After emerging from bankruptcy protection in 1981, White Farm equipment intended to come roaring back to the marketplace — in part with a new four-model line of rotary combines. Its first rotary model, the 9700, had been launched in 1980. It was later updated and renumbered the 9720. The new combines would compliment that model and round out the company’s offerings.
The engineering staff initiated a five-year plan in 1983 to create and be ready to manufacture those additional rotaries before the end of the decade. The 9550 would be the only pull-type model in the group, and it was to be based on the mid-sized of the three self-propelled combines, the 9520.
But by 1984, the plan was changed. It became obvious it wouldn’t be practical to develop the 9520 self propelled, because it had only marginally better capacity than the smaller, proposed 9320 but its production costs would be much higher. So the revised plan called for only two self-propelled models, the 9720 and 9320.
Cancelling the 9520 meant the pull-type 9550, which was based on the 9520, also had to be cancelled. But by 1984 there was already a working prototype of the 9550 undergoing field trials.
“When White made the decision to not proceed with the mid-sized 9520 combine, further work on the 9550 pull type was also stopped,” says Murray Mills one of the engineers involved in the creation of the new combines. “The decision, however, was made to use the valuable information gained through the development and testing of this pull type to change the design to a unit with many similarities to the planned 9320 self-propelled combine. This machine would be code named the 9350 pull type, and plans were put in place to build a prototype in 1985.”
So White’s plan B for the pull type involved a do-over, aiming for a smaller combine with the same capacity as the 9320 SP model. The 9550 project was scrapped.
However, the 9320 only existed on paper at that time, and only its specifications had been finalized. There was still design work to do on it. So the 9350 pull type was a long way from becoming reality.
Then came another unexpected changeover in corporate ownership at White, which resulted in a disruption of the engineering staff. Dave Houston, who had been the primary engineer on the 9550 project, left the company briefly and returned about a year later after the company had been financially stabilized yet again. He found during his absence the prototype he had been working on had been modified in a very unexpected way.
- More from the Grainews website: The combine that never was, part two
Another engineer, Ted Donaldson, had used the prototype 9550 to create the basic design for the first self-propelled 9320 prototype. The changes in design made to create the larger pull-type were so good, engineering management decided they should be carried back to the self-propelled model it was supposed to be modeled after. A reversal of usual direction for engineering concepts.
“I went back to White Farm around February of 1984,” remembers Houston. “I found Ted Donaldson had taken the layout of the pull type… and came up with the 9320. He thought what we’d come up with on the pull type was worth pursuing because it was pretty cheap (to produce). It had a grain bin that was easy to put together.”
“In fact, a number of these designs can still be found in the current Massey and Challenger combines manufactured by AGCO,” adds Mills.
By 1985, the 9320 that evolved from the features originally built into the 9550 prototype was in the final stages of development, but the new pull-type equivalent was not. Work on the smaller pull-type was abandoned when it was realized the factors driving market demand for this type of combine were rapidly changing, and demand for pull-types was fading fast.
“Up until the mid ’80s, swathing crops in Western Canada was the normal harvesting practice,” explains Mills. “This method of harvest had become popular over the years so the crop could be cut before it was ready to combine, which then allowed the crop and weeds to dry in the windrow and be more easily threshed.
“A few things happened that began to change this practice. Crop scientists were developing varieties that were less prone to wind shatter and the use of chemicals to control weeds was more common. This resulted in swath pick up-equipped, pull-type combines losing ground to self-propelled machines fitted with wide cutting tables.
“Another thing that affected the pull-type combine market was the fact that during the sky high interest rate period in the late 70s and early 80s a considerable number of farmers who normally bought new combines were forced into the used combine market, and many bought their first self propelled machines. They discovered that these combines had a number of advantages and most did not return to the pull-type.”
“Pull-type sales took a nose dive. Recognizing how these market changes would affect future profitability, all work was stopped on the pull-type combines.”
With that, the company’s last pull-type project was over. The 9550 prototype was to be the last pull-type combine developed in Canada, and it would be the only one ever built.
By April of 1985, White was in receivership, and Massey Ferguson purchased its rotary technology. MF loaded up the machines and components it needed and moved production of the existing 9720 and smaller 9320 to its own plant a few miles down the road in Brantford, Ontario. They would later become Massey’s 8590 and 8560 combines. The White plant and any remaining equipment went under the auctioneer’s hammer a few months later. That included the remains of the 9550 prototype. It was purchased by a local farmer who still lives a few miles from Brantford, where the combine was built.
“A couple of years ago I spoke to the farmer who bought it,” adds Houston. “And he said he wanted it for a grain cart. But it was just too big and heavy for that, so it ended up just sitting there.”
Today, the remains of the 9550 are still sitting on the edge of that Southern Ontario farmyard, kind of a sad monument to an engineering design whose time has passed.