Restored Farm Machinery Reminds Us How We Got Here

Hoosier Perspectives

Hard work and simple innovations paved the way.

Published on: August 27, 2012

Anyone younger than 40 who spends the day driving a combine with auto-steering and a yield monitor with yield map this fall ought to plan a trip to the Indiana State Fair Pioneer Village next summer. If he's in the combine cab, he's probably also checking markets on his phone. He may even have an 'App' that alerts him to market prices at various times during the day.

One farmer in his 50's recently admitted he was getting 'soft' physically, not mentally. He just didn't do the hard work his father or grandfather did. Consequently, when he does hard work today, it takes its toll.

What you will find in the Pioneer Museum at the state fair are restored farm machines that were state of the art for the time. Considering what the farmers and later actual engineers who designed them had to work with, these machines did some pretty amazing things.

There's the binder that actually cut wheat, sent it up a canvas ramp, pulled twine out of a twine holder and tied the bundles. The bundles were then picked up and taken to a central location, where farmers gathered in threshing rings and fed the wheat through a separator. Twenty years ago it may not have been necessary to explain how a threshing ring worked. But the further away we get removed from those days, even in rural Indiana, the fewer people that have memories of the technology that got us to where we are today.

I found a John Deere manure spreader on steel wheels, fully restored, that was intriguing. Dick Kruse, who heads up many restoration efforts for equipment at the state fair, acknowledges this one was in such bad shape when they found it that he suggested giving up on it. However, Ron McCord decided it was worth it. He spent dozens of hours piecing it back together, and even found someone who could duplicate the original decals for the horse-drawn spreader.

"What's neat is the technology they used so the frame of the spreader would turn sharply behind the horses," Kruse says. Crude by today's standards, a cog allows the frame to move one way or the other, depending on which way the horses would be turning. Since the front frame moves and the wheels follow, it's a sharper turn then if there was no give to the frame.

It may not be GPS and auto-steering, but for the day it was a step forward. Step by step, necessity by necessity, we've come from horse-drawn innovations to tractors that can literally drive themselves.

We'll all be better off and perhaps not as 'soft' if we remember where innovation started—with hard work and ingenuity, on the farm, and in ideas passed along to engineers who figured out how to make life simpler and farm operations faster, easier and safer.