Setting Up a Binder
by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
In our continuing efforts to glorify and preserve highly useful relic technologies, the material in this article will be included in a new, upcoming book we are working on. It will likely be entitled ‘Grain Binders and Reapers.’ If any of you have images or information you’d like considered for inclusion, please contact our office. LRM
These photos were taken over two days this fall, ahead of the threshing on the McIntosh Lazy M Ranch in Terrebonne, Oregon. Their standby binder for several years has been a meticulously maintained John Deere. Recently Mike McIntosh acquired a second binder from the Rumgay estate; this one, a New Champion, is in excellent original condition but has not seen use in many years. A day ahead of the threshing Mike, Jacob and Jamesy allowed me to join them in assembling and assessing the unit for a test flight.
I like that image of ‘test flight’ because, had I been thinking about technological milestones without checking datelines, I might have imagined not much time had passed between Cyrus McCormick’s first grain binder and the Wright Bros’ first airplane flight. They both feel like they came of the tail end of the Romantic/Victorian era, just a whisper and a whimper before the onslaught of the industrial age; and maybe even further back in time? Just something about the wonderful and incredibly efficient complexity of a ground drive binder that suggests Leonardo da Vinci drawings come to life. See the gearing, canvas and leverage combinations of binders that may well have informed early inventors of flight?
da Vinci inventions – circa 1485 …
McCormick’s first binder 1837 …
Wright Bros’ flight 1907 …
Time whispers …
and we’d be forgiven asking ‘what took so long?’
1. Binders, typically, are too wide to fit through many barn doors or gates. They are designed to be trailered sideways, with binder trucks removed and temporary carrier wheels attached. Also for moving, the header reel is partially disassembled and levered back to narrow the upper profile. The procedure for getting the binder ready to move into or from a field is an exact reversal of the procedure to setup the machine grain harvest.
2a. Mike cranks the bull wheel down to lift the binder up off the carrier wheels while Jacob (2b), after removing the tongue truck, cranks the outside wheel down. Now with the weight off the temporary transport wheels and axle…
3. … the wheels may be removed. The New Champion has a transport axle and wheels as opposed to the John Deere which has wheels that attach to the frame and no axle. First the front wheel with weight off is removed. Then…
4 & 5. … on the other side the wheel and axle are pulled out from under the machine.
6. The binder truck wheel assembly (which includes the hitch and line diverter), that was taken off from transport end, is now slid under the binder main body, off to the side of the cutter bar. Different makes and models have variations of how the truck is fastened to the frame.
7. Jamesy is locating the two support braces that balance the weight of the tongue truck and keep the binder frame level. He pulls them down and fastens at the tongue (8).
9. The evener setup off the tongue truck is examined to make sure everything is free and properly attached.
10. At the end of the cutter bar, the swather board is swung forward and pinned in place.
11. Looking down from behind, you can see the New Champion has a curling bar off the swather board which ‘invites’ the grain, as it is mowed, to lay rightwards on the binder deck rather that falling into the roller assembly and potentially jamming things up.
12. Here’s a view of the binder with wheels and tongue truck in the harvesting mode. Note that the header reel is still only partially assembled. This allows it to be moved out of the way as the draper canvases are put on.
13. The elevator portion of the grain bed features two continuous canvases moving in opposite directions around two pairs of driven rollers which pull the grain crop up between them. This material is then fed on the other side, to the binding mechanism. Here Mike and Jacob are attaching draper belts to complete that first rolling bed.
14. The draper canvases have a wide flap that rides over the belts to keep them from hanging up. Mike is working under that corner flap to finish attaching the last of the bottom belts.
15. Jacob is reaching between the courses and pulling the tail end of the top draper down to run it around the roller and up to where his father is waiting with the belts.
16. The top elevator belt is being attached. Notice the wide flap laying back. As this belt runs clockwise, that belt will lay up and over the belting, out of the way of operation.
These drapers are made of a heavy weight hemmed canvas which has hardwood slats every foot or so to reinforce and hold the shape. There are, luckily, a few Amish shops that still make these drapers.
17. The grain bed of the New Champion binder employs a spring loaded wooden bed frame to keep the draper taut.
18. Mike holds up the draper as Jacob feeds it around the inside roller…
19. … and then pulls along the tray.
20. The draper goes the length of the tray…
21. … and then viewed from opposite side, under the end roller.
22. Finally the draper is buckled back to itself and the circuit is complete.
23. Drapers on, it’s time to extend the reel…
24. … and reassemble.
25. Assembled reel seen from teamster’s perspective.
26. Next the knotter mechanism is liberally soaked with WD40 and…
27. … with crank attached the mechanism is run through a cycle to determine that the knotter is working properly.
28. Through the haze of forest fire smoke, we see the men do a test run with the binder on a JD Model A tractor. Four bundles are made successfully.
Next day, 29a. The standby John Deere binder is taken to the field and readied for work.
29b. Friends crawl around ’neath the binder to make sure all chains are in place and the machine is properly greased.
30. A view of the evener setup for this unit. The New Champion was a smaller unit suitable for two horses. This JD requires three head.
31. A three abreast of Percherons is led over the tongue in preparation for hitching. With able attendees in the right spots, the horses are bridled, lines attached to bits and drawn back to the machine, and then the neckyoke is lifted and hooked. Jacob holds the lines while the traces are attached to the evener.
32. Jacob on the seat. Mike makes a final inspection of all aspects of the binder, adjusting the reel position back and down
33. The first bit of opening pass, binder is put in gear and horses step ahead.
34. A pause to adjust the knotted tray boards so string in is proper position on the bundles. Notice the vertical 1/2 inch rod and brace; this prevents lines from getting tangled in the rotating reel, especially on corners. Jacob has one foot in a stirruped pedal. With this he can pull his foot back and dump the bundle tray, usually with three to five bundles, in a pile for the bundle wagon crew.
Many different companies manufactured binders; John Deere and McCormick-Deering/International made far and away the most. From Champion to Osborne to Massey to Case and beyond, many farm implement companies recognized the hot item this machine had become and quickly put their names on units that varied only slightly from one another. So solid was the original concept that grain binding machines saw relatively little change during the late 1800’s. Cyrus McCormick’s magical turn of engineering in 1837 had a profound effect on farming the world over.
In 1837, a good, skilled man might be able to cut an acre of grain a day with a scythe. Multiply that and it takes 10 to 12 people to cut ten acres a day. One man could do that much in a day with a horsedrawn binder, plus the binding action itself saved a whole other round of work, as people no longer had to gather the grain and tie it by hand.
For well over a hundred years the grain binder ruled supreme. It was not until combination harvesters, or combines, came along that the binders were phased out, and even then it took decades for people to give up this classic machine that worked so well.
One element of the grain binder, the knotting mechanism, has proved so well designed that it translated seamlessly to balers.