Thursday, September 10, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Grain Handling at Harvest

 Once the grain was in the hopper on the combine, the question became what to do with it. On our farm in the early 50s that was a problem. Dad had neither a truck nor an auger; he had two rubber tired wagons of questionable vintage that held maybe 50 bu and 75 bu. They did not have hoists so grain would have to be shoveled off into the bin, if you look at old wooden grain bins, you will usually see a window near the top.  That was to shovel the grain from the wagon into the bin.

Some background is required here. At that time, Dad farmed 640 acres, of which 320 were deeded and cultivated, while 320 were rented. The rented land had 80 cultivated acres. There was a total of 400 cultivated acres of which 100 acres were summerfallow. Crop rotation was usually 100 acres summerfallow wheat, 100 acres stubble wheat and 100 acres barley or oats grown on stubble after the two wheat crops. Being generous that would mean 5,000 to 6,000 bushels of grain to harvest and store.

A bushel is a unit of volume. A bushel of wheat weighs 60 lbs, of barley 48 lbs and of oats 34 lbs. They all occupy the same space as in an Imperial bushel is 0.78 cubic feet and an American bushel is 0.80 cubic feet. A wooden grain bin 12’x14’x8’ would hold roughly 1,000 Imperial bushels. It would need to be cross braced inside about 1/3 up with wire or rods to prevent the pressure of the grain from forcing out the walls. I have no idea what the farm had for storage in the very early 50s but I know several wooden rectangular bins were added over a few years.

Typical rectangular wooden granaries, usually on wooden floors, sometimes with foundations other times just skids

The grain would be hauled to the local elevator (Saskatchewan Wheat Pool) beginning in the fall and through out the winter and following spring as quotas opened up and if there was room in the elevator. With luck the bins would be empty in time to hold the harvest. Cleaning them for fall meant sweeping out the bird droppings and any rotten grain that stayed in the corners. I hated that job. We never heard of Hantavirus in those days. My brother remembers cutting the ends out of tin cans and nailing them over mouse holes in the walls and floors

A 15’ diameter round bin would also hold about 1,000 bu with the advantage of not needing inside bracing, just strapping around the outside. It was filled through a hole in the centre of the roof with an auger. Round wooden bins painted red with black or green roofs were quite popular by the end of the 60s and you still see them abandoned, out in the middle of a field or rotting away in a row of round and rectangular bins. The disadvantage was you had to buy them as most lacked the skill to build them themselves. And had to have an auger long enough to reach.

Typical round wooden bins, usually with wooden floors set on skids

Back to the combine. The simplest solution was to clean off a place and pile the grain on the ground, hauling it home after harvest. Usually, he would make a circle with snow fence and line it with tarpaper to reduce the amount of grain in contact with the ground. Dad borrowed a short auger from our neighbour and filled the wagon, hooked the auger behind it, and drove it home slowly. The auger went into the little window and he would shovel the grain to the back of the wagon and then distribute it in the bin as required. Sometimes he got tired of hauling the auger home and would just shovel off the load. Next time he would take the auger.

In 1955, my Grandfather Johnson sold out and Dad bought his 49 Mercury 1 ton truck with a grain box and hoist. Life changed dramatically and that truck was our go-to work horse for 15 years (until he bought the Ford Louisville about 1971). About the same time as he bought the 1949 Mercury, he bought a new Versatile 28’ 6” auger with a (very dependable) Wisconsin gas engine. Grain handling became much easier. He had a hired man in the fall to drive the truck until I was big enough. The hired man drove it on the road; I had to drive it cross country which was simple as our land was all connected.

Three or four combine hopper dumps would fill the truck and you hoped that Dad wouldn’t have to wait too long for it to get back. I checked the hopper capacity of the new big combines 400 bu and up. No wonder farmers buy semis to haul from the combine.

Dad purchased another 320 cultivated acres and 160 of native grass and later broke up the remaining 80 acres of grass on the one quarter and  That gave him five quarters of cultivated land of which he summerfallowed one quarter each year. This all added to his need for grain storage.

This is pretty much how it stayed until the early 1970s. My youngest brother filled in some details as I was long gone by then. Dad bought a steel bin (3,000 bu?) in 1972 and put it on a concrete base. He bought several after that but on wooden floors with skids under them. At the estate sale in September 2002, the farm kept three bins including the one on concrete. In 2013 my two brothers, two renters and “two other guys” set the two bins on hopper bottoms as the wooden floors were starting to rot.

Setting the steel bin on the hopper bottom

Note the ability to insert a grain aerator fan into the hopper. Depending on the situation grain aeration can be used dry it, keep it from heating or bring the moisture level up to the legal maximum to market.

Dad finishing his last harvest 2001. The yellow truck was to jumpstart the auger engine. Dad only farmed the home quarter the last few years and rented the rest out. The other auger in the picture was also Dad’s and was sold at the estate sale.

Temporary storage belonging to one of the renters. The auger was purchased at the estate sale. The family continues to own the land and rent it out

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Harvesting with Clipper Combines

 My first memory of harvest on our farm was possibly 1950 when I was coming 4 years old. Dad had the crop custom combined by a neighbour who had a self-propelled combine. Dad was not happy with him because he went too fast and threw too much grain out the back.

The next year Dad bought a new Massey Harris Clipper combine, with a 6 foot cutter bar, a canvas table to feed the crop to the cylinder, and a five foot cylinder. (For non-farm people – the cylinder turns at high speed and rub bars on the cylinder beat the grain out of the heads by running very close to the concave. Grain, chaff and straw exit the cylinder/concave to the straw walkers, and sieves, where a fan and sieves separate the grain, weed seeds and chaff, sending the grain to the hopper, and the chaff, weed seeds and straw out the back).

The Clipper pull-type combine was manufactured from 1938 to 1958 and was one of the most popular pull-type combines that Massey-Harris produced.

The Massey Clipper had one major fault in that it could thresh a heavy stand but there was no way to adjust the fan speed and sieves to prevent grain loss out the back unless you went slow. Dad pulled it with an Oliver 77 which had a live PTO to drive the combine but had no inboard hydraulics, so adjustments were by lever, manually. It had one other major fault which I will get to later in the post.

Dad made a simple straw buncher which was pulled behind the combine to catch the straw, chaff, and any grain for winter feed for the cows. When the buncher would get full, Dad would manually lift it to clear the contents.

I do not remember how long we used the Massy (it sat in the yard for years as Dad was always “going to do something with it”. But sometime before 1960, I think, he bought a John Deere 12A Clipper. Much the same rig as the Massey but did a much better job of separating the grain from the chaff and putting it in the hopper, instead of the straw buncher (which carried on with the new machine). By this time, we had an Oliver 88 tractor with in-board hydraulic so no more manual levers, except for the straw buncher.

By selling over 116,000 units between 1939 and 1952, the John Deere 12A became the company’s most popular PTO-driven model ever.

However, the John Deere Clipper came with its own headaches. The canvass on the Massey could be tightened by straps and buckles. That wasn’t fancy enough for John Deere. The canvass bolted together and was tightened or loosened by adjusting the rollers on the combine. Except in hot weather the canvass got slightly more slack than the adjustment could tighten. A slightly slack canvass tends to stall and plug. A crowbar carried on the tractor was useful in prying the canvass to get it moving again. There were many times when both Dad and I (I was running the combine myself by then) were sorely tempted to throw the crowbar into the machine and as Hamlet put it “and by opposing end them”.

The pictures and videos show the combines straight cutting, i.e. cutting standing crop straight into the combine. In Saskatchewan at the time, swathing was the norm. Standing grain would be cut into a swath which lay on top of the stubble to dry and to let the green spots mature. A pickup would be mounted on the cutter bar and would pick up the swath and the canvas would feed it into the cylinder.

The pickup on the Massey consisted of spring loaded teeth that went round and round under the swath, feeding it onto the table. It also picked up rocks, flipping them up onto the swath. The distance between the rub bars and the concave was very small and needless to say, rocks were deleterious to its health. Little rocks were sometimes caught in a tray in front of the cylinder but something half the size of your fist would bring everything to a grinding halt. Rub bars would be removed and straightened, sometimes the concave needed to be removed and beaten back into shape.  Any combine that used that type of pickup had the same problem. There were several custom pickup builders in those days and the one on the John Deere Clipper was vastly superior. I cannot recall the name of it to save my life.

We were still using the John Deere Clipper when I left home in 1965 to go to University. Dad eventually traded it to a First Nations farmer from North Battleford area for a red and while cow with a heifer calf at foot. Best deal he ever made. She was an awesome cow and by the time Dad sold the cattle, she had several daughters and granddaughters in the herd.

If you are a JD history fan, this link will give you all the diagrams, and instructions for the 12A: