Somewhere still around in the family collection of photos is an old biscuit tin with an old brownie box camera photo of a very small ROM cradled in his father's arms.
The Old Man is standing in front of what was probably the last of the large heaps of uncleaned cocky chaff and threshed wheat.
That photo was taken in about very early 1939.
Now in those first couple of decades of the 20th century, most Australian wheat farmers had wives and families but they also usually had a stripper around as well.
The strippers got their big workout during the hottest time of the year for fairly obvious reasons as that was when the money was around for the taking and they really brought in most of the moola that helped keep the family going for the rest of the year.
Those strippers were a tough hard worked lot but by the late 1920's they were just about all stripped out.
[ OK did you believe that even for one moment? ]
They were possibly brought back into action occasionally to save the cocky chaff for horse and animal feed during drought years which would account for the 1939 date of that cocky chaff heap in the photo.
This post has been difficult to write as I have had to check many facts and dates and as is usual in historical writings, not all sources agree with one another.
There are also many threads and sources to try and make sense of and it is quite messy and may not be an easy read for those who are not very interested in the history of our modern combine's development.
This post is also different in that I will try to comment on and roughly follow the time line for the development of various Australian harvesting technology advances through the years and will not bother too much with the American harvest technology developments.
It is my intention to look at the historical scene for the mechanisation of grain harvesting up to near the present time in this post with another future post looking and guessing at the way out, blue sky future developments in grain harvesting technologies and which way those technologies may well go in the future.
Until the latter half of the 20th century Australia was right at the end of the line and near the ends of the earth as far as the Americans and European colonial powers were concerned so we had to develop our own technologies that would work in our harsh Australian environment and the immense distances that are involved when our population was no more than some 3 or 4 million inhabitants.
To give some perspective and relativity's of Australia with the US and the northern hemisphere nations.
Australia's population only reached about 10 million inhabitants by around 1950.
Even today with some 22 million inhabitants, something like one quarter of Australia's present population was born overseas. They are immigrants and not native born Australians.
Australia, including the island state of Tasmania, is almost exactly the same area and is of similar dimensions to the 48 contiguous states of continental USA.
We are also, next to Antarctica, the driest continent on earth which has had huge implications for Australian agriculture.
Australians through necessity have had to develop some quite unique technologies that suit both the harsh dry climate and the very ancient, highly eroded and poor soils of our land.
It is regularly commented by Australians who have often spent some considerable time in the USA, just how little the average American knows about the world outside of the USA borders.
[ The qualification here is that I believe that the readers of this and similar forums with an international perspective are very much better informed than the average citizens of most countries. ]
I think this can be put down to the type of USA education which although excellent and even superior to most other countries in many respects concentrates far too much on matters solely American, often at the expense of a real and balanced acknowledgment that other nations have also made just as important a contribution to civilisation and civilisation's technological advancement as America has undoubtedly done over the last century and a half.
So for American readers who have always been told and who may even believe that Americans alone have invented and developed all of the modern farm technologies and modern grain harvesting technologies here is a rough time line together with many personal and historical anecdotes from the Australian perspective.
I have included a few Australian internet references for those who might like to follow up and understand just a little more how other nations have contributed to a technological advances that has enabled the world's farmers to continue to be able to adequately feed the world's peoples even though our global population has doubled to just under 7 billions over the last 60 years or in a period of less than a single well lived farming lifetime.
And for a clarification of "combine" nomenclature as it is used by Australian grain farmer's for their equipment, the following may be of interest and will stop some confusion about terms, plus a few facts about Australia.
The American term "Combines" are the Australian "Headers" although "combine" is slowly entering our vocabulary when it comes to describing the "self propelled headers"
The American "Headers" are our "fronts" or sometimes "platforms" and with the older machines also called the "Comb" due to the long finger's comb like appearance and action.
The term "Harvesters" is now used in a general sense but some years ago was used more specifically to describe the now obsolete "stripper harvester" type machines which I will describe below.
"Combines" as they are known in some parts of the Australian grain belt are 20 to 24 row or wider direct drop, small grain seeders with full width seed and fertilizer boxes.
Examples of a couple of makes of combines ;
"Combines" have been almost entirely displaced by "Air seeders" as the larger size and capacity are much better suited to the Australian large acreage grain farms which are rarely less than 1500 acres now for a one man operation and around here in western Victoria can run up to about 7000 to 10,000 acres for a two man operation in the lighter soils.
The big grain growing farms are in Western Australia and Queensland with 20,000 to 30,000 acre family owned operations not uncommon.
The biggest grain growing operation in Australia, in Queensland, plants and harvests close to a 100,000 Hectares [ 240,000 acres plus ] of grain a year.
[ The state of Western Australia, if it was a country, would rank as the tenth largest country on earth in area, just ahead of Sudan, the largest country in Africa.
The state of Queensland would rank as the 18th largest in area, behind Libya and well ahead of Iran in area. ]
"Pickups" are "utes" for Utility, an Australian invention.
There were three different grain harvesting technologies developed in Australia starting in about 1843 and these technologies were nearly all completely home grown.
Each of these technologies as they were developed, overlapped the previous technology by a couple of decades as the older technology and methods were slowly phased out.
The first of these mechanised grain harvesting technologies was the invention of the "stripper" by either J.B. Bull or John Ridley [ still disputed ] in the state of South Australia in 1843.
South Australia, late in the 19th century, for a time, became the largest exporter of wheat in the world.
John Ridley; possibly the [ disputed ] inventor of the Stripper, the world's first mechanised grain harvester.
John Bull who is also contributed significantly to the invention of the Stripper;
For a history of the grain strippers in Australia I suggest you just google "Australian grain strippers" or just a few of many examples on many sites.
There is also an excellent PDF from South Australia entitled "The evolution of South Australia's Cropping Industries" with some excellent photos and drawings of the early days of grain growing in Australia and the machines used.
You can see from the sites above the basic principle of the "stripper".
A set of long closely spaced fingers which held the heads of grain above the fingers as the stripper combed it's way through the crop.
A metal bladed beater running at speed and close to the fingers which belted the heads off the straw and threshed the grain out of the heads.
The whole of the threshed grain and chaff was then thrown back by the beater into a large box on back of the machine.
The uncleaned cocky chaff and threshed wheat was raked out of the back of the collection box on the stripper using large wooden rakes and wooden forks and it was then heaped into large heaps for later cleaning and bagging for sale using a winnower.
The next step was to clean and bag the grain using a winnower, often hand powered through a crank in the early days until horse treadles and then the single cylinder oil engines became more common.
And as a small boy watching my father use an old hand powered crank handled winnower for the one and only time with my mother feeding the machine, I don't think that we of the later generations really know what hard physical labour really is!
My father told me that the grain in these cocky chaff heaps was unaffected by rain as the chaff when first wetted, formed a good seal on the surface of the well made heap and provided there were no hollows that allowed water to collect, the rain then just ran off the sealed surface of the chaff.
My grand father used to tell the tale of a quite prosperous german speaking local farmer as were all those old Lutheran settlers in the very early days of the 20th century, who had just brought a brand new winnower to clean his grain.
The harvest was finished and he rolled the new and expensive winnower out to the first cocky chaff heap just before the new year so that he and his crew could start cleaning and bagging the wheat a day or so later.
The morning arrived and he headed out to the paddock to start the cleaning operation but to his total shock some b*****d [ in very excited, high pitched and expressive guttural german of course ] had stolen his brand new winnower overnight.
Now in a closely knit community such as those religion based communities were, you couldn't hide something as substantial as a winnower for long let alone spirit it out of the district without somebody knowing all the details but he had no luck at all in finding that winnower.
So with one increasingly angry and vocal german roaming the district looking for his winnower, the district's young bucks quietly slipped back into the paddock one night a week or so later and carefully dug the winnower out from under the cocky chaff heap and restored it to it's original position.
They were still guffawing about it thirty years later!
Over the years Americans have made quite a play on the invention of the "Reaper" by Cyrus McCormick in 1831.
The McCormack Reaper only cut the ripe standing crop and straw which still had to be collected and threshed by the large stationary threshers requiring large teams of men and large teams of horses to power the treadles or later, steam engines to power the stationary threshing machines.
In 1844, the Ridley invented stripper of 1843 was used to harvest a record wheat crop in South Australia.
By 1860 when the McCormack reaper was in universal use across America, some thousands of the far more efficient strippers were being used across Australia's vast wheat lands.
The second major development in the mechanisation of Australian grain harvesting was the combining of the "stripper" principle of the rotary beater and the sieves and separation principles of the winnower in a "stripper harvester".
The first successful Australian "Stripper harvester" was made by a James Morrow in 1884.
A number of Australians were involved in the development of the stripper harvester.
The most important was H. V. McKay who produced a successful machine in 1884 and subsequently manufactured large numbers as the “Sunshine” Stripper Harvester.
A very early Sunshine Stripper Harvester
or google "Australian Stripper Harvesters"
I only ever worked one of these "stripper harvesters" for a few days and that was in viciously itchy oats for good measure!
The sieves were reversed in that to save space the sieve fan was at the back of the machine and the threshed material was dropped onto the sieves at the back and the chaff was blown forward off the sieves and mostly over the operator in his seat in front of the main drive wheel.
Those old guys had to be tough but that Sunshine Stripper Harvester was still way, way better and easier and much, much faster and cheaper than using the old stripper and winnower!
The downfall of the the Stripper Harvesters, called Harvesters by farmers at the time of their greatest influence so as to distinguish them from the older Stripper and the new technology "Headers", was their poor performance in lodged crops or very tough and difficult to thresh crops or heavily weed infested crops.
The wheat varieties of the first decades of grain production in Australia often were very tall and had weak straw, being derived from English varieties that were also selected for straw for animal feed.
They would badly lodge and in these circumstances the old Strippers and the Harvesters had great difficulty in cleanly picking up the minimum of straw and threshing the grain out of it.
Too much straw above the fingers just choked the threshing beater.
The biographies of some important Australian inventors and developers.
A good deal of history can be learnt from these biographies.
James Morrow; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A050344b.htm
Hugh Victor McKay ; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A100286b.htm
And how Massey Harris eventually got on top of H V McKay in the global combine market through the inventive genius of an Australian.
Thomas Carroll; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10082b.htm
And an Australian designed and built self propelled Sunshine Stripper Harvester in Spain in 1916.
This photo is interesting in that I cannot find any reference to such a self propelled "stripper harvester" being manufactured by Sunshine Harvester which this machine certainly is nor have I ever heard of or come across any previous mention of such a machine.
The date attributed here seems to indicate that this self propelled machine considerably predates any other known self propelled harvesting machines, at least of Australian design and manufacture.
A good short easy read of the history of the invention and development of the Australian Stripper and the Stripper Harvester can be found here and is entitled;
The Revival of the Gallic Harvester
The following reference is for Australians reading this to follow up on our history.
During the various periods of considerable farm prosperity in the early decades of the 20th century a number of American pull type combines with draper type fronts were imported into Australia.
My grandfather owned one of these for a few years, possibly a McCormick, but they proved to be unsuitable for Australian conditions and were very unreliable and were soon discarded in favour of the more suitable Australian developed machines.
The remains of one of these imported machines with it's peg drum thresher still stands in the steel scrap heap out at the farm but unfortunately not for much longer as Rolf and his wife are very reluctantly getting out of farming after a run of very low rainfall years and a near unbroken decade and half long series of financially severe weather induced setbacks nor are they alone in this as an exodus of farmers is under way in this area for these very same reasons.
There is no income insurance or government backed and financed low income and low commodity price protection for farmers in Australia!
See Rolf's" R62 Photos" thread for more on this.
Headley Shipard Taylor; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120199b.htm
The man who as much as anybody else was responsible for the invention and development of the modern header [ combine. ]
The next great advance in Australian grain harvesting technology, the same almost unchanged in it's basics technology that all of todays conventional combines are based on came about with the invention and development of a practical and affordable "header" [ combine ] by H S Taylor in 1911-12.
This Australian designed machine incorporated all the basic elements that define our modern "conventional" headers [ combines]
The Americans already had similar design machines combining all the same basic principles but their machines were very large and clumsy when compared to the much lighter and more practical and more efficient Taylor design,
H. V. McKay who had built a large industrial empire based on his invention and development of the stripper harvester in 1884 became the manufacturer of the Taylor headers.
And in fact versions of these headers were designated by models such as the Sunshine "Taylor" and the later "HST" models.
In 1924 H.V. McKay developed the first self propelled header or "Auto header" as it was known in Australia..
These machines used either a Fordson engine or a Wisconsin engine for their power.
They were exported all over the world.
The widths were up to 20 foot fronts and I think there was even a 24 foot version made, a phenomenal width for the pre WW2 days.
Sunshine Auto headers
My first harvest job was driving the tractor while the hired man sat on the tractor drawn, ground driven header.
The next harvest while still I was still only 16 1/2 years old was to take the entire wheat harvest off driving one of the above Sunshine HST headers drawn by a Massey 55 D diesel tractor using an "extension steering" from the header seat.
My father had installed an "extension steering" from the header to the tractor with a steering wheel on the header using a long shaft and universal joints attached to the tractor steering wheel as depicted in the photos below.
The clutch was a simple lever and over centre device attached to the foot pedal of the tractor clutch and operated by a good tug on a rope from the header so the whole show could be operated by one man from the header seat.
The seating arrangements were lets say, convenient to the operations of the header.
The view around and of the machine operations was unimpeded by anything as sophisticated as even an umbrella to keep the 35 C plus summer sun off.
The comforts of the open air so beloved of our city brethren was replete with a thick pall of itchy dust, flying chaff, the grinding of rough open gears, the whine of chains that should have been replaced before last season and the howl of the threshing drum to which was added half the fly population of Australia although it even got a bit much for the flies on occasions.
One became intimately familiar with the combine's machinery as the chains whipped around a foot or so away from the old plough seat that acted as the control centre to which was added the howl of a whole bunch of open gears also close at hand like in about 2 feet away, the constant bark of the tractor ahead and the rumble and growling of that big steel drive wheel and it's drive cogs a couple of feet directly behind one's open posterior.
The piece de resistance was a bloody great lever, fortunately spring assisted, at my right hand that was used to raise and lower the 10 foot wide comb front as we crawled along at some 1, 3/4 MPH through the ripe wheat crop and the eye dazzling cereal stubble on that big steel drive wheel across the sometimes rough paddocks.
The day's drinking water arrangements were a thick dust covered canvas water bag hanging somewhere convenient in the shade on the machine.
And that is where this then sixteen year old kid was initiated into the complexities of headers and harvesting and left to get on with the harvesting while the Old Man drove the old truck back and forth delivering the harvested wheat to the concrete silos that dot the Australian grain belt.
But I had it easier than a lot of others.
The Old Man had invested in one of the first bulk handling side trailers in the district so I rarely had to manhandle the 200 lb open topped bags of wheat.
We just augered the wheat straight onto a heap on the ground to the neighbor's absolute horror for nobody had ever committed such sacrilege to a wheat crop before in the district.
They were all doing it a few years later.
A portable auger and a couple of back breaking shovels to shift the wheat to the auger to load the old truck was our bulk handling system.
That in bare feet which kept one alert to the possibility of losing some toes if you got too close to that auger.
The side trailer did have one other advantage.
While the single cylinder engine chugged away driving the unloading auger in the side trailer I used to rush around and grease half the grease nipples on the plain cast bearings that infested that old header.
At the next stop I would grease the other half.
Same type of header and extension steering set up; different tractor in the first photo.
Prices were good in those days and soon, in the mid 1950's, another tractor drawn Australian built DS David Shearer header arrived with, would you believe, the new fangled Fafnir sealed bearings right through it.
No more greasing and all the dirt and filth that entailed.
AND you actually sat in some comfort on the newly cabined tractor and worked the "comb" [ in the header parlance of those days ] height with the new fangled hydraulics that came with the header but there was more!
It had a PTO drive!
It was also around this period in 1955 that the Massey Harris purchased the McKay family interests in the Sunshine H.V.McKay works.
I have avoided mentioning makes in this whole thread but there comes a time!
What then happened is one of the most arrogant, bastardised and criminal acts that has ever been perpetrated on a friendly and welcoming host nation by a North American corporation.
Over many decades, H.V. McKay and the Sunshine Harvester works had assembled some of the earliest and most unique and completely irreplaceable examples of Australian farming inventions, innovations and technology advances.
These items were all housed in a museum building at the Sunshine works in Sunshine, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria.
Within a few weeks of taking over the American and Canadian Massey Harris executives secretly decreed and oversaw the total destruction of and the disposal of all these unique and irreplaceable examples of very early Australian agricultural machine inventions and developments, a vital and irreplaceable part of the Australia's national heritage which all went into the Sunshine tip.
The only records of those machines now are the photos in the National Museum.
I only found out the full story some years later from an old ex Sunshine Harvester employee and truck driver who actually had to take the destroyed machines down to the Sunshine tip for disposal.
And the reasons given by those executives when they were strongly challenged by the workers was there was no way that they, the Massey Harris / Ferguson executives were going to allow anything in Australia that would challenge the North American claims that they were the first to develop all of the modern grain harvesting and farming technologies.
If Americans want a comparison just try and imagine the Australian BHP company, now one of the largest mining companies in the world, moving in with bull dozers to flatten and destroy Valley Forge because they wanted to mine under it.
The mention of the Massey Ferguson name still brings a sour note to my mouth and not much has changed with the Massey Ferguson culture here in Australia.
Their executives who have taken over the running of AGCO's business in Australia still seem to have that same arrogant attitude to Australians.
By the very early 1960's the sheer size and financial power of the big American corporations were wiping out the small but very technologically advanced Australian header manufacturers and by the very late 1970's all Australian manufacturers of harvesting machinery were out of business or taken over.
My father brought our first American built self propelled combine, a two seasons old JD 95 Roundback in 1961.
We were really big time then.
That machine was very simple, strong, well made and easy to maintain.
It was also the single worst combine for grain loss and sample quality that we have ever owned and it's lack of comparative capacity in our Australian conditions was not far behind.
There was one more purchase of an Australian designed and built Shearer XP 88 combine which after a lot of ROM and his brother's mods became a very good capacity machine but that model was the last produced by the Shearer company.
[ Rolf was just a very small tacker in those times! ]
Then Allis Chalmers with the first Push Button combine, the L2 came into our world and my story ends here.
Edit; sorry; some of those links did not come out as required.
You may have to copy and paste from between the brackets.