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Combines I have known, Part 2

In the 60s, Les Henry spent most of his combining hours in Massey combine cabs

Harvest seems to be moving along better this year so now may be the time to talk about combines. This is No. 2 in an irregular series about combines I have operated. The first piece went back to the old Oliver 30 pull type that was the first combine I ran and to Cockshutt 132 and Case K12. Future entries in the series will deal with more of the many combines I have had the pleasure to run in the past 60+ years.

In the 1960s I spent a lot of time on Massey 90 combines. They had a 36-inch cylinder that was easy to plug in heavy going. The body on top of the cylinder lifted off easily to give good access to manually dig the cylinder out. In tough straw such remedial action could be required many times a day. A young man’s game for sure.

Massey Harris then became Massey Ferguson (MF). The MF Super 92 was a dressed up 90 — with a rad screen that lay down beside the combine and a belt that slapped back and forth to help the screen to clean. But, the screens still got plugged in very dusty conditions.

My brother-in-law Roy Gates at Milden, Sask., had two Super 92s plus a 90 for a few crops. Three combines in a field was rare back then and we especially enjoyed roaring down Railway Avenue in Milden on a field move. In one late fall Roy had his three Masseys, another 90 and a Cockshutt 428 on a large field of the farm I was raised on. What took days with my first old pull type took less than a day with that lineup.

Two old Massey 90s picking up a thin barley swath on the Ayres farm near Saskatoon circa late 1960s. On the back combine: my good friend Keith Ayres (1946-1988).
photo: Les Henry

The next advance in MF combines was the 410/510. That was the first MF sold complete with cab. It had more capacity but still had a gas engine — 327 or 350. The engine was up right beside the cab, noisy and hot. With no air conditioning the “phone booth” cab was like a sauna on a hot day.

My nephew Terry Gates and I had a 510 each on a hot August day on the home quarter where I was raised. We were down to our shorts and when the wind was right we opened the doors and steered for a while from the platforms.

An MF 510 straight combining flax on the Roy Gates farm, Milden, Sask., in the 1960s.
photo: Les Henry

MF’s next advance: the 750/760. They had an air-conditioned cab, diesel engine and 50- or 60-inch cylinder. My good friend Keith Ayres had two 750s and I spent many comfortable hours on a 750. It was when combining became fun and much of the drudgery of dust, heat and cold was gone. They were quite reliable and we could often run for hours on end with no trouble or stops. In the 1970s-80s the MF 750/760 and 850/860 were a common site in harvest fields in many parts of Western Canada.

On one memorable evening we pulled into a 60 acre field of swathed wheat with the two 750s at 9 p.m. We went one behind the other with a comfortable dust distance. Dumps were picked up on the fly with a Ford F 600 and a 10-inch auger at field edge was used to put wheat in a pile — no waiting for the trucker.

At midnight we pulled out of the field with 2,400 bushels of wheat on the ground. It was a 40-bushel crop — a decent crop in the 1970s. The thrill of that late evening run has stuck with me for all these years.

I wish you all a good harvest for 2017. So far it looks like the exact opposite of the harvest from hell of 2016. If the weather holds, many of you could be all wrapped up by the time this hits your mailbox.

About the author

Columnist

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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