Les Henry has written about the combines he’s operated. Les started with his Dad’s Oliver 30 pull type. I never operated a pull type. I started with a 21A Massey self-propelled. Les claims this combine was a Cadillac compared to his Dad’s Oliver.
My Dad bought the 21A Massey combine in 1948. He paid $3,200 for the machine. What a difference from today’s prices. However, the difference in capacities from then to now is also huge. The Massey 21 did not have a road gear. If you wanted to move a little faster from field to field, you had to take off the two main drive pulleys and reverse them. This would give you about 10 miles an hour. Without doing this you had to crawl along at about three to four miles an hour from field to field. The big canopy over the rad did not allow access to clean the rad, so off came the canopy each time the rad got clogged with dirt. This was very time-consuming.
From the 21A with a 12-foot canvass table, we went to the 27 Massey in 1951. This was a much improvement over the 21A. The 27 had a 16-foot auger table rather than canvass. This is the combine my Dad gave me to go custom combining to earn money to go to university to get my two-year diploma in agriculture.
We all know Germany was a very industrious, forward-thinking nation. Germans designed and manufactured a baler to mount on the back of this and other combines. This baler collected the straw and the chaff which made good stock feed. They sent a machinist to mount one on our combine and on others. The bales had two rounds of binder twine loosely tying them together. We used a Cockshut 40 tractor, equipped with a Farmhand push off loader, to stack the bales in the field. This worked very well for the man on the tractor, but my brother, who was on the stack stacking the bales, would get buried once and a while.
The first combine I bought was a Massey 90. Les claims this combine was the beginning of the better combines. I got married in 1960 and went farming on my own. I didn’t have a combine. In 1961, it was so dry you could hardly spit. If my wife hadn’t been teaching, I would have been a hungry newlywed with very little equipment and a fair amount of debt.
There was an auction sale taking place in Raymore, Saskatchewan, with a 90 combine listed on the sale bill. It was after the harvest. I didn’t get to the sale because I did not have money to spend. The auctioneer was Martin King, who came from my hometown.
After the sale, I met Martin on the street and asked him how the 90 had sold. His reply was it hadn’t sold, because it was after harvest and, in 1961, many farmers had very little crop. I made a fast trip to Raymore and found the farmer wanted $1,800 for the four-year old combine.
In those days the banks had to have a third down before they would lend you any money, so I headed off to a friend to see if I could borrow money for the down-payment. I got the $600 and, armed with this money, I went back to the bank for the other $1,200 and was able to purchase the Massey 90.
The next year, 1962, the crop was fairly good. A neighbour had no combine. We agreed I would charge him $3 an acre to combine his crop and I would pay him a $1 an hour for his work.
The 90 served me well for five or six years then along came the Super 92 Massey. It still came without a cab but was a dream to operate because of its hydrostatic drive. One of the highlights of the 92 was that you could turn on a dime at the end of the swath to get back on the next swath.
After the Super 92 along came the 410 and 510 Masseys. The 410 served me well except it did have a couple of serious drawbacks. The un-thrashed material that normally went straight back to the main cylinder was diverted to a small cylinder with rubber flails on the outside of the combine. This really didn’t do the job, so most farmers changed it back to the way it was originally done — straight back to the main cylinder.
Then came the Massey 750 and 760 combines which Les claims could do some serious combining in a short time. I had two 750s. Because they had air-conditioning and a cab, it was a dream to drive these combines. One of ours gave us considerable amounts of grief. Because of this we traded them off and got two 850s. These were very good combines, and we used them until 1991.
This is when Massey Ferguson stopped making combines. I feel we would still probably be with Masseys today if they had continued making combines because they served us well over the years.
The 850s served us well from 1982 to 1991. Then my son Duane and I traded off the 850s on two 9500 John Deeres. We found these 9500s were exceptional, durable combines. I still have my 9500. Last year I ran it for a short time just to prove I could still run one after 27 years.
In the wet years of the early 2000s, Duane stepped up to a CTS John Deere but I stayed with my 9500. I recall combining peas in 2010. My son was stuck on the south side of the quarter and had to drop his pickup to be able to pull the combine out backwards. I was combining on the north side and I recall seeing water in the tracks of the previous swath I had picked up. This is where Les says a combine has a personality. A truer word was never spoken. You had your hand on that hydrostatic lever constantly. I listened to her and she listened to me. Between the driver and the combine, we had to be consistently on the ball to keep from getting stuck.
There have been many different makes and models of combines turned out since. It is amazing the technology changes in combines that have occurred over the last 80 years.
The Red River Special
My father had a Red River Special thrashing machine. To have the thrasher working at full capacity, you had to have a full crew of six stook teams and racks to keep it operating constantly. But as this was the last couple of years of WWII, many of the men that would normally be on the outfits had not come home yet. My father was unable to find men to fill the required six team outfits.
I was 12 years old at the time. My dad was able to line up another kid who was 14 years old. He and I together handled another one of the stook teams. I missed a lot of school, but I learned first-hand how to work hard. After the first year of this team, I handled my own team and rack on the thrashing machine every year after that until 1948 when my dad bought his first combine, the Massey 21A.