Navy Bean Farming in Huron County, Michigan (Part II)
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the March/April 2005 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As noted earlier, the lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped in the form of a winter mitton. Huron County, Michigan lies at the tip of what is called “the Thumb” of the State of Michigan. (See the article on called “Navy Bean Harvesting in Huron County Michigan [Part I]” in the January/February 2005 issue of Belt Pulley.) Although navy beans had been raised in in Huron County and the Thumb since 1900, the production of navy beans in really became a major crop in Michigan only in 1915. Spurring that growth in production was the high prices that all edible beans were fetching in the market starting in 1914 due to the war in Europe. Additionally, in 1915 the Michigan State University released its newly researched and developed “Robust” variety of navy bean. The Robust variety had been bred to have genetic features which made this variety of navy bean adapted for commercial growing in Michigan. By the 1920s, production of navy beans on the Thumb and in the neighboring Saginaw River Valley, located at the base of the Thumb, was sufficient to push Michigan into first place among all states in the United States in the production of field beans. (Willis F. Dunbar, Michigan:A History of the Wolverine State [Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980] p. 578.). Within the State of Michigan, Huron County became the leading county in the state for the production of field beans. Indeed Bad Axe, Michigan, the county seat of Huron County, began to identify itself as the “Navy Bean Capital of the World.”
Following the First World War, the map of Europe changed following the disintegration of four empires—the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A series of newly independent nations sprang up Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Czechslovakia and Poland. The economic dislocations caused by this new order set off another wave immigration to the United States. In 1920, George Prich immigrated from the newly formed nation of Czechslovkia to Detroit. His parents, George and Marie (Sliacky) Prich remained in Czechslovakia. However, the family did have relatives living in Detroit. However, George did not remain long in Detroit. He moved out of the city and up to the Thumb. Settling in the western part of Huron County on the Thumb, he rented a farm and commenced farming winter wheat, corn, hay, sugar beets and navy beans and raising some hogs and beef cows. In August of 1924, he married a local German girl by the name of Martha Haag. They began were blessed by the birth of a son—George Jr. (really the third George) born in June of 1925. On March 1, 1926, they purchased an 80-acre farm in a low-lying area of Brookfield Township in western Huron County. However, the farm was on the county line road between Huron County and Tuscola County. Consequently, the Prich family still had strong contacts with western Huron County. The Prich family farm was located in a low liying area called the “Columbia swamp.” On their new farm they had three more children—John born in 1926, Florence born in 1929 and Albert born in 1933. The main crops raised on the farm were hay, oats and corn. However, each year about 10 acres were planted to sugar beets and about 10 to 15 acres were planted to navy beans.
During the same time another family was living on a farm in southwestern Seigel Township located east of Bad Axe and north west of the settlement of Parisville. Even before the sun rose, one morning in October of 1935, activity was brewing on this 160 acre farm. Our Siegel Township farmer was taking a team of horses to the field towing a one-row “Albion Bean Harvester.” The bean harvester or “puller” that he was towing behind the team of Percheron horses—Pete and Moll—was really a horse-drawn a cultivator with the shovels removed and horizontal long knives bolted onto the cultivator frame. The Albion line of bean harvesters were made by the Gale Manufacturing Company of Albion, Michigan.
Our Siegel Township farmer arrived in the field were the navy beans were stood. Although planted in rows, the 18” yellow/brown vines had grown out along the ground and blurred the 30” pathways between the rows. Our Siegel Township farmer “drew up” the horses to a halt with the reins at the start of the first row in the field of navy beans that he and his father had grown during the summer.
He and his father raised navy beans as part of a diversified farming operation that included oats and wheat on their farm. However, the summer of 1935 had been a difficult growing season. Indeed the past couple of years had seen drought conditions all across the United States. Nationwide the dry condition, which was coming to called the “dust bowl” on radio, had begun in 1932. (William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal [Harper and Rowe Pub.: New York, 1963] p. 172.) In Huron County the dry conditions had started in June 1933, when only 1.91 inches of rain fell during the whole month. (From the monthly average historic rainfall for Saginaw Michigan on the web page for Saginaw, at the NOAA weather web site on the Internet.) A normal June would have seen 2.9 inches of rainfall. (From the Bad Axe average rainfall page of the Worldclimate.com web site.) July and August of 1933 had followed with only 1.13 inches of rain in each month. 2.9 and 3.3 inches of rain was normal for those months.
Last year’s growing season had continued to be extremely dry. May of 1934 had yielded only 0.76 inches of rain for the whole month, whereas 3.3 inches would have been normal. June, July and August of 1934 all continued to be dry with rainfall amounts of 1.7 inches, 1.29 inches and 1.43 inches of rain falling in those months, respectively. Although normal rains had returned in September of 1934, this was too late to help the crops and the rains only succeeded in making harvesting of the crops difficult. As a result of the drought conditions in 1934, only 1,461,000 acres or only 75% of all the acreage planted to edible beans nationally were actually harvested. Generally, 90% of all acres planted were harvested in a normal year.
The drought conditions returned last April with only 0.86 inches of rainfall for the entire month of April 1935. However, suddenly in May, the weather reversed itself. Last May (1935) had been the coolest month of May on record since 1925. This was largely due to the 4.5 inches of snow had fallen in May. (Ibid. on the historic monthly snowfall page.) Snow in May! It was not a good beginning to the growing season. Spring planting had been delayed because of the cold spring in 1935. Once June did arrive, the rains would not abate. The radio reported that the Thumb had had 5.09 inches of rain in month of June whereas only 2.9 was average for June. (From the Bad Axe average rainfall page of the Worldclimate.com web site.)
As a result, spring planting development of all the crops were delayed. Only the winter wheat which had been planted in September of the prior year (1934) was growing according to schedule. Following the heavy rains of June, the drought conditions returned throughout July and August with only half the usual amount of rainfall for those months. (Ibid.) Usually, our Siegel Township farmer began pulling the navy beans in mid-September. However, the beans were still growing and maturing in September. Now here he was in October just getting started with the task of pulling the beans.
Across Huron County to the west and indeed, just across the county line in Elmwood Township of Tuscola County township the George Prich family was also struggling to get the navy bean crop harvested. George had planted the navy beans in rows with his 7½ foot Van Brunt grain drill. This grain drill had 13 planting units. However, by closing off the proper amount of holes in the bottom of the seeder box of his Van Brunt grain drill he could use the old grain drill to plant navy beans on his farm also in 30 inch rows.
The 30-inch rows meant that there was room for a horse to walk down the pathway between the rows without stepping on the rows of growing beans. This would allow the navy beans to be cultivated. However as the navy bean plants grew, they began to “vine” along the ground and to tended to cover over pathway between the rows. Thus, the navy beans could only be cultivated a couple of times before the bean plants became too viney and covered too much of the 30 inch pathway. By harvest time in the fall, the beans had become a tangled mass of plants in the field.
Now in October of 1935, our Siegel Township farmer lowered the cultivator on the first row of navy beans the newly sharpened knives lay horizontally on top of the ground over the hilled up row of beans. As he urged the Pete and Moll forward with a shake on the reins and uttering a “giddap” the knives slid under the ground and moved along through the hill of beans, cutting off the beans from their roots just below the surface of the hilled up row of beans.
Our young Siegel Township farmer regreted loss of navy beans that he knew was occurring during this harvesting process. All he needed to do is to look down on the ground and see the naked white beans laying on the ground to know that some loss was occurring because of the cracking of bean pods under Pete and Moll’s feet. Although Pete and Moll walked down pathways between the rows, they could not help treading on the vines.which tended to cover over the 30 inch pathways. This caused a loss of some of the navy beans on the ground as the horses’ feet cracked open the pods of the beans. Indeed the mere manipulation of the bean plants by the cultivator tended to crack open the dry pods on the vines spilling the pearly white navy beans onto the ground. To avoid this type of cracking of dry pods, our young Siegel Township farmer had begun pulling beans with the team early in the morning while the dew was still heavy on the plants. In this way it was hoped that they would complete a great deal of the bean pulling while the dew lasted. The dew tended to moisten the dry pods and to prevent cracking. Once the dew had lifted under the sun of the mid-morning, our young Siegel Township farmer would cease his work in the navy bean field. This meant that work in the navy bean field was limited to early morning work.
Looking down at the little white beans that lay on the ground, our young Siegel Township farmer was struck by a feeling of digust. He had always felt that way. Ever since he was a child he had felt a repugnance against waste that had caused him remorse over the loss of even a single good bean. As a child, his father had attempted to assure him that the losses were usually of “cull beans” which were too discolored or too immature to pass inspection at the grain elevator anyway. However, out in the field he could see that these beans, lying on the ground, were pearly white and were certainly good beans. While reading some articles in the Michigan Farmer, he was gratified to find that his feelings about waste were reflective of the modern trend in scientific farming.
In addition to noting the waste on the ground, our Siegel Township farmer was beginning to doubt the value of having navy beans in the crop rotation on his farm. Despite the passing of the worst part of the depression, prices of all edible beans last year (1934) had averaged only $3.52 per 100 pounds. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.) This was only 52% of the average price of 1929, the year before the depression. (Ibid.)
On the other hand, the other farm crops were faring better. Winter wheat stood at $1.04 per bushel in 1934 which was 81% of its 1929 levels. Sugar beets had reached an average price of $5.21 per ton which was 72.5% of their 1929 average price. (Ibid.) At that rate, it made more economic sense to decrease the acreage allotted to navy beans and increase the acreage allotted to winter wheat. Perhaps, he should shift to raising sugar beets like some of his neighbors as a second cash crop rather than navy beans. However, our Siegel Township farmer clung to the production of navy beans because, he could not tell what the future held. After all the logic behind diversification of the farming operation was that profitability, may vary from particular crop to particular crop in any given year. Thus, whenever a particular crop experienced a down turn in profitability in any given year, the diversified farmer had other crops to sell which may be fetching a better price in the market. Additionally, as a legume, navy beans added nitrogen to the soil. Thus, their crop rotation plan would be incomplete without navy beans as a part of their crop rotation plan.
As the horses pulled bean harvester across the filed he noted that the knives did their job slicing along underground through the hilled up row of beans, cutting the beans plants free from their roots. At the end of the field, our young Siegel Township farmer drew the horses to a halt and moved the levers on either side of the operators seat to pull the knives out of the ground. Then he urges Pete and Moll around to the right to line up with the next rows of navy beans where he lowered the knives again into the ground with the levers at his side. Then they were off again. “Sorry Pete, sorry Moll,” he thought “no time for an extensive rest period at the end of the rows today.” He had to get as much work done as possible before the dew lifted.
As our young Siegel Township farmer knew, pulling the navy beans, was one of the easier parts of the navy bean harvest. After pulling the entire crop of beans, our young Siegel Township farmer knew he would be back in the field again “cocking” or bunching the bean vines into small stacks. This would allow for more convenient loading onto a bundle wagon on harvest day. This hand work would take hours of work, but was necessary to speed the process of loading of the vines onto a bundle wagon on harvest day. This work, like all work with the ripened beans, would be done in the early morning, to “work with the dew” to prevent further cracking of the pods by handling of the vines.
Located in the low lands called the “Columbia swamp” the Prich family farm presented unusually wet conditions in normal years. Rather than “cocking” the navy beans in the field George Prich would load the vines onto his bundle wagon and haul them to the barn a wagon load at a time. The vines would then be stored in the barn away from any additional mildewing or discolorization cause by the rain or the low lying habitually wet ground. When the thresher arrived on the Prich farm, the vines would be forked into self feeder of the thresher from the pile in the barn. This was effective in preventing any further mildewing or discolorization of the navy beans but the process required two extra handlings of the beans and the resultant loss of beans that accompanied each handling of the bean vines.
Every day in the field with the navy beans would end when the dew lifted. At that time, our Siegel Township farmer would cease working in the bean field out of fear of cracking any more of the bean pods and causing even more waste. He merely hoped that he would have time complete this laborious hand work before the thresher arrived on his farm. At about 10AM with the sun high in the sky and the dew well lifted, our young Siegel Township farmer ceased work pulling the beans and headed up to the building site. The work was only partially done in the field, but he would be back tomorrow.
Our Siegel Township; farmer belonged to a “threshing ring” of his neighbors. His father had belonged to this same ring for years. The neighbors of this ring cooperated in the harvest/threshing of winter wheat, oats and navy beans each year. The thresher was actually owned by a farmer from neighboring Bingham Township. (The story of this farmer is the subject of the article carried in the first article in this series on navy bean farming in Huron County in the January/February 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) Currently, the old Keck and Gonnerman (Kay-Gee) thresher was at another farm, slowly making its way around the neighborhood traveling from farm to farm. Our Siegel Township farmer could remember when the thresher was powered by a steam engine. Back then, moving from farm to farm took a long time at the rate of 2¾ mph. However, over the years the farmer owning the thresher had obtained a Kay-Gee Model N four-cylinder internal combustion tractor. This tractor was a great improvement over the steam engine in terms of safety from fire danger. The old steam engine used to emit a nearly constant stream of cinders and unburnt material from the smoke stack. This caused a constant worry on the part of the threshing crew out of fear that the straw stack would catch on fire, get out of control and destroy the wood framed thresher in the entire conflagration. Additionally, the Model N had a two-speed transmission (a high and low gear). In high gear the tractor could pull the large thresher down the road at 5 to 6 mph. This certainly shortened the travel time of moving from farm to farm with the large Kay-Gee thresher.
This morning our Siegel Township was in a hurry to complete his work on his own farm because he knew that he was expected on the farm where the thresher was currently operating. Every year our Siegel Township farmer served on the threshing crew for this thresher. Since threshing day on each farm required a great deal of manpower, wagons and horses, all the member of the threshing ring understood that he needed to supply a wagon, a pair of horses and themselves to meet the manpower needs. This was the obligation of work our Sigel Township farmer and every farmer owed to the threshing ring for each harvest. This was no small commitment of time. Our Siegel Township farmer could expect that he would be away from his farm for virtually all of the months of July, August and September, following the thresher around the neighborhood first for the winter wheat harvest, then for the oat harvest and finally for the navy bean harvest. Each harvest fell so soon upon the others that for these months working on the threshing crew took up nearly all his time. Any work on his own farm, usually performed in those months, any hay that he wanted to put up etc., had to be completed only in the short periods of time left to him when he could be excused from the threshing crew for a day or two. Even the time he had away from the threshing crew had to be split between the haying and the binding and shocking of winter wheat or the oats and the “cocking” of the navy beans which really was just preparing for the arrival of the threshing crew. Additionally, if it rained on the cocked navy beans, he would have to find time to “turn” the piles of cocked navy beans in the field to allow them to dry properly.
This splitting of time between his own farm and his obligation to the threshing ring was somewhat easier in his case because he operated the farm together with his father. Indeed, even now, as he was working in the navy bean field on his own farm his father was over at the farm where the thresher was currently located working as a part of the threshing crew.
Furthermore, the threshing ring also required the efforts of his mother. Our Siegel Township farmer knew also that, as he was working in the field that morning, his mother was also busy baking pies to take over to the noon dinner on the farm where the thresher was currently operating. Just as the men of each farm traded labor, so to did the women.
After bringing Pete and Moll back from the field, our Siegel Township farmer unhitched the bean puller in an out-of-the-way location under the big elm tree in the yard. Then he took Pete and Moll back to the barn. He watered them and fed them their ration of oats and then curry combed the two big Percheron horses. Next he harnessed up the younger Percheron team of horses—Sam and Little Gus. He then took the team across the yard to where the bundle wagon sat. He hitched the team to the bundle wagon and set out down the road toward the farm where the thresher was operating.
Although officially retired from farming, our Siegel Township farmer’s father came out to the farm from his house on the lake in nearby Harbour Beach, Michigan to help out with the farm work. His father had always loved his Percheron work horses. He continued to foal and raise Percherons. He would sell teams of these horses as soon as he had them trained. In this way he earned a little extra income. Sam and Little Gus worked well together and were nearly fully trained to respond to voice commands. Today as he worked in the fields he would tie off the reins on the front standard of the bundle wagon and get down from the wagon and help the crew in the field load the wagon full of vines. Moving the wagon from stack to stack in the bean field, he hoped would be accomplished by mere voice commands of “giddap” and “whoa.” If this worked he could walk from stack to stack of the “cocked” navy beans without having to even touch the reins. His father had trained horses to respond like this. His father made it a point of pride to train all his teams to respond to verbal commands in this manner without the necessity of even touching the reins while picking up bundles or vines of beans in the field.
Earlier in the morning, after the chores were done, his father had headed off to the farm where the thresher was currently located, this morning, with a young Percheron team. They were a beautiful well-matched team, but they were still young and not completely trained yet. They were not even trained as well as Sam and Little Gus. Our Siegel Township farmer smiled at the thought. The young team looked good together in harness. However, Percheron horses as a breed tended to be more highly strung than Belgian or Clydesdale horses. This was the price the Percheron horse owner paid for having a breed of horse that worked at a slightly faster rate with what his father called a “quicker step.” Accordingly, our Siegel Township farmer was aware that his father would have his hands full handling the young team of Percherons today. Although the young team had been used while threshing on the home place, this was the first day that his father had taken the young team off the farm.
Still our Siegel Township farmer knew that his father had a method to his madness. His father expected that the neighbors would be watching the young team of Percherons as well as Sam and Little Gus. His father would not discourage anyone expressing an interest in purchasing either the young team or Sam and Little Gus as a team. His father liked to use opportunities such as this to show off his horses to the neighbors. This was really a form of advertisement employed by his father. .
As he neared the farm, he could see the thresher working out by the straw stacks. There were two wagon loads of bean vines parked on either side of the thresher. While the team hitch to each wagon, stood quietly next to the shaking thresher, the men on top of the load of bean vines were busy forking the vines off the wagon and into the self-feeder of the large thresher.
Our Siegel township farmer was one of the last of farms that the thresher would visit this year. Being last on list was probably fortunate this year. The beans needed all time they could have to reach full maturity. However, now there was merely one more farm after the farm on which the thresher was now operating, before the thresher would be coming to his farm. Hopefully, no rain would fall until all the pulling, cocking and threshing of the beans on his farm was complete. After having lived through drought conditions since the 4th of July (only 1.11 inches of rain whereas 2.5 inches was normal for July and only 1.04 inches of rain in August whereas 2.9 inches was normal for August), our Siegel Township farmer knew that raining just at the time of harvest was just the type of perverse joke that nature could possibly play on farmers. It had happened just that way last year.
He needed have worried. Although the rains had returned slightly in September with 2.12 inches for the whole month as opposed to 3.3 inches for a normal September, only 1.26 inches of rain fell during the whole month of October, 1935. Our Siegel Township farmer was able to get all of his navy bean crop out of the field and safely stored away without adverse weather conditions affecting the harvest. Over the winter, the price rose above $5.00 and our Siegel Township farmer was able to sell his navy beans at a good price that approached the 1929 price level. Our Siegel Township farmer had sold his winter wheat in October of 1935 when the price reached $1.06 per bushel as an average price for the whole month. Wheat had not been this high for more than five years.
With return of relatively normal prices, our Siegel Township farmer was able to act on a dream that he had had for some time. He purchased a farm tractor. Like most young boys his age he had been attracted by the introduction of farm tractors and had dreamed of operating a tractor of his own. For years he had been trying to persuade his father to purchase a farm tractor to ease the work on the farm and to save money. However, his father was too attached to the horses to be persuaded into purchasing a tractor. Thus it was only in 1936, after he and his father had signed an agreement giving our Siegel Township farmer legal responsibility for the farm, that he was able to purchase a tractor. That same spring of 1936, he signed a purchase agreement with the Allen Bowron and Son dealership for the purchase of a new Allis Chalmers Model WC tractor. Bowron’s was the local Allis Chalmers dealorship located at 809 E. Huron Avenue in Bad Axe, Michigan, the county seat of Huron County.
The Allis Chalmers WC was a row-crop tractor which developed 21.48 horse power at the belt pulley and 12.09 hp. at the drawbar. (C.H. Wendel Nebraska Tractor Tests [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Michigan, 1993] p. 85.) Allis-Chalmers had introduced the Model WC in 1933. The WC was a unique tractor in that it was offered to the farming public available on rubber tires from the very first of its production run in 1933. Indeed it was the first tractor ever tested by the University of Nebraska which had been fitted with rubber tires. Allis Chalmers had been the leader in use of rubber tires on farm tractor. Indeed, the first rubber tired tractor to ever appear in public was the Allis Chalmers Model U tractor introduced in 1929. Since its introduction in 1933, the Model WC had become leading seller for Allis Chalmers. During the first three years of production from 1933 through the end of 1935, nearly 14,000 Model WC tractors had been manufactured and sold.
However, 1936 saw a tremendous growth in the popularity of the Model WC. The particular Model WC tractor sold to our Siegel Township farmer in 1936was just one of the 17913 WC tractors made by Allis Chalmers in 1936. Together with the WC tractor our Siegel Township farmer purchased a Model No. 2 two-bottom plow with 16” bottoms and a No. 20 series two-row mounted cultivator. This cultivator was set to the 30” rows that he used for planting his sugar beets as well as his navy beans. Additionally, the a No. 20 came with a set of knives for “pulling” navy beans and also a set of windrowing rods which would actually roll the two rows of beans being pulled into a single windrow lying on top of the worked ground. Our Siegel Township farmer realized that the simple fact of pulling two rows at the same time would cut in half his time spent in the field performing this operation.
However, our Siegel Township farmer had his mind on something that would save emensely more amounts of time in the field and resolve, in large part, one of his worst regrets regarding the raising of navy beans—the large amounts of pure waste of bringing the navy beans through the harvest and getting them to the elevator. He was intrigued by the possibilities of the small combine that Allis-Chalmers had begun its production run in 1935. “Combines” were machines that “combined” the operations of harvesting or cutting the crop in the field together with the actual threshing of the crop in the field. Combines were not new to the experience of our Siegel Township farmer and his neighbors through out the Midwest. Large behemoth combines machines had been in use in California and the Great Plains of the United States ever since 1900 or before. However, farms of the Great Plains and California where these large combines were employed extended from horizon to horizon. These farms were large enough to support the expense of a large machine which was used only once a year. On the smaller farms of the Midwest, large combines could not be supported economically. However, the new Model 60 Corn Belt Harvester introduced by Allis-Chalmers was a small combine weighing only 3000 pounds which was inexpensive enough (suggested retail price of only $595 freight on board [F.O.B.] from the factory at LaPorte, Indiana) for profitable use by the small diversified family farmer in the Midwestern United States. (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota Fla., 1988] pp. 66 and 68.)
Along with its small size and inexpense the Corn Belt Harvester was made available with two types of Allis Chalmers windrow pickups attachments. (A rotary type windrow pickup and a draper type windrow pickup. See the Operators Manual for the Allis Chalmers Model 60 combine at pages 38 and 42 respectively, available from Jensales P.O. Box 277 Clarks Grove MN 56016-0277, Tel: 1-800-443-0625 or (507) 826-3666.) Whereas the drier conditions of the climate of the Great Plains allowed grain to be cut down and combined in one operation, the more humid conditions of the Midwest caused more “green” material (weeds) to grow in the ripened grain field. Additionally, in this wetter climate the grain tended to ripen less evenly than on Great Plains. Consequently, in the Midwest the grain tended to be windrowed in a separate operation and then combined with the use of a windrow pickup attachment mounted over the cutter bar of the combine. Windrowing allowed the grain and the green weedy material to dry completely for better separation of all the grain from the straw and other debris.
As noted above, the Model 60 pull-type combine was called the “Grain Belt Harvester” to indicate its intended purpose as a combine small enough and inexpensive enough for use on the small diversified farms of the Midwest. However, this name appears to have been abandoned upon the start of production in favor of the name “High Speed Harvester.” By the time that our Siegel Township farmer was negotiating with the sales staff at the Bowron dealership in Bad Axe in 1936 the Model 60 was being called the “All Crop Harvester.”
From the very first the little Allis Chalmers combine was offered to the public only on rubber tires. Just as Allis Chalmers contracted with the French and Hecht Company (F. & H.) for 17 inch round spoke rims on which to mount the 5.25 x 17” rubber tires for the front wheels of the WC and contracted for 24” F. & H. round spoke rims on which to mount the 11.25 x 24 rubber tires for the rearwheels of the Model WC tractor, so too were F. & H round spoke rims used for mounting rubber tires on the All Crop Harvester.
The All Crop Harvester hit the market like an explosion. The particular All Crop Harvester purchased by our Siegel Township farmer was just one of 5,500 made and sold by Allis-Chalmers in 1936. In the next year, sales would nearly double to more than 10,000 combines. (Ibid., p. 69.) The reasons for this great popularity of the Model 60 All Crop Harvester quickly became obvious to our Siegel Township farmer. Purchase of the All-Crop Harvester meant that he could withdraw from the threshing ring. That summer of 1936, he disabled the tying mechanism and removed the bundle carriage of his old grain binder. Then the cut grain flowed out of the binder and onto the ground in a continuous steam as he moved across the field. In this way, the old binder became a windrower.
Our Siegel Township farmer was quite surprised at the speed with which he was able to complete both the winter wheat harvest and the oat harvest. Usually one good day for windrowing the entire crop and then another two days for combining the windrowed crop. No longer was there the need to spend hours in the grain field shocking the bundles of wheat or oats. He then merely put the combine back in the shed and he could move on to other work. No longer was there a need to spend weeks away from the farm working on the threshing crew. Furthermore, the grain did not sit outside in the rain and weather waiting on the harvest. The grain spent only one or two nights on the ground in a windrow before it was combined. Accordingly, in a normal year there was a greatly reduced likelihood that the grain crops would be touched at all by the rain. However, 1936 was anything but a normal year. (A comparison of the actual monthly precipitation chart for 1915 on the Saginaw Michigan page of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) website with the average monthly rainfall chart for Bad Axe, Michigan on the Bad Axe/Huron County page of the World Climate website.) The dought conditions of 1935 continued in 1936 as only about have the usual amount of rain fell in the crucial months of May, June and July. Thus, the yield of our Siegel Township farmer’s winter wheat was greatly reduced. Nationwide, only 66.4% of all wheat acreage planted was harvested. As a result of the poor harvest, the price of winter wheat rose dramatically. At the end of harvest the price was still at $1.06 per bushel as an average for the whole month of July, 1936. (From the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research on the Internet.) This was the price at which our Siegel Township farmer had sold his wheat the year before. However, the average price for month of August rose to $1.15 per bushel. (Ibid.) This was higher than the price of wheat had been since January of 1930. Our Siegel Township farmer sold his entire crop at this point, assuming the price would not rise much more. So too did manyof his neighbors. However, the price would continue to rise throughout the winter and would reach $1.42 in March of 1937. (Ibid.)
However, although the weather continued to be very hot, normal rains returned in the month of August which helped the navy bean crop finish developing. Thus, by mid September it was time to “pull” the navy beans in preparation for the harvest. This year, however, our Siegel Township farmer would use the tractor and the mounted Model 20 cultivator to pull two rows of beans at a time. Walking into the shed on a bright September morning he approached the orange colored tractor and reached under the 15-gallon main fuel tank of the WC and shut the valve that allowed kerosene to flow through the pipe to the carburetor. Next he opened the drain cock valve under the Zenith carburetor and emptied the fuel bowl of the carburetor of all kerosene. Then shutting the drain cock on the carburetor he opened valve under the small gasoline tank located under the hood of the engine up behind the radiator. While gasoline flowed down the pipe to the carburetor and filled the bowl of the carburetor, our Siegel Township farmer topped off the small gasoline tank from a five-gallon can of gasoline in the shed. Next he put the gear shift level in neutral and to relieve the load on the engine as much as possible while cranking he pressed the clutch pedal in and locked it with the clutch pedal lock. Then he set the throttle at about half way open, pulled the choke and took the crank loose from the clips on the left fender of the tractor and gave the engine a turn. After one upward pull on the crank, our Siegel Township farmer pushed in the choke and gave the crank another upward turn. The four cylinder engine sputtered to life. He backed the WC out of the shed and drove to the 500 gallon fuel barrel set up high on a stand located under a large Elm tree. There he topped of the main fuel tank with kerosene.
Last spring just after taking possession of the WC, our Siegel Township farmer begun to wonder if buying the two-fuel model WC had been the correct decision. Ordinarily the price of kerosene, distillate or the other low octane fuels allowed about a 7% to 10% savings on the price of fuel per gallon over the costs of gasoline. However, in April, 1936 the average monthly price for kerosene was only 1% lower than gasoline and in May and June the price of kerosene was actually 1% higher than the price of gasoline. (Comparison of the historic monthly wholesale prices of gasoline as opposed to the price of kerosene at the National Bureau of Economic Research website.) Luckily in July the situation had corrected itself and the July monthly price of kerosene was 12% less than gasoline. Last month, in August, the price differential had reached 16% as the price of kerosene dropped. Our Siegel Township farmer had kept buying kerosene on a frequent basis to take full advantage of the low kerosene prices. Now in September, the price of kerosene was climbing a bit but kerosene was still 13% cheaper than gasoline.
Our Siegel Township farmer then drove the tractor over to where he had the Model 20 mounted cultivator located. He attached this cultivator to the WC and the pulled the tractor around to the shop where he installed the knives to the cultivator which would cut off the the bean plants beneath the ground. Next he attached the “windrowers.” The windrowers were long rods attached to the cultivator that would fold the two rows of cut beans into a single windrow. After once more starting the WC, our Siegel Township farmer headed for the bean field with the cultivator turned “bean harvester.” He pulled up to the first two rows of beans stopped the tractor and lowered the cultivator to the ground with the levers on either side of the operator’s seat. At this point he got off the tractor, opened the valve leading from the main fuel tank and closed the valve leading from the small gasoline tank. The tractor was now running on kerosene. The WC had been designed to run on low grade fuels with octane levels as low as 30. Although kerosene tends to be some what above this low level, the engine of the WC needed to be kept at a temperature above 200°F to operate properly on kerosene. Thus our Siegel Township farmer adjusted the radiator curtains in front of the radiator to restrict the cooling capacity of the radiator. As the day became hotter he may need to open the curtains more to let more cool air flow through the radiator to keep the water temperature below boiling temperature, i.e. 230°F. As he crawled up into the operator’s seat and put the tractor in 2nd gear and headed out across the field. As he moved forward the knives on either side of the tractor slipped under the ground and began cutting of the bean plants underground. The windrowing rods under the tractor laid the cut plants of both rows into a single windrow. Looking around behind him from the tractor operator’s seat, our Siegel Township farmer saw that the windrowed beans were being left neatly on top of the newly worked soil which the bean puller was leaving in its wake.
The windrowing went so fast that the very next day our Siegel Township farmer was able to pull the combine out of the shed and get ready for the bean harvest. There were certain preparations that needed to be made to the combine ready for the bean harvest. First he replaced the sieve in the back of the combine with a sieve made for beans and then opened the clearance space between the cylinder and the concave of the combine. Next the cylinder of the combine needed to be slowed down from the speed of 1400 to 1600 revolutions per minute (r.p.m.) which was used for wheat and oats to the recommend speed of 450 r.p.m.s for navy beans. Connected to the cylinder was a pulley, or sheave, made up of two sheave plates. Directly below this pulley was another pulley which was also made up of sheave plates facing each other. The lower pulley was connected to the gear box and thus was the drive pulley. There were six spacers that fit on the three bolts that held the two sheave plates together forming this lower pulley. The Model 60 All Crop had come from the factory with the spacers located outside the two sheave plates. This meant that the sheave plates were as close together as possible. As a result, the large V-belt rode high in the sheave plates forming a large drive pulley. A large drive pulley in any application increases the speed of the belt. This factory-set configuration placed the cylinder speed of the All-Crop Harvester in the highest speed range (between 850 r.p.m. to 1600 r.p.m.) of cylinder speed. As noted above this range included the speed for combining wheat and oats.
Now as he prepared the All Crop Harvester for the navy bean harvest, our Siegel Township farmer moved the six spacers to a location between the sheave plates. This placed the sheaves as far apart as possible. This meant that the large V-belt would ride very low between the sheave plates. Thus a small drive pulley was formed and the speed of the belt and, thus, the cylinder would drop to the range of 450 r.p.m. to 700 r.p.m.
Once the correct range of cylinder speed had been selected, all fine adjustment of the speed within that range was made by adjusting the sheaves of the pulley connected to the cylinder shaft itself. This was the “driven” pulley. In any application, increasing the size of the driven pulley decreases the speed of the driven pulley. In this case, the sheave plates of the pulley on the cylinder of the All Crop Harvester were controlled by a crank located on the left side of tha combine. Turning this crank clockwise drew the sheave plates together and , thus, decreased the speed of the cylinder with in the range established by the placement of the spacers in the lower drive pulley. This operation had to be done while the combine was running. So our Siegel Township farmer started the tractor engaged the power take-off and let out the clutch pedal. The combine began shaking with activity. He then set the throttle to the location on the quadrant which he had learned during the wheat harvest earlier in the year, was the location that assured the speed of the power take-off shaft to be 535 to 550 r.p.m. Then he climbed down from the tractor and moved around to the left side of the combine. He held a speed counter in his right hand. This speed counter was part of the equipment sold with all All Crop Harvester combines. When the rubber tip of the speed counter was placed in the center of any turning pulley or shaft would count the number of r.p.m.’s of that pulley or shaft. Next he pulled his pocket watch out of the front pocket of his bib overalls and watched the sweep hand of the watch as he touched the speed counter to the center of the cylinder shaft that protruded through the left side of the combine. When a minute passed he withdrew the speed counter from the shaft and looked at the dial on the speed counter which told him how many revolutions had occurred during that minute. Sure enough the cylinder was turning at a speed near the top of the range i.e. 700 r.p.m. By turning the adjustment crank located immediately below the protruding cylinder shaft in a clockwise fashion, our Siegel Township farmer decreased the speed of the cylinder. Hew knew from the owners manual that every two turns of the crank reduced the cylinder speed by 25 r.p.m. After obtaining the correct cylinder speed, our Siegel Township farmer was off to the field with the little combine.
The combining of the navy beans went well. Although the rains that arrived in August may have helped the bean crop some in the latter stages of development, the reduced yield of the navy beans per acre still showed the results of the dry summer. Across the nation, the dry summer had had it effect on the overall edible bean market. Of the 1,950,000 acres that had been planted to edible beans in the spring of 1936, only 1,626,000 acres or 83.4% had been harvested in the fall of 1936. The average yield across the nation was only 727 pounds of beans per acre as opposed to 769 pounds for 1935 and 780 pounds per acre for 1934. Predictably, the price of edible beans rose in response to this poor harvest. The average price for navy beans for all of 1936 was $5.37 per hundred weight.
Although the yield of the navy bean crop was greatly reduced due to the continuing drought, our Siegel Township farmer was pleasantly aware of the fact that there was very little loss of the precious beans due to shelling or cracking of the pods. As he moved along across the field in second gear on the WC, our Siegel Township farmer carefully observed the combine over his left shoulder. The windrow pickup on the combine gently lifted the bean vines up and into the combine with a minimum of disturbance. This single handling of the bean vines replaced a great number of handlings of the bean vines, i.e. cocking the beans with a pitch fork, turning the piles with a pitch fork after every rain as the beans awaited arrival of the threshing machine, then the loading of the vines onto the wagon on threshing day and finally the feeding of the vines into the thresher with a pitch fork.
Additionally, our Siegel Township farmer could see that the beans that were flowing out of the grain elevator showed very little discolorization. This was another benefit of obtaining the All Crop Harvester. The beans had spent very little time on the ground in a windrow. Mildew had not had time to discolor the pearly white navy beans. Thus, the efficiency with which the All Crop Harvester harvested the whole crop with very little waste and the speed with which the crop was harvested with the little combine, were both helping our Siegel Township farmer turn this drought year harvest into a marginally profitable year. Although it was a limited harvest in 1936, our Siegel Township farmer was able to get more of the crop to the market than he would have been able to do by continuing to use a stationary thresher. It truly was a revolution in the harvesting of navy beans. The little combine had mitigated the effects of a bad harvest year of 1936. Thus, the All Crop Harvester was certainly paying for itself in its very first year on the farm in a very direct way. Direct because it placed more money in his pocket that year. However, the combine also paid for itself by indirect means. Our Siegel township farmer was amazed at the amount of time (weeks of time) that he was able to save in 1936 by not having to follow the thresher around the neighborhood serving on the threshing crew. Furthermore, his wife was saved time, expense and effort by not having to be part of the cooking crew that followed the threshing crew around the neighborhood.
Although he had been the first farmer in his neighborhood to purchase a combine, our Siegel Township farmer was not alone in his recognition of the savings time and effort as well as the savings in money that could be obtained by the use of a combine. With the exception of May 1937, the year of 1937 was a normal year for rainfall. Consequently, 88.7% of all acres planted to beans in the spring of 1937 were harvested in the fall of 1937. More significantly, however, the per acre yield in edible beans leaped from 727 pounds per acre to the phenomenal new record high of 934 pounds per acre—a 22.2% increase in the yield. Never again, up to the present day, despite, at least some, adverse weather growing seasons occuring during this period of time, was the yield of edible beans fallen below 800 pounds per acre. Thus, the revolution that our Siegel Township farmer observed on his own farm in 1936 was experienced by many other edible bean farmers in 1937. Clearly the reason for this revolution was the coming of the All Crop Harvester to the edible bean fields.