The Case Model NCM Baler and a Family’s Crucial Year

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The Case Model NCM baler and a Family’s Crucial Year

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the January/February 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Editorial Note

The following article was published in three different magazines.  Each version of the article approached the story of the 1947 wet year in a different way.  Accordingly, there are important differences in each version of the story and, therefore, each version has been included in this reproduced here for the reader to study these differences.

Case color advertisement 2

            As related in an earlier article, the Howard Hanks family had moved to LeRoy, Minnesota from Mapleton, Minnesota in 1945.  “The Wartime Farmall H,” Belt Pulley, July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13.  They had purchased the big 400-acre Bagan farm five miles east of LeRoy, Minnesota.  The payments on the newly-purchased farm were a big concern.  The expense involved with moving a family from a renting operation to ownership of a farm was no small matter.  Then there were the usual expenses entailed in raising a large family.  Furthermore, three of the oldest Hanks children were planning to be married in 1947.  What the family needed was a period of normalcy to consolidate their financial position; however, as 1946 ended, it looked as though the family was not going to get that period of normalcy.  The Second World War had ended and prices for farm products had fallen.  On the other hand, wartime price controls had ended and farm equipment prices immediately climbed.  Then, too, there was the weather.

The fall of 1946 harvest season was very wet.  The family had to borrow a Farmall M which belonged to Reuben Jacobson just to pull the big John Deere No. 7 combine through the soggy soybean fields.  The Hanks’ 1942 Farmall H, with its new cut down steel rear wheels which were now fitted with rims and rubber tires, was unable to pull the combine as it had in the fall of 1945.  The Reuben Jacobson Farmall M had wheel weights and fluid in the tires and thus was used to harvest soybeans on the home farm, as well as for all of the custom work.

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The rains started in the fall of 1946. During the fall harvest that year the Hanks family had to borrow a Farmall model M tractor to pull the large John Deere No. 7 combine through the mud of the soybean field that year.

 

The rain continued throughout the fall of 1946, and in the spring of 1947 it started again with a vengeance.  By the time of the first wedding that year (Bruce Hanks and Mary Keller on April 2), the ground was a quagmire.  Even the roads were a mess, and the farm tractors were employed to help negotiate these roads.

More rain came all through the spring and early summer.  Field work had to be delayed to the point where the situation began to look grim.  By the time of the second family wedding that year (Lorraine Hanks and Robert Westfall on June 25), it was clear that even the garden had failed because of the continuing rain.  As with most families of the time, gardening was not a mere hobby, but was a real source of food for the family.  The failure of the garden meant that household expenses would be just that much higher for the summer and for the following winter.

The oldest son, Fred Hanks, who had been serving in the United States Army in Italy, arrived home just in time for the second wedding on June 25.  He was shocked to find that the soybeans were not yet entirely planted, even at this late date!  The family did not complete planting soybeans until July 6.  They felt as though planting soybeans so late in the season would be a waste of time and money, and 1947 was showing every sign of being a make-or-break year for the family.  In addition, they were counting on the income that would be derived from custom combining in the neighborhood, and prospects for that income were not good unless the rain stopped.

The third family wedding that year (Marilyn Hanks and Wayne Wells) was held on July 12.  Howard and Ethel Hanks, parents of the bride, were hosting the reception at their house on the Hanks farm.  Ethel Buck Hanks, mother of the bride, was distressed that she did not have any crystal or a matched set of glassware to make the reception dinner a formal affair, and the family’s dire straits held no promise that there would be money for even such a small luxury as this.  However, Howard went uptown and negotiated with the proprietor of the hardware store to borrow a set of gobbets and a matching set of sherbet stemware.  This crystal would be used for the reception, then packaged up again and returned to the store.  Ethel was extremely pleased with the goblets and sherbet stemware when Howard brought it home several days prior to the wedding.  Ethel carefully unpacked the goblets and sherbet stemware and washed each piece in preparation for the wedding reception.  She loved the beautiful glassware and wished that she could keep the goblets and the sherbets for the weddings in the family that she knew were coming up.  However, she knew that the glassware was only borrowed from the hardware store and the glassware would have to be returned.  Accordingly, following the wedding reception, she carefully washed each piece, wrapped it and sadly placed it back into the box for the journey back to town.

The new son-in-law, Wayne Wells, had taken over the farming operation on the 160-acre farm owned by his father, George Wells, which was two miles to the west of the Hanks farm.  Wayne Wells and the Hanks family were planning to cooperate in some farming activities, i.e., corn planting and haying.  They anticipated putting the loose hay in the barn as they had in past years; however, Wayne, who had been thinking of new ways to improve the efficiency of the farming operation, explored the possibility of baling the hay for storage in the barn.  He also saw the possibilities of doing custom baling in the neighborhood.  Many of the same farmers who paid to have their oats and soybeans combined may also pay to have their hay and straw baled.  Since there were very few pickup balers in the neighborhood, the Wells and Hanks families would have a monopoly on the whole market.  Furthermore, with daughter Hildreth, age 17, and son John, age 12, still living at home on the Hanks farm, Bruce and Mary living on the Tony Machovec farm about 1/2 mile south of the Hanks farm, and with Fred’s return from the Army, there would be more than sufficient people to outfit a baling crew and still keep up with the chores.

J.I. Case advertised their new Model NCM baler as the “modern way to befter hay.” Rather than storing hay loose in the barn, the new method harvested and stored hay in the form of square bales.

The Hanks family was receptive to the suggestion of purchasing a baler in hopes of earning extra income from custom baling.  Later, they saw an advertisement for a used Case NCM baler.  In the middle of the rainy summer, it seemed like a gamble considering all of the other pressing concerns.  However, as the old saying goes, “You have to spend money to make money.”  They decided to act.

A Case Model NCM hay baler.

Accordingly, Bruce and Fred Hanks made arrangements with Eddie Wolthoff to make the trip to Emmetsburg, Iowa to buy the used Case NCM baler and bring it home on the Wolthoff International Harvester KB-5 truck.

Eddie Woltoff’s Model KB-5 International Harvester truck was a modern post-World War II truck.

Wayne Wells also borrowed an older 1931 International Harvester Model A-5 from his neighbor, Mel Anderson,  to make the trip.  The reason for the second truck was that the package deal also included a Ford/Ferguson 9N.  The total purchase price of the package deal was $3,300.00.  This price was cheap in comparison to other balers available at the time.  The low price may have been a recognition of the shortcomings of the NCM.

Mel Anderson’s 1930 Model A-5 International Harvester truck was an older pre-World War II truck.

            Case had introduced the model NCM baler in 1940.  The baler was made of galvanized sheet metal until the advent of wartime restrictions on the galvanizing process.  Therefore, from 1942 on, the NCM was painted Flambeau red.  The NCM did not have a self-tying mechanism; instead, two workers rode in seats on either side of the bale chute, poked wires through the compressed hay in the chute, and tied the wires to create bales as the hay moved toward the rear of the chute.  The baler was powered by a Wisconsin VE-4 engine.  With its little flat spark arrester, this air-cooled engine made a unique sound as the baler passed over the field.

The Case NCM was returned to the Hanks farm and was put to work on the hay crop of 1947.
The Case NCM was returned to the Hanks farm and was put to work on the hay crop of 1947.  This picture was actually taken in the summer of 1948 when as noted below Hanks family had traded the Ford 2N in on the new Ford 8N which is pictured here.

To this day, the NCM has an infamous reputation among people who farmed with it, because the job of riding on the baler was commonly regarded as the “dirtiest job on the farm.”  Each stroke of the plunger compressing the hay in the chute would bring a cloud of hay dust belching forth directly into the faces of both workers on the baler.  Of the two workers on the baler, the worker in the seat on the right side of the chute, who did the tying of the wires, had the more uncomfortable job.  He occupied the seat in a “protected area” behind the pickup.  This meant that, whereas the worker on the left side of the chute was in an open location and might get an occasional refreshing breeze, the worker located in the “protected area” was not likely to get any breeze.

EPSON MFP image
Wayne Wells, on the left, pokes wire through the bales to Keith Hall, on the right, who has the dirtiest job on the farm,  ties the wire tied bales on the rear of the Case NCM baler.

Both workers on the baler would get hay dust in their eyes, ears, nose, down the back of their necks, and in their shoes.  In the heat of summer, dust and perspiration would create a sticky mess on the workers’ bodies.  Wayne Wells, who generally occupied the seat on the right side of the chute, wore goggles to cover his eyes and buttoned his shirt collar tight around his neck to avoid the dust.  He would then tie a large bandanna across his face, like the bandits in old Western movies, to keep the dust out of his nose.  He even tied string around the cuffs of his pants to keep the dust from getting up his pant legs.  All of these preparations still did not prevent the dust from permeating, and all the extra clothing made the workers perspire all the more under the burning sun, adding to the discomfort and displeasure of haying season.

Wayne Wells empties the dust out of his hat as part of the baling crew of the Case Model NCM baler in 1948.
Wayne Wells empties the dust out of his hat as part of the baling crew of the Case Model NCM baler in 1948.

In order to reduce the dust problems, Case later sold a fan which could be retrofitted onto the NCM.  The fan was located near the front of the baler and was powered by the flywheel belt.  The fan drew “clean” air from the front of the baler and blew it down two flexible tubes which extended back to the workers’ areas.  These tubes could be adjusted to blow air in the faces, over the shoulders or on the chest of the workers.  The baler employed by the Hanks and Wells families in 1947 did not have this improvement, however.

The NCM had other memorable deficiencies, too.  One of these shortcomings was the Wisconsin air-cooled VE-4 flat-head engine which powered the baler.  Rather than struggle with the tiny starting crank which was supplied with the engine, Fred Hanks would leave the flywheel belt attached to the engine, stick his foot in a spoke of the flywheel, grab another spoke with his hands and give the flywheel a good spin to start the 22 hp Wisconsin.  This usually worked well in the morning.  However, the most notorious problem with the Wisconsin VE-4 engine was that, if the engine killed in the middle of the day, it was very hard to re-start until the engine had cooled.  Ed Bredemeier, past board member of the J.I. Case Collector’s Association and owner of a Case dealership in southeastern Nebraska for many years, states that the short stroke of the engine, the lack of thick oil on the sleeves when the engine was hot, and vapor lock problems with the manifold all combined to prevent a full charge of gas and air from entering  the pistons while the engine was hot.  As the engine cooled, the oil would thicken enough to create a good vacuum in each piston, thus allowing each piston to draw in a full charge of fuel and air, and the engine would stand a better chance of starting.  A solution which reportedly met with success was to add a can of STP to the crankcase of the Wisconsin to keep the crankcase oil thick, even when hot.  However, STP was not available for use in the engine on the Hanks and Wells baler in 1947.

Wisconsin Model VE-4 air-cooled engine on the Case NCM baler.
Wisconsin Model VE-4 air-cooled engine on the Case NCM baler.

Still another shortcoming of the NCM was the ground-driven pickup.  Apparently, some early NCMs were designed to have the pickup powered by a cast iron friction wheel rubbing against the 5.50 x 16 rubber-tire wheel on the right side of the baler.  Jonathan Daniels, now of Floral Park, New York, has memories from his youth of working on a farm in the Hudson River Valley.  During haying season he rode the right seat of a galvanized version of the NCM which had a cast iron friction wheel.  He remembers that in a particular area of the hayfield, where the fresh grass caused the right side tire to become slick, the cast iron wheel would slip and not power the pickup.  When this happened, it was his added responsibility to hop out of his seat, run over to the right wheel and turn the wheel by hand to keep the pickup working until the glossiness wore off.

Most later NCM balers were fitted with a pickup drive which ran off the 7.50 x 18.6 wheel on the left side of the baler.  This was expected to work better than the wheel on the right side of the baler, because the left side of the Case NCM baler was heavier than the right side.  Specifically, both the Wisconsin engine and the large cast-iron fly wheel were located on the left side of the baler.  In addition, Case offered a “stationary baling attachment” for the NCM.  This attachment was a chain and two sprockets which allowed the pickup to be driven from the flywheel axle.  The pickup was then motor powered.  The flambeau red NCM purchased by the  Hanks and Wells families in June of 1947 had a ground-driven pickup powered by the left wheel of the baler.  However, because the family intended to use the baler in the winter for baling straw stacks in the neighborhood, they obtained the “stationary baling attachment” to install on their NCM.  Once installed, they left the stationary baling attachment on the baler all year long for windrow baling as well as stationary baling.

 

As the 1947 haying season approached, it seemed as though the Hanks/Wells NCM baler would not be given a true test of its capabilities.  The rains continued steadily right up to July 12, the day of the third wedding.  It rained hard that day causing difficulties for the guests and the wedding party.  However, in the early afternoon the rain stopped.  The sun came out and it stayed out!  That rain was the last rain for an entire month!  Actually, in the middle of the growing season this month-long drought could have been ruinous to the crops, but with the abundance of moisture in the ground, the crops continued to grow and mature.

Meanwhile, the family set the new baler to work on their own hay, truly making hay while the sun shone!  Day after day the NCM baler, pulled by the little Ford/Ferguson 9N, was operated from dawn until dark.  They functioned well, and the first and second cutting hay crops were soon stored safely in the barn on the Hanks’ and Wells’ farms.  As the weather continued to hold, they started the custom hay baling they had scheduled for the neighbors in the community.

Because the baler had not come with the optional extended bale chute and wagon hitch for pulling hayrack wagons behind the baler in the field, to increase efficiency a homemade bale chute extension and a wagon hitch were fashioned and attached to the baler.  Many times that summer, the little 9N, with the baler and wagons in-tow, headed out of the driveway of the Hanks farm to go to the next farm.  Although it was in the early morning hours (milking was still in progress and the dew hung heavy on the grass), the baler would be hurrying to the next farm so that it could be ready to start baling just as soon as the dew lifted.  On the way down the smooth-graded township roads near the Hanks’ farm, the only obvious indication of the wet spring were the ditches which were wet enough to support the perennial cattails and the flocks of Redwing Blackbirds.  Enjoyable as this scene was, there was no assurance that the rains would not return and ruin the hay crop, so the little 9N had no time to linger.

Although the rains did return in mid-August, they were light rains needed for the late-planted crops which were still growing.  Day after day slipped by with no ruinous rains.  The baling crew finished job after job, and one day realized that all of the custom hay baling was done.  With some of the first money from the custom baling, Howard went uptown to the hardware store and paid for the gobbets and sherbet stemware which had been borrowed for the Hanks/Wells wedding reception dinner.  It was a very pleasant surprise for Ethel to discover that she would not have to return the goblets and stemware which had been packaged up and sitting on top of the International Harvester freezer in the pantry, ready for the expected return trip to the store.

Almost immediately following haying season, it was time to get the family’s 1935 John Deere No. 7 combine out of the shed and start combining the oats which were beginning to ripen.  The weather continued to remain dry, helping the ripening process.  As usual, the Hanks’ 1942 Farmall H was used to pull the big No. 7 along the dry windrows in the oat fields.  For the second summer in a row, both the H and the No. 7 were outfitted with rubber tires.  Furthermore, the H had been newly painted and decaled the previous fall in 1946.

 

The oats on the Hanks farm  were harvested and stored away in the grain bin over the alleyway of the corn crib.  The family had started the summer with a full list of commitments for custom combining.  As the summer stretched out dry and sunny, they were surprised to find that they would be able to get all of the custom oat harvesting completed as well.  They could not quite believe their luck, as one beautiful day followed another throughout that late summer.  They were able to bale up the oat straw and stack it away in the barn.  The Wells and Hanks families were starting to realize the advantages of baling, rather than loose storage.  In addition to saving leaves on the hay, facilitating handling of the hay, and reducing spoilage, hay and straw baling saved space in the haymow.  There was plenty of room to store bales from the first and second cuttings of the hay as well as the straw bales.  Baling was a big improvement over the old method of loose storage of hay in the barn and external storage of straw in a threshing stack.

Steadily, day by day, summer turned into fall.  Oat harvest and straw baling, which were completed in relatively good order, yielded to the soybean harvest.  Hildreth (beginning her senior year) and Johnny (entering the seventh grade) started back to school at LeRoy Public School.  Each morning they ran out of the house, past the giant maple tree in the yard which was gradually turning color, and down the driveway to meet the bus.  This was only the second year that the LeRoy Public School had offered rural school bus service.  Still the weather remained nice.

The fall was marked by a warm Indian summer which allowed the late planted beans and corn to fully mature.  As they began to ripen, the nights began to be cool but the days remained sunny and dry which helped expedite the ripening process.  The pickup on the No. 7 combine was removed and replaced by the reel for the soybean harvest.  Unlike the previous fall in 1946, there was no need to borrow a bigger tractor to pull the No. 7 combine through muddy bean fields; this year the Farmall H was sufficient.

Two 1942 Farmall H tractors in the Fall of 1947 on Hanks farm
The rains had stopped in July of 1947 and the harvest season that fall was nearly perfect. Here, unlike the soybean harvest of 1946, the Hanks family Farmall model H pulls the large John Deere No. 7 combine during the 1947 soybean harvest.

 

The family’s concern now changed from worrying about whether it was going to rain to worrying about when the winter snows would set in.  The longer the snow held off, the more custom bean combining could be completed.

Day after day through the harvest season they worked on, scarcely daring to believe that they would get all of the crops harvested despite the late start.  Frost began to appear on the pumpkins every morning, but there was no sign of snow.  The ground froze and the weather turned cold, but still there was no snow to interfere with the harvest season, so the harvesting continued.

Suddenly, one day it dawned on the family that they were done with all of their own harvesting.  They had made it through the season financially intact.  The family finished the last custom combining customer on November 14, 1947.  That evening, the family walked to the house after putting the NCM baler and the No. 7 combine away in the machine shed and driving the tractors in under cover.  They had the satisfaction of knowing that the last bean was safely in the bin and the last ear of corn was in the crib, that all hay and straw that the farm could produced was stored inside, and that they had earned sufficient income from the custom bean combining and baling to meet all of their obligations.  That evening, on November 14th, almost before they could close the door of the house behind them, it began to snow outside!

In 1947, the crops were all stored away before the snows fell. This is a picture of the snows of the the winter of 1949-1950 on the Hanks farm.
The snows of the the winter of 1949-1950 on the Hanks farm.

It was the end of a glorious harvest season, made all the more splendid by the memories of how dismal the year had begun and how bleak the prospects for a good harvest had looked, even as late as the middle of summer!  Not only would the family be able to meet their obligations, but the extra money obtained from all of the custom work allowed Bruce and Mary to begin planning for their move to Chicago on January 1, 1948, where he would attend Moody Seminary in preparation for the ministry.

Memories of the year 1947 linger.  It was a critical year, in which luck, hard work and a gamble, with the purchase of the NCM baler, all blended to allow the Hanks family to meet their obligations and to finally get a firm financial foundation on their large farm.  There would be other crucial times in the future, but none would be as pivotal as 1947 for the Hanks family.

 (Below is a revised version of the article above.  The Case  Model NCM baler was revisited and modified for publication in an issue of Old Abe’s News, the official magazine of the J. I. Case Collectors Association.)

House on the Will F. Bagan farm at the time that the Hanks family purchased the 400-acre farm in 1944-1945.
House on the Will F. Bagan farm at the time that the Hanks family purchased the 400-acre farm in 1944-1945.

The fall of 1946 harvest season had been very wet.  The Hanks family had to borrow Rueben Jacobson’s Farmall M just to pull the big John Deere No. 7 combine through the soggy soybean fields.  The Hanks’ 1942 Farmall H, with its new cut down steel rear wheels, which were now fitted with rims and rubber tires, was unable to pull the combine as it had in the fall of 1945.  Reuben’s Farmall M had wheel weights and fluid in the tires and thus was used to harvest soybeans on the home farm, as well as for all of the custom work in the fall of 1946.

In the spring of 1947 the rain started again with a vengeance.  By the time of the first wedding that year (Bruce Hanks and Mary Keller on April 2), the ground was a quagmire.  Even the roads were a mess, and the farm tractors were employed to help negotiate these roads.

More rain came all through the spring and early summer.  Field work had to be delayed to the point where the situation began to look grim.  By the time of the second family wedding that year (Lorraine Hanks and Robert Westfall on June 25), it was clear that even the garden had failed because of the continuing rain.  As with most families of the time, gardening was not a mere hobby but a real source of food for the family.  The failure of the garden meant that household expenses would be just that much higher for the summer and for the following winter.

The oldest son, Fred Hanks, who had been serving in the United States Army in Italy, arrived home just in time for the second wedding on June 25.  He was shocked to find that the soybeans were not yet entirely planted, even at this late date!  The family would not complete planting soybeans until July 6.  They felt as though planting soybeans so late in the season would be a waste of time and money, and 1947 was showing every sign of being a make-or-break year for the family.  In addition, they were counting on the income that would be derived from custom combining in the neighborhood, and prospects for that income were not good unless the rain stopped.

The third family wedding that year (Marilyn Hanks and Wayne Wells) was held on July 12.  Howard and Ethel Hanks, parents of the bride, were hosting the reception at their house on the Hanks farm.  Ethel Buck Hanks, mother of the bride, was distressed that she did not have any crystal or a matched set of glassware to make the reception dinner a formal affair, and the family’s dire straits held no promise that there would be money for even such a small luxury as this.  However, Howard went uptown and negotiated with the proprietor of the hardware store to borrow a set of gobbets and a matching set of sherbet stemware.  This crystal would be used for the reception, then packaged up again and returned to the store.  Ethel was extremely pleased with the goblets and sherbet stemware when Howard brought it home several days prior to the wedding.  Ethel carefully unpacked the gobbets and sherbet stemware and washed each piece in preparation for the wedding reception.  Following the wedding reception, she sadly placed it back into the box for the journey back to town.

The new son-in-law, Wayne Wells, who had taken over operation of the 160-acre farm owned by his father, George Wells, two miles west of the Hanks farm and Wayne Wells and the Hanks’ were planning to cooperate in some farming activities, i.e., corn planting and haying.  They anticipated putting the loose hay in the barn as they had in past years.  Wayne, however, who had been thinking of new ways to improve the efficiency of the farming operation, explored the possibility of baling the hay for storage in the barn.  He also saw the possibilities of making extra money by doing custom baling in the neighborhood.  He felt that many of the same farmers who paid to have their oats and soybeans combined may also pay to have their hay and straw baled.  Since there were very few pick-up balers in the neighborhood, the Wells and Hanks families would have a monopoly on the whole market.  Furthermore, with daughter Hildreth, age 17, and son John, age 12, still living at home on the Hanks farm, Bruce and Mary living on the Tony Machovec farm about 1/2 mile south of the Hanks farm, and with Fred’s return from the Army, there would be more than sufficient people to outfit a baling crew and still keep up with the chores.

The Hanks family was receptive to Wayne’s suggestion of purchasing a baler in hopes of earning extra income from custom baling.  Lo and behold, they saw an advertisement in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune for a used Case NCM baler located in Emmetsburg, Iowa.  In the middle of the rainy summer, it seemed like a gamble, considering all of the other pressing concerns.  However, as the old saying goes, “You have to spend money to make money.”  They decided to act.

Accordingly, Bruce and Fred Hanks made arrangements with Eddie Wolthoff to make the trip to Emmetsburg, Iowa, to buy the used Case NCM baler and bring it home on the Wolthoff International Harvester KB-5 truck.  Wayne Wells also borrowed a 1931 International Harvester Model A-5 truck to make the trip.  The reason for the second truck was that the package deal also included a Ford/Ferguson 2N.  The total purchase price of $3,300.00 was cheap in comparison to other balers available at the time.  The low price may have been a recognition of the shortcomings of the NCM.

            Case had introduced this baler in 1940.  It was made of galvanized sheet metal until the advent of wartime restrictions on the galvanizing process.  From 1942 on, the NCM was painted Flambeau red.  The NCM did not have a self-tying mechanism; instead, two workers rode in seats on either side of the bale chute, poked wires through the compressed hay in the chute, and tied the wires to create bales as the hay moved toward the rear of the chute.  The baler was powered by a Wisconsin VE-4 engine.  With its little flat spark arrester, this air-cooled engine made a unique sound as the baler passed over the field.

To this day, the NCM has an infamous reputation among people who farmed with it because the job of riding on the baler was commonly regarded as the “dirtiest job on the farm.”  Each stroke of the plunger compressing the hay in the chute would bring a cloud of hay dust belching forth directly into the faces of both workers on the baler.  Of the two workers on the baler, the worker in the seat on the right side of the chute, who did the tying of the wires, had the more uncomfortable job.  He occupied the seat in a “protected area” behind the pick-up.  This meant that, whereas the worker on the left side of the chute was in an open location and might get an occasional refreshing breeze, the worker located in the “protected area” was likely not to get any breeze.

Both workers on the baler would get hay dust in their eyes, ears, nose, down the back of their necks, and in their shoes.  In the heat of summer, dust and perspiration would create a sticky mess on the workers’ bodies.  Wayne Wells, who generally occupied the seat on the right side of the chute, wore goggles to cover his eyes and buttoned his shirt collar tight around his neck to avoid the dust.  He would then tie a large bandanna across his face, like the bandits in old Western movies, to keep the dust out of his nose.  He even tied string around the cuffs of his pants to keep the dust from getting up his pant legs.  All of these preparations still did not prevent the dust from permeating, and all the extra clothing made the workers perspire all the more under the burning sun, adding to the discomfort and displeasure of haying season.  In order to reduce the dust problems, Case later sold a fan which could be retrofitted onto the NCM.  The fan was located near the front of the baler and was powered by the flywheel belt.  The fan drew “clean” air from the front of the baler and blew it down two flexible tubes which extended back to the workers’ areas.  These tubes could be adjusted to blow air in the faces, over the shoulders, or on the chest of the workers.  The baler employed by the Hanks and Wells families in 1947 did not have this improvement, however.

The NCM had other memorable deficiencies, too.  One of these shortcomings was the Wisconsin air-cooled VE-4 flat-head engine which powered the baler.  Rather than struggle with the tiny starting crank which was supplied with the engine, Fred Hanks would leave the flywheel belt attached to the engine, stick his foot in a spoke of the flywheel, grab another spoke with his hands, and then give the flywheel a good spin to start the 22 hp Wisconsin.  This usually worked well in the morning.  However, the most notorious problem with the Wisconsin VE-4 engine was that, if the engine killed in the middle of the day, it was very hard to re-start until the engine had cooled.  Ed Bredemeier, past board member of the J.I. Case Collector’s Association and owner of a Case dealership in southeastern Nebraska for many years, states that the short stroke of the engine, the lack of thick oil on the sleeves when the engine was hot, and vapor lock problems with the manifold all combined to prevent a full charge of gas and air from entering  the pistons while the engine was hot.  As the engine cooled, the oil would thicken enough to create a good vacuum in each piston, thus allowing each piston to draw in a full charge of fuel and air, and the engine would stand a better chance of starting.  A solution which reportedly met with success was to add a can of STP to the crankcase of the Wisconsin to keep the crankcase oil thick, even when hot.  However, STP was not available for use in the engine on the Hanks and Wells baler in 1947.

Another shortcoming of the NCM was the ground-driven pickup.  Apparently, some early NCMs were designed to have the pickup powered by a cast iron friction wheel rubbing against the 5.50 x 16 rubber-tire wheel on the right side of the baler.  Jonathan Daniels, now of Floral Park, New York, has memories from his youth of working on a farm in the Hudson River Valley.  During haying season, he rode on the right seat of a galvanized version of the NCM which had a cast iron friction wheel.  He remembers that in a particular area of the hayfield, where the fresh grass caused the right side tire to become slick, the cast iron wheel would slip and not power the pickup.  When this happened, it was his added responsibility to hop out of his seat, run over to the right wheel and turn the wheel by hand to keep the pickup working until the glossiness wore off.

Most later NCM balers were fitted with a pickup drive which ran off the 7.50 x 18.6 wheel on the left side of the baler.  In addition, Case offered a “stationary baling attachment” for the NCM.  This attachment was a chain and two sprockets which allowed the pickup to be driven from the flywheel axle.  The pickup was then motor powered.  The flambeau red NCM purchased by the  Hanks and Wells families in June of 1947 had a ground-driven pickup powered by the left wheel of the baler.  However, because the family intended to use the baler in the winter for baling straw stacks in the neighborhood, they obtained the “stationary baling attachment” to install on their NCM.  Once installed, they left the stationary baling attachment on the baler all year long for windrow baling as well as stationary baling.

As the 1947 haying season approached, it seemed as though the Hanks/Wells NCM baler would not be given a true test of its capabilities.  The rains continued steadily right up to July 12, the day of the third wedding.  It rained hard that day causing difficulties for the guests and the wedding party.  However, in the early afternoon the rain stopped.  The sun came out and it stayed out!  That rain was the last rain for an entire month!  Actually, in the middle of the growing season, this month-long drought could have been ruinous to the crops, but with the abundance of moisture in the ground, the crops continued to grow and mature.

Meanwhile, the family set the new baler to work on their own hay, truly making hay while the sun shone!  Day after day, the NCM baler, pulled by the little Ford/Ferguson 2N, was operated from dawn until dark.  They functioned well, and the first and second cuttings of hay crops were soon stored safely in the barn on the Hanks’ and Wells’ farms.  As the weather continued to hold, they started the custom hay baling they had scheduled for the neighbors in the community.

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A picture of the haying crew of 1948, one year after the wet year and all the marriages of 1947. The crew is taking a break with lunch and lemonade which was brought to them by Marilyn (Hanks) Wells (Mrs. Wayne Wells) who sits in the 1931 Chevrolet. From left to right the crew consists of Wayne Wells, his father, George Wells, 13-year old John M. Hanks, the hired man–Keith Hall–and Howard B. Hanks. Marilyn is not eating and does not feel well. She was pregnant with the current author who would be born the coming January 5 of 1949. The 1931 Chevrolet was a loaner from Usem Chevrolet in Austin, Minnesota, while the Hanks family’s regular was being repaired by Usem’s. The 1936 Oldsmobile’s engine had blown up on a trip to Austin shortly before this picture.

Because the baler had not come with the optional extended bale chute and wagon hitch for pulling hayrack wagons behind the baler in the field, a homemade bale chute extension and a wagon hitch were fashioned and attached to the baler to increase efficiency.  Many times that summer, the little 2N, with the baler and wagons in-tow, headed out of the driveway of the Hanks farm to go to the next farm.  Although it was in the early morning hours (milking was still in progress and the dew hung heavy on the grass), the baler would be hurrying to the next farm so that it could be ready to start baling just as soon as the dew lifted.  On the way down the smooth-graded township roads near the Hanks’ farm, the only obvious indication of the wet spring were the ditches which were wet enough to support the perennial cattails and the flocks of Redwing Blackbirds.  Enjoyable as this scene was, there was no assurance that the rains would not return and ruin the hay crop, so the little 2N had no time to linger.

Although the rains did return in mid-August, they were light rains, needed for the late-planted crops which were still growing.  Day after day slipped by with no ruinous rains.  The baling crew finished job after job, and one day realized that all of the custom hay baling was done.  With some of the first money from the custom baling, Howard went uptown to the hardware store and paid for the gobbets and sherbet stemware which had been borrowed for the Hanks/Wells wedding reception dinner.  It was a very pleasant surprise for Ethel to discover that she would not have to return the goblets and stemware which had been packaged up and sitting on top of the International Harvester freezer in the pantry, ready for the expected return trip to the store.

Almost immediately following haying season, it was time to get the family’s 1935 John Deere No. 7 combine out of the shed and start combining the oats which were beginning to ripen.  The weather continued to remain dry, helping the ripening process.  This year, the Hanks’ 1942 Farmall H was again used to pull the big No. 7 along the dry windrows in the oat fields.  For the second summer in a row, both the H and the No. 7 were outfitted with rubber tires.  Furthermore, the H had been newly painted and decaled the previous fall in 1946.

The oats on the Hanks farm were harvested and stored away in the grain bin over the alleyway of the corn crib.  The family had started the summer with a full list of commitments for custom combining.  As the summer stretched out dry and sunny, they were surprised to find that they would be able to get all of the custom oat harvesting completed as well.  They could not quite believe their luck, as one beautiful day followed another throughout that late summer.  They were able to bale up the oat straw and stack it away in the barn.  The Wells and Hanks families had realized the advantages of baling of hay and straw, rather than storing it loose.  In addition to saving leaves on the hay, facilitating handling of the hay and straw, and reducing spoilage, baling saved space in the haymow.  There was plenty of room to store bales from the first and second cuttings of the hay as well as the straw bales.  Baling was a big improvement over the old method of loose storage of hay in the barn and external storage of straw in a threshing stack.

Steadily, day by day, summer turned into fall.  Oat harvest and straw baling, which were completed in relatively good order, yielded to the soybean harvest.  Hildreth (beginning her senior year) and Johnny (entering the seventh grade) started back to school at LeRoy Public School.  Each morning they ran out of the house, past the giant maple tree in the yard which was gradually turning color, and down the driveway to meet the bus.  This was only the second year that the LeRoy Public School had offered rural school bus service.  Still, the weather remained nice.

The fall was marked by a warm Indian summer which allowed the late planted beans and corn to fully mature.  The nights began to be cool, but the days remained sunny and dry which helped expedite the ripening process.  The pickup on the No. 7 combine was removed and replaced by the reel for the soybean harvest.  Unlike the previous fall in 1946, there was no need to borrow a bigger tractor to pull the No. 7 combine through muddy bean fields; this year, the Farmall H was sufficient.

The family’s concern now changed from worrying about whether it was going to rain to worrying about when the winter snows would set in.  The longer the snow held off, the more custom bean combining could be completed.

Day after day, through the harvest season, they worked on, scarcely daring to believe that they would get all of the crops harvested despite the late start.  Frost began to appear on the pumpkins every morning, but there was no sign of snow.  The ground froze and the weather turned cold, but still there was no snow to interfere with the harvest season, so the harvesting continued.

Suddenly, one day it dawned on the family that they were done with all of their own harvesting.  They had made it through the season financially intact.  The family finished the last custom combining customer on November 14, 1947.  That evening, the family walked to the house after putting the NCM baler and the No. 7 combine away in the machine shed and driving the tractors in under cover.  They had the satisfaction of knowing that the last bean was safely in the bin and the last ear of corn was in the crib, that all hay and straw that the farm could produce was stored inside, and that they had earned sufficient income from the custom bean combining and baling to meet all of their obligations.  That evening, on November 14th, almost before they could close the door of the house behind them, it began to snow outside!

It was the end of a glorious harvest season, made all the more splendid by the memories of how dismal the year had begun and how bleak the prospects for a good harvest had looked, even as late as the middle of summer!  Not only would the family be able to meet their yearly obligations, but the extra money obtained from all of the custom work allowed Bruce and Mary to begin planning for their move to Chicago on January 1, 1948, where he would attend Moody Bilble Institute in preparation for the ministry.

Memories of the year 1947 still linger.  It was a critical year, in which luck, hard work and a gamble, with the purchase of the NCM baler, all blended to allow the Hanks family to meet their obligations and to finally get a firm financial foundation on their large farm.  There would be other crucial times in the future, but none would be as pivotal as 1947.

    (Below is an early version of the article on the Case NCM Baler which was prepared for publication in Antique Power Magazine.  However, the article remained unpublished until submitted to Belt Pulley Magazine as the first version on this page.)

            Haying season was always an exuberant season for the children of the Wells family.  My father, Wayne Wells, cooperated with his father-in-law Howard Hanks and brother-in-laws Fred Hanks and John Hanks during haying season.

The Howard Hanks family had moved to LeRoy, Minnesota in 1945.  The experiences of the Howard Hanks family renting the John T. Goff farm in Mapleton, Minnesota from 1935 until 1945 are related in the January/February 1994, Volume 6 Number 2 of Antique Power.  In 1945 my father returned home to the Wells family farm in LeRoy, Minnesota from service in the United States Navy, the Seabees, on the island of Guam in the Pacific.  In 1947, he married Marilyn Hanks and began operating the Wells farm.  My grandfather George Cleveland Wells, retired and moved into the town of LeRoy that same year.

The haying crew stops in the hottest part of the day to have a drink of iced water. From left to right the crew consists of Wayne Wells, Billy Blade billy Blade, John Hanks and nearly hidden from view behind John--Keith Hall. Notice that Wayne Wells is shaking our his goggles. He must have been riding on the tying side behind the windrow pickup. Billy Blade has short sleeves. He muist have been riding the wagon stacking the finished bales. John Hanks is in short sleeves he was traditionally, always the tractor driver. Hidden from view is Keith Hall. He has long sleeves and must have been sitting opposite Wayne Wells on the chute poking the wires through the chute.
The haying crew stops in the hottest part of the day to have a drink of iced water. From left to right the crew consists of Wayne Wells, Billy Blade billy Blade, John Hanks and nearly hidden from view behind John–Keith Hall. Notice that Wayne Wells is shaking our his goggles. He must have been riding on the tying side behind the windrow pickup. Billy Blade has short sleeves. He muist have been riding the wagon stacking the finished bales. John Hanks is in short sleeves he was traditionally, always the tractor driver. Hidden from view is Keith Hall. He has long sleeves and must have been sitting opposite Wayne Wells on the chute poking the wires through the chute.

Also in 1947, the Hanks family, bought a used Case NCM baler.  Case brought out this baler in 1943.  150 Years of Case by C. Wendel page 74.  It did not have a self-tying mechanism, instead two men rode in seats on either side of the bale chute and poked wires through the compressed hay in the chute and tied the wires to create bales as the hay moved toward the rear of the chute.  Being too young to be part of the crew I have fond memories of the Grandpa Hanks, my father, and Uncles Fred and Johnny forming the four man crew (one driving the tractor, two on the baler and one on the wagon which was towed behind the baler) that was required during hay season.  As a child I would watch the NCM’s large spoked fly-wheel turning as the baler moved across the field.  The Wisconsin engine with its little flat circular muffler had a unique sound that we children used to enjoy as the baler passed our vantage point at the end of the field.  Rather than try and struggle with the tiny starting crank, Uncle Fred would leave the flywheel belt attached to the engine, stick his foot in a spoke of the flywheel and grab another spoke and give the flywheel a good spin the start the 22 hp Wisconsin in the morning.  We thought that was cool.  My youth protected me from the harsh realities and problems of working with Case NCM baler.

The picture included with this article shows Fred Hanks of LeRoy, Minnesota (son of Howard Hanks and uncle of the author), pulling the Case NCM with the new Ford 8N in the winter of 1947-1948.  He is taking the baler to a farm in the neighborhood, to bale some threshing stacks for the neighbors.  This custom baling of straw from threshing stacks was a chance to make a little money with farm equipment normally used exclusively in the summer.

New 1948 Case NCM bler and the new 1948 Ford 8N
As reflected in the article the Hanks family sold the Case NCM baler they had obtained after one season’s use. They then purchased another band new Case NCM baler from the LeRoy Equipment Company (the local Case dealer) in the winter of 1947-1948. This is a picture of the new Case NCM in the winter when it was used to do a little stack threshing of straw.

 

To this day the NCM has an infamous reputation among people who farmed with it because the job of riding on the baler is commonly regarded as the “dirtiest job on the farm.”  With each stroke of the plunger compressing the hay in the chute, dust would come belching forth in clouds directly into the faces of the two workers on the baler.  This dust would get into your eyes, ears, nose, down the back of your neck and in your shoes.  It would, in the heat of summer and with the perspiation of your body create an sticky mess on your skin.  My father used goggles to cover his eyes, buttoned his shirt collar tight around his neck to avoid the dust.  He would then tie a large bandanna across his face like the bandits in old Western movies to keep the dust out of his nose.  I even have faint memories of him tying string around the cuffs of his pants to keep the dust from getting up his pant legs.  All of these prepartations, still did not prevent the dust from infiltrating.  Additionally, all the extra clothing made the worker perspire all the more under the burning sun of hay season.  This added to the discomfort and displeaure of the work at haying season.  Experiences with the Case NCM baler have been previously related to Antique Power readers in a letter from Leonard Rahilly of De Witt, Michigan.  Antique Power January/February 1993, Volume 5, Volume 2.  Winter-time stack threshing managed to reduce this misery to some degree because cold weather required the crew to wear an abundance of clothing anyway.

The Rahilly letter also noted that New Holland had been making a self-tying baler, the Model 76 since 1939.  (This baler was pictured as the Mystery Baler in the November/December 1992 issue of Antique Power.  Volume 5, No. 1.)  International Harvester introduced its popular Model 50-T self-tying baler in 1944.  This baler is featured in the 1944 International Harvester promotional movie One-Man Harvesting.  Both of these balers used twine rather than wire.  This was a great improvement for dairy operations because it eliminated one possible source small bits of wire showing up in the feed for the cattle.  By swallowing nails or wire or other small sharp pieces of metal, cows would develop “hardware disease.”  The metal would stay in the stomachs of the cows and not pass through with the manure.  There was no cure for this condition and the cow would usually have to be sold.  This always seemed to happen the the best milk producer on the farm!  Therefore, it was recognised rather early following the Second World War that twine-tied-bales was going to be the method of the future for hay and straw storage.

When the Howard Hanks family bought their NCM in June of 1947 they found that the price was cheap in comparison to other balers available at the time.  The low price may have been a recognition of the shortcomings of the NCM.  Besides the lack of a self-tying mechanism and a lack of an ability to use twine rather than wire for making bales, the NCM had other deficiencies too.  One of these shortcomings was the Wisconsin air-cooled VE-4 flat-head engine which powered the baler.  This engine was also referred to in the letter from Leonard Rahilly cited above.  He noted the short stroke of the engine and the tiny starting crank which made the manual starting of the engine difficult under ordinary circumstances and impossible when the engine was hot.  Antique Power reader, Jonathan Daniels from Floral Park, New York told the author that when he worked as a youth on a farm in New York State, the haying crew would carry a drive belt to the hay field so that they could use the tractor belt pulley to start the Wisconsin when it stalled on a hot day.

Another shortcoming of the NCM was the ground-driven pickup.  It seems that when the NCM baler was first introduced in 1943, it had a pickup which was driven by the engine through a gearbox.  However, this was changed in later models to a ground driven pickup.  The ground-driven pickup was powered by a cast-iron pulley which leaned against the tire on the right side of the baler.  The cast-iron pulley therefore turned only when the baler was moving.  The speed of the pickup was, therefore, proportional to the forward speed of the baler.  The idea was to move the hay as gently as possible into the baler so as to not to shake off the leaves.  However, the ground drive had problems.  The tire would become slippery and there would be insufficient friction to turn the cast-iron pulley and, consequently, the pickup would not function.  Jonathan Daniels remembers that as the tying member of the crew (sitting behind the pickup), he would have to leave his seat periodically and run to the right wheel of the baler and turn the cast-iron pulley by hand.

The NCM purchased by the Howard Hanks family in June of 1947 had this type of ground drive and suffered from the same problem.  However, the baler was soon modified to eliminate this problem.  Case continued the sale of the gearbox and attachment to the pickup as an option for the NCM to be used for stationary baling.  As noted above the Hanks family did custom stack baling in the neighborhood of LeRoy, Minnesota.  Therefore, they purchased the gearbox and attachment option for the baling of threshing stacks.  It was not long before in was realized that the option should remain on the baler even when baling windrows.

This improvement created another problem, however.  Because the speed of the pickup was now fixed there was a need to find a tractor gear speed which would closely match the fixed speed of the pickup.  Neither the 1935 three-speed John Deere D, (noted in the article contained in the January/February 1994, Volume 6 Number 2 issue of Antique Power), nor the four-speed steel-rear-wheeled 1942 Farmall H (which When the NCM was purchased in conjunction with the farm in the fall of 1944) owned by the Hanks family at the time, nor the 1944 five-speed rubber tired Farmall H owned by Wayne Wells at the time had a gear that was just the right speed to pull the baler.  However, there was one other tractor available.

At the time the NCM baler was purchased in June of 1947, a used Ferguson 9N was purchased as part of the package deal.  The Ferguson 9N was a three-speed tractor. The Ferguson was about a 1945 or 1946 model, however it was very much like the 1939 Ferguson 9N that is one of the project tractors pictured extensively in the book, How to Restore Your Farm Tractor by Robert N. Pripps f discovered by to at the same time.  On pages 2 and 10 of that book a little white knob on top of a lever to the left and in front of the driver can be clearly seen.  This is the lever reveals that the 9N has been modified by installation of the Sherman step down transmission gear.  This doubled the number of gears for the Ferguson 9N.  While none of these gears seem to have been added to the Fergusons shown in the book, The New Ferguson Album by Colin E. Booth and Allan T. Condie, this explained by the fact that most of the pictures in The New Ferguson Album were taken in England.  Furthermore, pursuant to the famous handshake agreement between Harry Ferguson and Henry Ford, distribution of the Ferguson in the United States was handled by Ferguson-Sherman Company.  Therefore, the Sherman step-down gear (there was also a companion “step up” gear available) has more official sanction than most third party options and was installed on a number of Fergusons of that time.

The Hanks family probably became aware of the Sherman add-on gears from Walter Shwark who was working as mechanic at the Regan Ford Dealorship in LeRoy, Minnesota.  Walter Schwark was the oldest child of a German-speaking family from LeRoy, Minnesota.  His sister Louise Schwark married George Cleveland Wells and was, therefore, was she was Wayne Wells’ mother.  Uncle Walter Schwark is fondly remembered as a mechanical wizard.  He had big meaty hands and was very strong.  However, his strongest point was his ability to solve the difficult problems that other people found troublesome.  Therefore, he always had people including other mechanics stopping by the Ford garage or at his home on the edge of town asking about there most recent problem.  Handy as my father was there were times that we ended up taking a carborator or starter to town to “let Uncle Walter look at it.”  It seemed that Uncle Walter figure out any problem.  I usually accompanied my Dad to town on these trips to the Walter Schwark house.  He not only worked as a mechanic uptown in LeRoy but he also had a big shop with 10 foot by 10 foot garage door, a huge overhead hoist for removing car engines, and a complete set of tools.  I always admired the orderliess of his shop.  Additionally, he always wore wide suspenders. It was his trademark.  Futhermore, he left the Regan Ford dealorship in the early 1950’s and went down the street to work for the Cease-Okansen International Harvester dealorship.  For most of my life I have associated him with Farmall tractors.  Accordingly, it was inevitable that when my father, my brother and I all received a pair of International Harvester/Farmall suspenders they became our “Uncle Walter suspenders.”  To this day, my father’s conversation is seasoned with an occasional, “Uncle Walter used to say ….”

Thus, Walter Schwark, while working at the Ford dealorship installed the Sherman step-down gear on the Hank’s Ferguson 9N.  The Ferguson worked well on the NCM baler through the 1947 haying season.  However, in pursuit of a wider range of speeds the Ferguson was traded into the Regan Ford dealorship on a new Ford model 8N tractor.

            Case continued to make the NCM.  However, the J.I. Case was a conserveative organisation, to say the least, and  did not attempt to install a self-tying mechanism on the NCM baler until 1950.

In 1956 the Hanks family traded their 1948 Case NCM Wisconsin-powered hand-tied wire baler in on a new John Deere 14-T self-tying PTO-powered baler.  To power the John Deere baler a larger tractor was needed.  Until 1949, the family had the 1931 John Deere model D two-speed tractor that they had brought with them to the Bagan farm from Mapleton.  However this tractor still had the steel wheels  with large 4 inch spades. which hmade the tractor inconvenient on the use on the roads around the Bagan farm.  Fortunately, in 1949,  the family had traded the 1931 John Deere to the Cresco Implement dealership on the purchase of another John Deere model D–a 1935 three speed model D.  This tractor had been fitted with rubber tires and with the three-speed transmission could reach 6 mph.  Between 1959 and 1956, this 1935 John Deere tractor performed a  a great deal of tillage work on the Hanks farm.

Now in 1956, with the arrival of the model 14-T baler on the farm, the 1935 John Deere model D was pressed into another type of service.

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John Deere Model D tractor without the power take-off (PTO) spur.

However, the 1935 model D was not equipped with a power take-off shaft.  Still, unlike the 1931 two speed model D, the 1935 three speed version of the tractor had provision to have a PTO spur connected to the tractor the rear end of the drive train.

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A John Deere Model D with the PTO spur installed.

It was as simple as taking off a plate from the rear of the drive train and attaching a PTO spur to the opening.  Accordingly, a PTO spur was obtained from the local John Deere dealer and installed on the 1935 John Deere D.  The tractor was then ready to power and pull the model 14-T baler.

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The 1935 John Deere Model D tractor powers the John Deere Model 14T baler

The 1935 D remains a fond memory of the grandchildren of Howard Hanks who remember it as “Grandpa’s tractor.”  The grandchildren are also starting to treasure the wealth of pictures of farm machinery taken by Howard Hanks and his sons Fred Hanks, Rev. Bruce Hanks and John Hanks, as well as his daughters Marilyn Hanks Wells, Lorraine Hanks Westfall and Hildreth Hanks Wilson.

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