Explanation of the Massey-Harris combines and relevant equipment
It is not possible to explain the cooperation necessary to have manufactured 500 combines in Toronto, Canada, and delivered them “field ready” to the U.S.A. in time to harvest the huge grain crop. All this was done during a time of war with fuel and steel rationed. The company knew how to work together and get things organized. So did our governments.
(Roger Engstrom’s notes about the picture. The large vertical hood, to the right of the combine operator, was made of a heavy screen to keep chaff from getting into the radiator of the engine, which was mounted underneath the combine. The small pipe sticking up, that looks like it has a brush on it, is part of the air cleaner system that leads to the carburetor. The long pipe is the exhaust pipe. These combines had 12 foot headers.)
Three elements were in place in 1944; a shortage of steel, a shortage of manpower and a shortage of fuel. Massey-Harris out of Racine, Wisconsin, put together the steel and Toronto, Canada, projected the manufacturing of 500 combines. Canvas was used for some of the platforms due to the steel shortage. This whole project took a lot of projecting as the combines, when built, had to have operators, trucks and drivers to move the grain.
The local extension offices offered up the contracts if people were interested. Participants had to sign contracts with the promise to make the “run” from Texas to North Dakota until the wheat was harvested. If they could complete their contracts they could purchase the machine they had been operating for $4,200. There was a good chance they would have established a route for the following year.
It was a way to buy a machine during the war and possibly put them in line to establish a business, but it had to be taken under consideration that they would be away from home and family for four to five months. It could only pay out if they were able to keep the machines rolling and make enough to pay their expenses and send enough money home to support the family for another year.
There were to be two Brigade routes; one being the western Brigade, California, Washington, and Oregon to do the barley, and the Texas to North Dakota Brigade for the wheat.
Approximately 300 machines were shipped by the railroad to Altis, Oklahoma and the headers to a nearby town for the North Dakota run.
Life in the Brigade was based on keeping the machines running and getting the wheat out. Parts were delivered by several semis and even light aircraft. Fuel was carried in several 55 gallon drums. Operators received gas coupons for emergency use. The combines went through a lot of tires at $31 each. War time rubber and a lot of weight and travel.
The crews tried to eat a large breakfast and their suppers at local restaurants. No time for lunch. If they thought there would be time at night they would fill a wash tub with water to warm up in the sun for a bath. Wash day was the same, as clothes were washed and hung on a rope between the trucks. If dew stayed off the wheat in the evening they kept combining into the night.
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