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First Combines In Humboldt Community


Brian Finney


"Bah! It'll never work! The first heavy rain and whatwill you have? Nothing!" This is an example of the comments heard whenthe first combine was introduced into the community of Humboldt. It wasthought to be just another farce thought up by some machine company to makemore money for themselves. This indicated that the combine had to proveitself to be accepted by the public.

The way the combine was introduced was simple. Two combinesand two swathers were brought to Humboldt by the Humboldt Lumber and MachineryCompany in 1928.

This company came into existence in 1914 with the purchaseof the lumber yard of the Farmers Elevator Company at Humboldt. In 1925,the firm took over the International Harvester agency from William Sylvester.About the same time, the company entered the oil business handling Firedropproducts. This building was located where the Post Office now stands inHumboldt.

A McCormick Deering No. 8 and a twelve foot swather waspurchased by M. J. Florance from this company. Another combine No. 11 anda sixteen foot swather was purchased by the Ward Brothers, Laurence andRoger. Florance did custom work for local farmers and Ward Brothers usedtheirs on their own farm. The following year, Florance sold his machineto Fred Bockwitz and purchased three new combines and swathers and usedthem to do custom combining for local farmers. Wm. Ash and Sons also purchaseda new combine and swather that year.

This was the first successful use of the combine and swatherin this community. This was the beginning of the end of the use of the binderand stationary threshing machine for harvesting. The combine had been inuse in other areas for many years, but it wasn't until the development ofthe swather and pickup attachment for the combine that they could be successfullyused in this area because of the uneven ripening of the grain. The swathercut the ripened grain and put it in continuous windrows on top of the stubblewhere it dried properly. The pickup attachment was placed on the combineplatform in such a way that it lifted the swath of grain so that it couldbe delivered into the combine.

Actually, the combine goes back as far as the reaper. Thefirst successful combine was threshing grain when the reaper was still inits infancy, but the combine was marking time for about a hundred yearswhile the harvester, binder, and reaper moved out ahead. Only one part ofthe country - the West Coast, really took the first combine seriously andrecognized the possibilities it had and did something about it. Some ofthe California farmers took a short cut from the reaper to the combine,skipping the harvester and binder.

In 1836, ten years before the reaper went into commercialproduction, the first successful combine was built in Michigan. It cut afifteen foot swath, had a spike tooth cylinder, was ground driven, cleanedthe grain by means of a fan blast and delivered it into a bag. In 1843,the combine had advanced so it could cut twenty-five acres a day. It wasused for ten years before is was given up, the boosters being convincedthat the combine would not be a success, at least not in Michigan.

The reason the combine was not a success there was thatthere was excessive moisture content and spoiling of the grain. Anotherwas lack of power. Tractor power was needed to operate the combine.

Then California took up where Michigan left off. The combinewas shipped around Cape Horn to San Francisco in time to cut six hundredacres of wheat during the 1854 season. More acreage, a more favorable climate,and the love of large machinery started the combine on its way to success.

Within four or five years California versions began toappear and they lacked nothing in originality. Some were pushed by horseslike a header. Some cut swaths up to thirty-five feet, weighed over fifteentons and were a load for as many as forty horses.

The first steam engine to be used on a combine was reportedto be as early as 1871 and about 1886 a creation appeared which was describedas follows: "First steam-powered, self propelled, straw burning combine,also first steam traction engine to operate both forward and backwards inits work of pushing the combine and pulling plows."

Most of the early machines were used at home but some weresold. Factory production began in California in 1880, just at the time thetwine binder was getting started in the Mid-West. The first hill side combinewas built in the late 1880's and the first self leveling model ten yearslater. To make a combine more powerful, an extra steam engine was added.

In 1912, gasoline engines were used instead of steam, bothfor pulling and operating the machine, except on the West Coast combinesmade little progress previous to World War I, but during that period oflabor shortage they crossed the Rocky Mountains to stay, powered by gasolinetractors and auxiliary engines.

In the 20's and 30's, big combines were the rule. Threeout of four combines had a platform bigger than ten feet. In the early thirties,smaller combines were the thing. They were adapted to more grain and seedgrowing areas. One of the biggest milestones in the combine history occurredin 1935, the one man combine powered by the two plow tractor. Since thattime the combine method of harvesting has become national in acceptancerather than regional. The more expensive and laborious binding, shocking,threshing method has been on its way out and two great contributors to harvestingprogress, the binder and thresher have fallen by the wayside.

All the steps in the history of the combine that have beencovered have been concerning straight combining. This is when the combinecuts and threshes all in one operation.

The first self-propelled combine was used in this areain 1938 as an experimental model. This made it unnecessary to have a tractorto pull the combine as it was propelled and the machine was driven by thesame motor. This made it an entirely one man operation.

With the advent of World War Two, and the shortage of manpower,many of these self propelled machines were built and used by Custom Operatorsin the Harvest Brigade. These machines started harvesting in the southernstates in the latter part of May and worked their way north as the harvestprogressed, ending in the northern states in September.

The larger capacity of these machines and their adaptabilityto adverse weather conditions proved superior to the older pull-type combineswhich they replaced.

Some of the different makes of combines used in this areaare: Massey Ferguson, International Harvester, John Deere, Case and MinneapolisMoline and the Baldwin Gleaner.

In summing up the combine's contribution to the war effort,a United States Department of Commerce bulletin said "Without the combine,bread rationing in the United States would have been inevitable."



Harold Finney, St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview - January14, 1972

Kittson County Enterprise, Hallock Minnesota. 1881 Issue

"Land of Plenty" Page 24 - 31, Farm EquipmentInstitute Magazine.

World Book Encyclopedia Vol 4.

;Land of Plenty" Page 24 - 31, Farm EquipmentInstitute Magazine.

World Book Encyclopedia Vol 4.