Category Archives: Oat Raising

Threshing with the Volkart Brothers in Beaver Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota

Threshing with the Volkart Brothers in Beaver Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the September/October 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Younger brother, Fredrick Volkart feeding bundles of oats into the large 42 inch x 62 inch Case thresher. n the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948
Younger brother, Fredrick Volkart feeding bundles of oats into the large 42 inch x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948

Like most young men, Erhardt and Fred Volkart were anxious to strike out on their own.  In the early 1890s, the two boys were living with their parents Henry and Katherine (Wenig) Volkart, who were renting the Pollard farm (now the Dean Hamlin farm) in the “old town” area north of the village of LeRoy, Minnesota (1890 pop. 523). After saving money for the purchase of their own farm, Erhardt (nicknamed Hard) and Fred Volkart purchased a 160-acre farm in Beaver Township, located in Fillmore County on the border with Mower County.  They were also able to buy another 160 acres just across the road to the west in Mower County.  This second piece of land was without a building site and was covered with timber and pasture land, therefore not much of the land was arable.  It was Fred’s dream that some day he would build a house and building site in the timber on this piece of land; however, that would never happen.

The time was right for buying land.  The United States economy was just emerging from the Panic of 1893.  This recession was the worst in United States history up until that time, but by 1896, however, the rural areas of the nation were starting to come back to life.  Indeed, the rural economy would come roaring back!  Propelled by the growing influence of the young nation in the world economic markets and the resultant increase in exports of agricultural products to those markets, farm prices began to increase in 1896 and kept climbing in 1897.  By 1897, commentators were stating that agriculture in the United States was entering a “new age” of prosperity.  (Harold U. Faulkner, Politics, Reform and Expansion: 1890-1900, [Harper Brothers Publishers: New York, NY, 1959] p. 60.)  It was the start of a period of relative prosperity which would be called the “golden age” of American agriculture and would extend all the way to 1921.

Older brother, Erhardt (nicknamed "Hard") Volkart stands on the top of the 40 x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948.
Older brother, Erhardt (nicknamed “Hard”) Volkart stands on the top of the 40 x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948.

Like their neighbors in Beaver township, the Volkart Brothers operated a diversified farming operation involving crop rotation which included the small grains of wheat and oats.  For the threshing of their small grains, Fred and Erhardt would collaborate with their neighbor to the west, Matt and Doretta (Spencer) Klassy.  At that time, the Klassys farmed the 400-acre Bagan farm which bordered the Volkart farm to the east.  (The Bagan farm is described in an article by Fred Hanks, “Survivors from the Past,” January/February 1994 Belt Pulley, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 14.  The Bagan farm would eventually be sold to Howard Hanks, father of Fred Hanks and grandfather of the author, in 1945.)

Almost immediately the boys set about improving their farming operation.  In 1896, Hard and Fred built a new barn on their farm.  Later they added other buildings to the site.  Sometime after 1904, when J.I. Case introduced its new line of all-steel threshers, the Volkart Brothers, together with Matt Klassy, purchased one of the new Case all-steel threshers.  They also obtained a steam engine for powering the thresher.  Matt Klassy and later his son Frank became the engineers of the threshing crew, responsible for the operation and care of the steam engine.  Even after Matt Klassy sold the Bagan farm in 1908 and moved to another farm 2-1/2 miles to the west of the Volkart farm, the Klassys and the Volkarts continued to thresh together.

The huge Model 35-70 Minneapolis tractor weighed 22,500 pounds (lbs.) and actually made the ground shake when it passed along the road at its travelling speed of 2.1 mph.
The huge Model 35-70 Minneapolis tractor weighed 22,500 pounds (lbs.) and actually made the ground shake when it passed along the road at its travelling speed of 2.1 mph.

Sometime after the turn of the century, Hard and Fred’s mother, Katherine, died and their father moved to the Volkart farm to stay with his sons.  Later on, another brother, Henry Jr., moved to the farm with his new bride Frieda (Linde) Volkart where they were to raise seven children: George, born in 1912; Wilber (nicknamed Webb), born in 1914; Grace, born in 1916; Raymond (nicknamed Bud), born in 1918; Lorrie, born in 1922; Gerald, (nicknamed Gett and a long time Belt Pulley subscriber until his recent death), born in 1924; and Beverly, born in 1926.  One day while on the farm, the owner of an 80-acre piece of wooded land to the east of the Volkart farm, and directly across the road north of the Bagan farm, approached Henry Jr., offering to sell his land.  Henry Jr. offered him a “low ball” price of $10 per acre, expecting that the seller would walk away.  To Henry’s surprise, the seller immediately accepted the price and the Volkarts found themselves farming yet more land in addition to doing the neighborhood threshing.

On the extreme right side of this picture can be seen the un-styled John Deere Model G owned by Gaylord Aspel in the summerf of 1948.
On the extreme right side of this picture can be seen the un-styled John Deere Model G owned by Gaylord Aspel in the summerf of 1948.

For many years the Volkart/Klassey threshing ring became the only ring in the neighborhood.  However, in later years, another smaller threshing ring was started in the neighborhood by John Anderson.  John, and later his son Mel Anderson, used a Case 28″ x 46″ thresher.  Farmers of the neighborhood were either part of one ring or the other.  One of the farmers in the Vokart ring was Gaylord Aspell.  His son Jim Aspell of LeRoy, Minnesota, is nearly the only person left with first-hand memories of threshing on the Volkart crew.  Members of the ring, who formed the crew during threshing season, looked forward to bringing the thresher to the Volkart home place because it was well known in the neighborhood that Henry Jr.’s wife Frieda was a good cook.

Steam power had its short-comings.  Steam engines spewed forth a constant flow of hot cinders which created a real fire hazard during threshing season.  Furthermore, steam engines required constant attention and manpower to maintain a proper head of steam.  To alleviate the potential for fire and to modernize their farming operations, the Volkarts sought to replace their steam engine with a fuel-powered tractor.  In 1914, B.F. Avery introduced a 25-50 model kerosene-powered tractor.  Sometime after the introduction of this tractor, the Volkart Brothers bought one.  The 25-50 was advertised as being able to pull a five or six-bottom moldboard plow at the drawbar in addition to supplying ample horsepower at the belt.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests Since 1920, [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida 1985] p. 25.)

A restored 1919 Model 25-50 Avery Tractor which looks like the Volkart’s 1914 Avery tractor.

 

With the addition of the 80 acres purchased by Henry Jr., which needed to be cleared and plowed for the first time, the Volkart Brothers reasoned that the Avery could help out a great deal with the plowing of this virgin soil as well as some of the hard pasture soil on the “home place.”  Accordingly, they purchased a 5-bottom Avery plow with the 25-50 tractor.

1914 Avery Company advertisement showing the Avery 25-50 tractor pulling a six bottom plow.

 

Although the 25-50 was a good tractor while it was running, it proved to be a reluctant starter in any season.  Webb Volkart, currently of LeRoy, Minnesota, was an adolescent while the family farmed with the Avery.  He remembers that ether had to be poured into the cups on each of the four cylinders, and then the engine was turned by pulling a large lever attached to the flywheel.  Once started, however, and placed on the belt for the threshing machine, the tractor worked like it was made for belt work–which indeed it was!

About 1926, the Volkart Brothers and Matt Klassy heard about a Minneapolis 35-70 fuel powered tractor and a 40″ x 62″ thresher which were being offered for sale by a farmer in McIntyre, Iowa.  The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company (MTM) had introduced the 35-70 as the largest tractor in a new line of fuel-powered tractors in 1912.  This huge four-cylinder tractor was one of the largest tractor ever built.  The Model 35-70 was truly big!  It weighed 22,500 lbs and delivered 70 horsepower to the belt.  John Grass Jr., of LeRoy, Minnesota, remembers that when the 35-70 lumbered past at its travelling speed of 2.1 mph, you could feel the ground shake!

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The Minneapolis 35-70 tractor purchased by the Volkart Brothers and Frank Klassey, seen here in 1948 powering the 40 x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm.

One of these Model 35-70 tractors is currently owned by Frank and Betty Sticha of New Prague, Minnesota, and can be seen powering the Melounek and Deutsch sawmill on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association.  (It can be seen at the beginning of the Second Hour portion of Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional movies powering the sawmill and can also be seen at the very end of the same tape, as it was the final exhibit in the parade at the Pioneer Power 1992 Show.)  Although most tractors seem to shrink in size from the childhood memories that one has of the same tractors, the Minneapolis 35-70 still seems every bit as big and awesome now as it does in the childhood memories of the author.

The Volkarts and Matt Klassy purchased the huge tractor and drove it the 16 miles home to the Volkart farm–a trip that must have taken all day.  They recognized that the Minneapolis was not a tractor designed for drawbar work in the field; therefore, no attempt was made to use the Minneapolis for plowing as had been done with the Avery.  The Minneapolis was reserved for belt work each year on the huge Case 40″ x 62″ thresher which came with the tractor.

An Aerial view of the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company factory in Hopkins, Minnesota.

 

Although Case did make a 44″ x 66″ thresher, only a handful of these machines were ever built. For all practical purposes, the 40″ Case machine was the largest thresher available to farmers.  Generally, these large threshers were found in the western grain-belt states of the Dakotas and Montana.  Smaller threshers were generally employed on the diversified farms of the row-crop areas like southeastern Minnesota.  The Volkart Brothers were attracted to the thresher because of the double wing extensions on the feeder and the reputation that the thresher had of being impossible to overload.

A double-wing style of feeder attached to a smaller (36 inch) Case thresher.

 

At that time, stack threshing was common in the LeRoy area.  After cutting and binding the wheat, the farmer would haul the bundles to a central location where the threshing would occur and construct a stack of bundles.  Building the large stack was a technique that had to be learned.  A proper stack would repel the rain and allow the grain to cure, or “sweat,” nearly as effectively as the grain might have done in the small shocks in the field.  The stacks were built just far enough apart to allow the feeder of the thresher to be inserted between the piles so that bundles could be “pitched” into the feeder from both piles simultaneously.  With sufficient wheat or oats, the farmer would build stacks in two rows so that the thresher could be moved ahead in a straight line to the next pair of large stacks once the first pair of stacks was gone.  The bundled grain would then wait on the threshing day.  The advantage of large stacks was that the fields would be cleared of the small grains so that the “under-crop” of hay which may have been planted with the small grain could be allowed to grow unhindered by the shocks as the farmer waited for the thresher to arrive on his farm.

Because stack threshing was typical in the LeRoy area, the Volkart Brothers realized that the double wing attachment to the thresher would be especially useful.  The double wing attachment consisted of two extensions which could be swung out at 90 degree angles on either side of the feeder.  This was a great advantage for stack threshing.  In order to repel rain, stacks were built with a slight downward slope on the outside of the stack.  This meant that the sides of the stack could be slippery for the man or men standing on top of the stack pitching bundles into the feeder.  The double wing attachment to the feeder on threshers basically extended the “feeder” out to the center point of the stack.  The men on the stack could then stand in one place near the center of the stack and place the bundles gently on the wing, rather than “pitching” them into the feeder from the edge of the stack.  The chain apron in the wing would glide the bundles along to the feeder where the bundles would be swallowed up by the thresher.

In 1928, Matt Klassy and his son, Frank,purchased a large 25-45 Case tractor like this tractor which has been converted to a road building roller or packer.

 

In 1928, the Volkarts and Matt Klassy sold the Avery tractor and the 5-bottom plow.  With their share of the proceeds, Matt Klassy and his son Frank bought a Case cross-motor 25-45.  The tractor was called “cross motor” because the engine was mounted on the tractor with its crank shaft parallel to the axles of the tractor.  The cross motor style of tractors were discontinued by Case in 1929 in favor of the more conventional “in-line” engine tractor with the crank shaft of the engine perpendicular to the axles of the tractor which required the conventional-style differential for the rear end of the tractor.

Foremost in the new line of Case tractors for 1929, all of which were equipped with the in-line engine and the differential-style rear end was the Case Model L.  With their share of the proceeds, the Volkart Brothers bought a new Case Model L tractor along with a three-bottom Case plow.  (For 1929, Case had abandoned the light green, dark green, and red color scheme of the cross motor tractors in favor of the gray color with bright red wheels; however, Case continued its old three-color scheme for their implements.)

A pair of Case Model L tractors on rubber tires with rubber-tired Case plows at an antique tractor show.

 

The Volkart’s Case Model L and Case plow operating in the fields would have presented a picture very similar to the beautiful color photo of Herb Wessel’s 1938 Model L and Case Centennial plow on the cover of the September/October 1994 issue of Belt Pulley.  (Readers of Old Abe’s News will recognize another picture of the Herb Wessel Model L and Case plow on page 19 of the Winter 1993 issue of Old Abe’s News.)  The Volkarts found that the Model L could walk right along with the three 16″ bottom plow even in the hardest of old pasture soils.  There was good reason for this ability.  The Model L delivered  30.02 horsepower to the drawbar.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests, p. 63.)  Although the Model L also delivered 44.01 hp. at the belt (nearly as much as the old Avery), the Volkart Brothers never put the Model L on the belt with the 40″ Case thresher.  That duty remained exclusively for the huge Minneapolis.

On June 5, 1929, Matt and Doretta Klassy’s son, Frank, married Esther Lamon and started farming on another farm adjoining his father’s farm.  Because of the ample storage space available on this new farm, the Minneapolis and the thresher came to be stored on the Frank Klassy farm.  Every year, then, the thresher and Minneapolis would travel the 2-1/2 miles down the county and township roads to the Volkart farm after the threshing had been completed on the two Klassy farms.  The route allowed the driver plenty of time to think, given the 35-70’s travelling speed of 2.1 mph.  On these slow trips between farms during threshing season, a little boy (the author) on the Wayne Wells farm would hear the huge tractor and thresher coming down the road, and he would have plenty of time to run to the front yard to see them passing.

These trips were so slow between the various farms of the threshing ring that Webb Volkart remembers one of the men on the crew would start off on the trip to the next farm while the rest of the crew ate dinner.  Then when another member of the crew had finished his dinner, he would drive off in a car to relief the driver of the Minneapolis so that the tractor and thresher could proceed to the next farm without any interruptions.

As the years went by, changes occurred in the Volkart family.  Henry and Frieda’s oldest son George married Beatrice Hall and moved off the Volkart farm and onto his own farm south of LeRoy.  Beatrice (Bee) Volkart still lives in the LeRoy community and has become a historian of the Volkart family, collecting many dates and much written material on the Volkarts and their ancestors.  Their second son, Wilbur (Webb) married Ruby Whiteside on March 26, 1943, then he served in the Armed Forces in the Second World War.  Upon his return from the military in November of 1945, he lived on the Volkart home farm for only about one year before he moved into the town of LeRoy to go to work at the John Deere dealership which was owned by the local Farmers Cooperative.  His parents, Henry Jr. and Frieda, and the rest of their family, also moved to town.  Once again, as it had been in the beginning some 50 years before, the farm was being operated solely by Earhardt and Fred Volkart.

During that period of time, changes had also occurred in the method of harvesting small grains which would doom the large threshers, such as the Volkart thresher.  Farmers began to seek tractors for cultivating their row crops.  Farm equipment companies obliged by producing smaller general purpose tricycle-type tractors.  For threshing, this meant that farmers began to seek smaller 22″ and 28″ threshers that could be powered by these smaller row-crop tractors.  Although the threshing rings still existed, there was a trend toward more numerous and smaller rings with smaller threshers.  With smaller rings, the grain on each farm could be threshed sooner after it had been cut; thus the shocks would not have to stay in the fields as long, and interference with the under-crop of hay would be held to a minimum.This meant the demise of stack threshing in favor of shocking the grain in the fields.

Image result for All Crop Harvester Model 60
The introduction of the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester in 1928 really spelt the beginning of the end of stationary style threshing grains.

 

However, the real threat to big threshers, and indeed all threshers, came with the introduction of the Allis Chalmers All-Crop Harvester in 1929.  (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story, [Crestline Publishing, Sarasota, Florida 1988], p. 65.)  The small combine was popular from the beginning.  Even as late as the 1950s, despite stiff competition from John Deere, Massey-Harris, Case and International Harvester, one out of three sales of pull-type combines in the nation was an All-Crop Harvester.  (See the Allis-Chalmers promotional movie “Get More, Make More with the 66 Combine” [1957], available from Keith Oltrogge, Box 529, Denver, Iowa 50622-0529, Telephone: (319) 984-5292.)

An advertisement of the new  Allis-Chalmers Model 60 All-Crop Harvester small combine.

 

This nationwide trend toward combines became pronounced in the period of time following the Second World War, as more farms sought the freedom and independence offered by a combine.  The wheat and oats could be harvested when the grain was ripe, rather than having to “wait on the whole neighborhood” to have grain threshed.  One of the first combines in the LeRoy neighborhood around the Volkart farm was the John Deere No. 7 combine brought to the area by Howard Hanks, who moved onto the Bagan farm in 1945.  (This combine is pictured in the article “Wartime Farmall H” in the July/August 1994 Belt Pulley, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13.)

By 1948, threshing with the Volkart’s 40″ Case thresher powered by the Minneapolis 35-70 was enough of an anachronism that it began to attract the interest of all of the neighbors as a sight that was slowly passing from the scene of North American agriculture.  Busy as he was on the Bagan farm with harvesting in 1948 (See the article “Deering and McCormick Grain Binders” in the May/June 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 16), Howard Hanks was sufficiently motivated to get his camera and take pictures of the thresher and Minneapolis tractor operating on the Volkart farm.  In 1976, two of these pictures were published in the LeRoy Independent newspaper along with a story on threshing in the LeRoy area.  These pictures reveal that horses were still being employed during threshing season on the Volkart farm as late as 1948.  Furthermore, the article indicates eight bundle wagons, either pulled by horses or by tractors, were needed that day to keep a steady flow of bundles into the thresher.  Webb Volkart remembers that in earlier years, when the thresher had been set up a substantial distance from the field, up to 16 bundle wagons were needed to keep operations going smoothly at the thresher.

The Volkart brothers sold out their farming operation in the Fall of 1951 and moved into the town of LeRoy, Minnesota, where they lived the remainder of their days with their brother George and his wife Lil (Hansen).  Following the Volkart sale, Frank Klassy and his wife Esther (Lamon) bought a McCormick-Deering 28″ x 46″ thresher in 1952 to do their own threshing, but after two years of farming, Frank put his farm in the Soil Bank government program for ten years and practiced his other profession as a carpenter.  When his farm came out of the Soil Bank in 1964, he rented the farm to the families of John Grass Sr. and Frederick Bhend; however, he continued to live on the farm until his death in 1994.

The story of the Volkart thresher conveniently coincides with the story of the changes that occurred in harvesting of small grains throughout the nation during the first half of the twentieth century, and is similar to that of a great number of farm families.  The fact that part was captured on film helps preserve another chapter in the long history of American agriculture.  It should serve as a lesson to us all about the necessity of saving old pictures and negatives.  Even the most mundane of pictures will, in the future, be very important.

Deering and McCormick Grain Binders

Deering and McCormick Grain Binders

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

A advertisement of a McCormick-Deering Grain Binder.

Recently, LeSueur Pioneer Power member, Loren Lindsay, arranged for the donation of a late-model McCormick-Deering 10-foot binder to the Pioneer Power Association.  This binder was purchased new by the late John Depuydt and his wife Mary (Seys) Depuydt in the 1940s, and was employed on the Depuydt farm in rural Mankato, Minnesota, for its entire life.  The binder is being donated to the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association in memory of John by Mary and their son, Greg Depuydt.

McCormick-Deering grain binders were made made at the International Harvester factory known as the “Binxder Works” in
Chicago, Illinois.

The binder is complete and does operate, but the binding mechanism has been temporarily disabled to convert the binder into a windrower.  This was a popular modification made to old binders when farming operations were changed from threshing to combining.

McComick-Deering binders were the result of a blending of all of the best features of four different binders, e.g., Plano, Champion, Deering and McCormick binders, as the result of the merger of these four companies to form International Harvester Company in 1902.  Following the merger, Deering and McCormick binders continued as separate product lines until 1937 when these two lines were discontinued in favor of a single line of McCormick-Deering binders.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester, [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 163.)  Even during the period of time from 1902 until 1937, while  Deering and McCormick binders continued to be manufactured as separate lines within the same company, the binders gradually became more and more similar as time passed.  By 1923, the two binder lines had adopted enough of the best features of one another that the Deering and McCormick binders were already basically the same binder. (Ibid., p. 160.)

A postcard advertisement of a McCormick grain binder which dates from a time prior to the 1903 merger of Deering, McCormick, Champion  and Plano binder companies.

The Depuydt binder will no doubt remind many people of binders owned by their families in the past.  one such binder, an 8-foot McCormick binder, was owned by John T. Goff of Mapleton, Minnesota in the 1920s.  By the time that the Hanks family moved to the Goff farm south of Mapleton in 1935, the binder had been converted for use behind the Goff 1931 John Deere D.  The Hanks family rented the Goff farm from 1935 until 1945.  During that period of time they purchased much of the John Goff machinery, including the 1931 John Deere D and the McCormick binder.  The grain binder was used every year during threshing season until 1944 when the Hanks family purchased a 1938 John Deere No. 7 combine for harvesting their small grains.

The 1931 John Deere Model D tractor that was purchased John T. Goff pulling the John Deere McCormick grain binder
The 1931 John Deere Model D tractor that was purchased John T. Goff pulling the John Deere McCormick grain binder

As related earlier, the Hanks family transported the McCormick binder, the No. 7 combine and all their other machinery and moved to the newly purchased 400-acre Bagan farm five miles east of LeRoy, Minnesota, on March 1, 1945.  (Belt Pulley, “The Wartime Farmall H,” July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13.)  By the summer of 1948, Howard and Ethel (Buck) Hanks were starting to develop confidence in their economic position.  This was quite different from the extreme uncertainty which they had felt the previous year.  (For the story of the year 1947, see Belt Pulley, January/February 1995, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 31.)  They were now into their fourth growing season on their farm.

Many changes had also occurred in the family since the previous year.  The family was smaller now.  Daughter Lorraine had married Robert Westfall, and together they rented a farm near Stewartville, Minnesota.  Son Bruce and his new bride Mary (Keller) had been living on the Tony Machovec farm 1/2 mile to the south of the Hanks farm.  During the summer and fall of 1947, he had been working on the Hanks farm every day to earn money to enter seminary school; however, on January 1, 1948, he and Mary had moved to Chicago to attend Moody Bible Institute.  Also, daughter Marilyn had married Wayne Wells.  Although she lived only two miles away on the Wells farm, and although Wayne Wells did cooperate with the Hanks family during corn planting and haying seasons, she too was not around the Hanks farm on a daily basis anymore.  Only eldest son Fred, 18-year-old daughter Hildreth, and 12-year-old John remained on the farm.

In a large family, each child comes to cherish those occasions when they have the undistracted attention of one of their parents.  With sudden reduction in the size of the Hanks family, Hildreth and Johnny noticed that they now enjoyed this opportunity on a more frequent basis.  Hildreth had just graduated from LeRoy High School in June of 1948.  She intended to spend the summer on the farm and then go to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to further her education.  During her senior year in high school she had been active on the school newspaper.  Hildreth’s boyfriend recognized that the Hanks family enjoyed photography, and so he gave Hildreth a camera as a graduation present.

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18 year old Hildreth Hanks sits on the seat of the binder while her father, Howard Hanks, uses her new camera to take this picture.

During the summer of 1948, Hildreth was haunted by the feeling that after she left the farm in the fall to go to college her life would never be the same.  All that summer she used her new camera to take pictures of everyday activities around the farm.  She wanted the pictures as remembrances of her farm life while she was away at school.  She especially wanted to remember the times that she had spent with her father working in the fields.

It was July and the oats were ripe.  Howard was busy preparing the old McCormick binder for the field.  Since the Hanks family purchased the big John Deere No. 7 combine in 1944, the McCormick binder had been modified by disconnecting the bundling mechanism so that the cut grain would flow out in a continuous stream.  The McCormick binder had thereby been converted into a windrower.

Since 1944 the Hanks family had combined their oats. Thus the McCormick binder had been converted into a windrower.
Since 1944 the Hanks family had combined their oats. Thus the McCormick binder had been converted into a windrower.

The day before windrowing the oats in July of 1948, Howard Hanks pulled the binder out of the machine shed.  He then took the rolled up canvases for the binder down from the wire hooks hanging from the rafters in the machine shed.  The canvases had been suspended from these hooks all winter to be safe from the mice.  He installed the canvases on the rollers on the bed, and also on the upper and lower force feeder of the binder.  He could perform this operation without switching the binder out of its length-wise transport position.  Thanks to a square fitting on the drive shaft of the binder, he could use the crank that came with the binder to slowly turn the drive shaft and check the operation of the binder.  Next he greased the binder with the grease gun at all of the Zerk locations.

A Ford Model 8N tractor cultivating in the fields with a rear-mounted two-row cultivator.

The next morning, with his eldest son Fred already in the fields with the new 1948 Ford 8N cultivating with the Ford rear-mounted two-row cultivator, Howard finished the milking and other chores.  Then he backed the 1942 Farmall H out of the alleyway of the corn crib, drove down to the machine shed and hitched the tractor to the 8-foot McCormick grain binder.

Before heading to the field, Howard stopped by the house to get his youngest daughter Hildreth, since she had expressed interest in helping her father today.  As she ran out of the house, Hildreth grabbed her new camera.  She jumped up onto the seat of the binder for the ride to the field.  The H and the binder, riding on its steel transport wheels, then headed down the driveway and out onto the dusty little township road for the short drive to the field of ripened oats.  Over the winter the Hanks family’s dog Ginger had had a litter of puppies.  Two of these partially grown pups now followed the tractor and binder to the field.

Following the disasterously wet year of 1947, the oat crop of 1948 was a tall thick and abundant crop
Following the disasterously wet year of 1947, the oat crop of 1948 was a tall thick and abundant crop

The sweet smell of new mown hay is familiar to many people.  Less familiar is the smell of ripened oats.  It has a much fainter fragrance than hay.  During hay season, the smell of hay becomes so common that it passes unnoticed after a day or so to the workers who are working with the hay.  The fainter smell of ripened oats is noticeable for only a few hours after the start of the oat harvest.  This smell is at times captured in a straw bale.  This fresh smell of summer sunlight and warmth will sometimes be noticeable in the winter as the straw bale is opened up and the straw is spread around a calf pen.  It stands out as a very faint reminder of summer in the middle of winter.  Calves must smell it, too.  Sometimes they will bury their noses in the straw bale, butt their heads on the bale, and then run and jump around as the straw is being shaken out in their pen.

This fragrance has been approximated in a new cologne called “Fahrenheit” by Christian Dior.  The advertisement alleges that the fragrance is the smell of sunshine.  It smells like ripening oats or like fresh oat straw.  Actually, sunshine is a pretty good definition of the fragrance–oat straw really is sunshine in a bale!  A little bit of summer preserved in a bale to be enjoyed in the middle of winter.  No wonder the calves would spirit around the pen when they smelled fresh straw.  This smell was in the air as the H and the binder reached the field.

Howard Hanks driving the 1942 Farmall Model H pulling the McCormick grain binder in the 1948 oat harvest.
Howard Hanks driving the 1942 Farmall Model H pulling the McCormick grain binder in the 1948 oat harvest.

Once across the road/field access and through the narrow gate and into the field, Howard used the binder crank to lower the bull wheel and raise the binder off of the transport wheels.  The transport wheels and their stub axles were removed from the square holes in the axle supports on each side of the binder.  The wheels were then stored next to the field gate, and the binder crank was used to lower the binder into the proper operating height.  Then Hildreth helped her father turn the binder 90 degrees to its operating position.

Although there was no need for an extra person to ride the binder, Hildreth enjoyed coming along to the field.  It was simply a good time for a father and daughter to be together while they accomplished some work on the farm.  Hildreth jumped up into the seat on the binder and reached down with her right hand to twist the clutch lever to put the binder in gear.  Then Howard started the Farmall H on the first counter-clockwise revolution around the oat field.

Because the binder had been converted to a windrower, Hildreth had only to watch the oats flow by on the upper and lower force-feed elevator and then to watch it fall on the ground in one continuous swath as her father drove the H around the oat field.  As she sat there she realized that this was the last summer of her childhood.  In the fall she would be headed off to college in Chicago.  The occasion was not lost on Hildreth.  This was an opportunity to enjoy all of the sights and sounds of the farm and even the smell of ripened oats being harvested.  This opportunity might not be repeated again in the near future.

After a few rounds, they stopped, and Hildreth took a few pictures with her new camera.  Howard was impressed by the height of the oats, and so Hildreth took some pictures of the binder against the oats to show the height of the crop.  She also took pictures of the two puppies that had been frolicking along behind the binder.

Hildreth took these pictures to college with her.  However, chances are good that while in college Hildreth did not admire and analyze the pictures as closely as they are scrutinized today by other family members who are interested in the restoration of old farm machinery.

The 1944 Farmall Model H powering the George Depuydt 10-foot McCormick-Deering grain binder in very wet conditions in the wheat fields of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association grounds in preparation for the 1994 annual threshing show.

The Depuydt McCormick-Deering 10-foot binder brings back memories of the Hanks 8-foot McCormick binder.  Similarity, the current restoration of a 5-foot Deering binder by Donald Wells of Mercer Island, Washington is reviving memories of the 7-foot Deering binder that he used on his parent’s (George and Louise Wells) 160-acre farm near LeRoy, Minnesota, was about two miles west of the Hanks farm.  The 5-foot Deering binder currently being restored by Donald Wells was originally purchased by George Lawson of San Juan Island, Washington in about 1917.  It was used on the island to harvest wheat.  When Donald Wells found the Deering binder on San Juan Island, it was owned by Etta Egeland, grand-daughter of George Lawson.  The binder, which had been sitting in the field exactly where it was last used, was in need of extensive restoration.  Therefore, this project continues to be on-going.

As both the Depuydt McCormick-Deering binder and the Lawson/Egeland Deering binder are brought back to operating condition, it is hoped that more memories of old binders of the past will be stirred.  These restoration projects serve as a memorial to all those people who manufactured and used these farm machines of a by-gone era.

A 1950 Massey-Harris Model 22

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Forty Years with the Massey Harris 22

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April 1994 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Volume 7, Number 2

Massey-Harris 22 in parade at Racine, Minnesota 1993

As was noted elsewhere (The Belt Pulley, January/February 1994, Vol. 7, No. 1), the Howard B. Hanks family moved to the current Fred J. Hanks farm in LeRoy, Minnesota, in 1945.  In those days, the 400-acre farm was known as the “Bagan farm.”  As mentioned in the above-cited article, one of the restored tractors which are still used on the farm is a 1950 Massey-Harris 22.  (Serial No. GR6729).  Of all the tractors on the farm, the 22 has been there the longest time.

The 22 was purchased as a used tractor by the Hanks family from an International Harvester dealership in Austin, Minnesota, in 1954, and was put to immediate use.  At that time, the farming operation included three other tractors:  a 1935 John Deere D (pictured on the back cover of the January 1993 issue of Green magazine, Vol. 9, No. 1); a 1951 Massey-Harris 44 (The Belt Pulley, July/August 1993, Vol. 6, No. 4, p. 26); and a 1948 Ford 8N.  The farm was operated by Howard Hanks and his two sons; Fred, who had returned to the farm in June of 1947 from military service in Germany as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, and John, who had just graduated from LeRoy High School in 1953.

The daily tasks for the 22 included (and still includes) hauling of grain and manure.  During hay seasons, the 22 was and continues to be very busy hauling hay from the field.  Because the author’s father, Wayne A. Wells, cooperated with the Hanks family (his father-in-law and brothers-in-law) during hay season, the author, as a youth, had occasion to use the 22 to haul many of these loads of hay from the field himself.  Field work was generally limited to cultivating corn and soybeans with the two-row cultivator which came as part of the purchase package with the 22.  However, in the fall of 1956, some unusually hard plowing conditions existed and the 22 was hitched to the 1951 Massey-Harris 44 to give assistance with the plowing.  The stiff hitch connecting the two tractors was made of two 2 x 4 oak boards bolted together.

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The 1950 Massey-Harris 22 provides some additional help to the 1951 Massey Harris 44 in plowing in the fall of 1956 on the Hanks farm in Beaver Township, Fillmore County in Mower County, Minnesota.

A special task for the 22 evolved in the mid-1950s.  About this time, farmers began to make use of herbicides on their crops.  Anticipating this trend, the Hanks family’s 22 was fitted with a mounted sprayer purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Company.  This sprayer looked identical to a mounted sprayer pictured in the 1949 advertisement by Massey-Harris included with this article, except that the Sears sprayer was not fitted with the optional drop nozzle attachments offered by Massey-Harris.  In the advertisement, the Massey-Harris sprayer is shown mounted on a 22.  Although no pictures have yet been found of the Hanks family’s 22 showing the front-mounted spray booms, the picture from the Massey-Harris advertisement looks identical to the Hanks’ 22 during those summers when it was employed for spraying herbicides.  As shown in the advertisement, the booms are located on the front of the tractor ahead of the driver.  The tank was mounted on the rear of the tractor.  The spray was pressurized by a pump connected to the power take-off.  The booms could be folded into an upright position for transport.

Because the Hanks family had always performed custom combining and baling in the neighborhood, it was almost inevitable that the sprayer, too, was employed for custom work.  This custom spraying became the domain of my Uncle Fred Hanks.  Each June and July in the late 1950s, we would see Uncle Fred on the 22 riding down some dirt road headed to another job.  Tractor tire marks evenly spaced across some immature oat field was sure evidence that Uncle Fred had recently been there!  Sitting in the back or our 1957 Plymouth, riding down the neighborhood roads, we children would scan our neighbors’ oat fields for any small scattering of yellow which would indicate an infestation of wild mustard flowers.  This would draw a comment from us.  “They better had give Uncle Fred a call.”  (A generation later we might have used the phrase “Who you gonna call?” from the movie Ghostbusters!).

Mustard is grown as a crop, however, in an oat field its persistent volunteer growth becomes a yield stealing menace.

The 22 was ideally fitted for this type of work.  The large rear wheels and high revving engine allowed the 22 to really scoot down the road.  A high transport speed was important for custom work so as not to waste time.  The large rear wheels were a selling point for the 22 in 1950.  (See A World of Power, a 1950 Massey-Harris promotional movie available from Keith Oltrogge, Box 529, Denver, IA 50622-0529, Telephone: (319) 984-5292.)  The large rear wheels allowed the 22 to reach a top speed of 13.02 mph.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [1985] p. 145.)  However, this was at the 1500 engine rpm level.  The 22 had Twin-Power which had been available on earlier Massey-Harris models.  Twin-Power was a feature which reserved a special high range on the throttle control (from 1500-1800 rpms) to be used for belt work.  (Michael Williams, Massey-Ferguson Tractors (1987), pp. 46-47.)  The cast-iron quadrant for the throttle control lever behind the steering wheel on the 22 had a little block built into the quadrant which was intended to prevent the lever from being pulled down into the special 1500-1800 rpm range.  However, the throttle control lever could be lifted up and over this little block easily.  (C.H. Wendel, Massey Tractors, (1992) p. 67.)  The operator’s manual for the 22 warned against use of the 1500-1800 rpm range for drawbar work.  (Operating Instructions and Service Manual for the Massey-Harris 22 and 22-K, p. 5.)  Pulling a full load of hay at a speed of 16 mph down a narrow township road with steep ditches on either side could get a bit scary.  As youngsters, hauling loads of hay on the road from the fields to the barn, we were told not to experiment with the throttle in the range from 1500-1800 rpm on the 22.

We estimated, at the time, that the speed developed at 1800 rpm must have reached up to 20 mph.  This was twice the speed of the small rear-wheeled Farmall B, owned by the Wells family (See Farmall B and Equipment, a 1939 International Harvester movie), which often worked together with the 22 during hay seasons and, therefore, was the natural counterpoint for comparisons with the 22.  This 1941 Farmall B is featured in the story “The Family’s Second Tractor,”  The Belt Pulley, November/December 1993, Vol. 6, Issue 6, p. 30.  The B operated at the slower top engine speed of 1400 rpm which was common to most Farmalls.

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Wayne A. Wells drives the Massey-Harris 22 pulling three full loads of hay on the Hanks farm during haying season of 1956.

Looking back now with the benefit of research materials, we can see that we may not have been too far off in our estimates of the speed of the 22 at 1800 rpm.  Both the 22 and its predecessor, the Massey-Harris 81, were powered by a Continental engine.  The 81 could develop a top speed of 16.0 mph at 1500 rpm.  The 81 also had the Twin Power feature for belt work up to 1800 rpm.  (Nebraska Tractor Tests, p. 136.)

Image result for massey harris 81 tractor

Larger Massey-Harris models offered contemporaneously with the model 81, like the Massey-Harris models 101, 201, and 101 Junior, were powered either with the 4-cylinder Continental MFA engine or the 6-cylinder T-57 503 Chrysler engine.  These models, too, could develop 1800 rpm; however, their top speed was 17.4 mph. (Nebraska Tractor Tests, pp. 113, 117 and 131.)  This was fast, even for the 1950s!  For the period of time from 1939 to 1946 when the 101 and 201 were manufactured, this speed must have been far in advance of the quality of the rural roads and the technology of brakes.  It may have been that the Massey-Harris company realized this and therefore made a conscious effort to gear the later models down so that even at 1800 rpm the tractor would not move so fast in road gear.  During this time, other tractor makers were busy increasing the range of speeds for their tractors.  With Massey-Harris decreasing their road speeds and other manufacturers increasing their road speeds, a happy common ground appears to have been reached in the 1950s which did not change substantially until the mid-1960s.

The Continental Motor Company of Muskegon, Michigan supplied a great number of engines to the Massey-Harris Company for installation in various Massey-Harris tractors.

            Massey-Harris used to advertise the 101 and the 201 as “fast tractors.”  Indeed, there is a scene from a 1941 Massey-Harris promotional movie which shows a Massey-Harris 101 Standard hauling a load of wheat to the grain elevator.  The tractor and wagon passes up a car which is pulling off onto the shoulder of the road. (Mechanized Agriculture Meets the Challenge, (1941) available from Keith Oltrogge, noted above.)  During this scene, the narrator notes that “the motorcar driver courteously yields to the fast-moving tractor.”  We often thought that the “motorcar driver” may not have been so much courteous as scared after seeing a ton-and-a-half load of grain and a 5700 lb. tractor bearing down on him at 17-18 mph.  He may have been justified in this fear, given the length of time required to stop that load!

The 22 continues to play an active role on the Hanks family farm, even after forty years of service.  In 1989 it was restored and repainted.  Since that time, the 22 has been exhibited and paraded at local tractor shows in the summer.  One such show is the Root River Antique Power Association Show held in mid-July of each year at Racine, Minnesota.  At the time of the repainting of the 22, the hubs of the wheels were mistakenly painted orange.  Current plans include returning these hubs to their original yellow color.

The 22 continues to be a fun tractor to drive and carries with it a lot of memories.  We hope its restoration will guarantee that this fun will be carried on to future generations.