted on the grounds and which is usually cut and bundled for threshing during the annual show, was left standing uncut. This grain was left standing in order to be harvested by the Massey-Harris combines at the show in another re-enactment of the Harvest Brigade. Throughout the summer of 2004 a continuation of the celebration of the Harvest Brigade took place in many locations across the Great Plains. One particular celebration began in March of 2004 when Lenwood Holo of Omaha, Nebraska and Eau Claire, Wisconsin loaded up his newly restored Model 21 self-propelled Massey-Harris combine on his 1949 Dodge 2-ton truck truck and set out for Texas to retrace the route of the Harvest Brigade—following the harvest north from Texas to Langdon, North Dakota. While the self-propelled Massey-Harris combine and the Harvest Brigade captured all the attention during the war. After the war, when the wartime economic restrictions on civilian industrial production were lifted, Massey-Harris’ pull-type Clipper combine came back into prominence. Indeed the Clipper combine became a very big seller for the Massey-Harris Company. Clipper combine production resumed after the war. The post-war Clipper combine was offered to the farming public in a power take-off version as well as an engine-powered version. The engine used for the auxiliary-powered version, was the Wisconsin Model VE-4 air-cooled engine. (An article on the history of the Wisconsin Motor Company was published in the September/October 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and is reproduced at this website.) Despite the fact that power take-off was a common feature of post-war tractors and despite the fact that the 1-3/8th inch containing six (6) splines had become universally accepted as the standard power take-off, there still, nonetheless, seemed to be more auxiliary engine-powered versions of the Clipper combine manufactured than power take-off versions. Of particular interest for this particular article are two post-war Clipper combines, both equipped with the Wisconsin VE-4 air-cooled engine, which were delivered to two separate Massey Harris dealerships in southern Minnesota. The first of these two Clipper combines arrived in Amboy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 576) some time in the early summer of 1948. The combine arrived on board a flat-bed car attached to a Chicago and Northwestern train. The flat-bed railroad car carrying the Clipper combine and some other Massey-Harris equipment originated from the Massey-Harris Company branch house located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In Amboy, the Clipper combine was unloaded from the railroad car and was taken to the W. J. Nelson Dealership in Amboy. (A history of the W. J. Nelson dealership was carried in the second article of this three part series of articles on “Massey-Harris Farming” published in the May/June 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine. The article is also reproduced on this website under the name “Massey-Harris Farming: The Arno Schull Model 30 Tractor.”) Continue reading Massey-Harris Farming (Part III): The Clipper Combine