Russ' Vintage Iron

The New Idea Uni-Harvest System

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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I have written a lot over the years about my family's and our friends' and neighbors' vintage iron, but I haven't ever written about my wife's family whose farm roots go back just as far as my family's history in east-central Nebraska. Her family settled on farms only about 50 miles to the northwest from my home area.

Much like my family, most of my wife's ancestors spent their whole lives raising crops and livestock. There were some differences -- her relatives were mainly from Germany and settled in the fertile Platte River Valley, where mine were mainly from Ireland and settled in the hills just to the west of the Missouri River.

Her relatives chose better soils than mine, I do believe.

After my wife's grandparents were married in the 1940s, they bought their own farm and raised their family just a few miles away from her great-grandparents' farm.

Her grandparents lived on the farm until moving to town in the 1980s and her aunt and uncle moved out to the farm to raise their family; they still live there today. Her grandma passed away in the late 1990s and her grandpa died in the mid-2000s, just a couple of years before we met.

My wife's brother helped their grandpa farm the last few years he was able and he was able to inform me about what equipment they used. Among their grandpa's last tractors were an International Farmall 460/560 and a 1960s four-digit Oliver (he couldn't remember which one it was).

Their grandfather also had a New Idea Uni-Harvest system. Our neighbor had one and I think that is the only time I was around a Uni-Harvest. He used it up to when he had a farm equipment auction in the late 1990s.

My internet research found some information about the system but not as much info as I thought I would find.

I did find that Minneapolis-Moline originally came up with the idea and produced the Uni-Farmer system in 1950. This multi-purpose power unit had several uses, from being a corn picker to a forage harvester.

More research yielded even more attachments for the Uni systems. One site said there were snowblower, combine, sheller, husking beds, "superchopper" (whatever that was) and header attachments.

At some point, the New Idea Company took control of the design and built the Uni-Harvest system. I could not find how or even why the design shifted from MM to New Idea.

One website said Uni-System production ended in the early 1970s, which was surprising to me. But another website said the New Idea Uni-Systems became the White New Idea Uni-Systems and production continued into the 1990s.

Again, we had a neighbor who had one of those systems and it seemed to me it was from the late 1970s/early 1980s. I could be wrong but that machine didn't seem that old.

I do wish my wife's grandpa had lived just a few years longer (for a multitude of obvious reasons of course) but selfishly I would have liked to have known him. We probably would have had many wide-ranging conversations about farming, but specifically I would have asked about harvesting crops with the New Idea Uni-System.

From my limited research, I found it seemed farmers either really liked these vintage machines or they really did not like them.

I would like to know what he thought of the machine. What did he like about them? What did he not like? What would he have changed if he was the engineer building them? How much grain could he harvest in a day with it?

If you had a New Idea Uni-Harvest system -- or maybe you have some knowledge of the system -- please contact me so I can put this information into a future column. I would LOVE to hear from someone who actually used the vintage machine.