Russ' Vintage Iron

Questions About Uni-Harvest Systems

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Last month I wrote about the vintage iron my wife's grandpa had farmed with and I mentioned he had a New Idea Uni-system. I also wrote if anyone knew much about them I would be interested in hearing from you as I could not find much about these machines on the web.

Boy did I hear from you! I got several emails and calls about this interesting harvest system, so much so I will have to spread the responses over a couple different months.

Let's first discuss the Minneapolis-Moline (MM) version of the Uni-Harvest system, which came out in the 1950s. Gerald Gauck of Milan, Indiana, called and let me know his dad had a Minneapolis-Moline Uni-Harvest system for four years, from 1956 to 1960. He had three attachments for the machine -- a combine, a sheller and a husking bed.

He said his family did custom work at the time with the MM Uni-harvest system, mainly because no one had a machine which would shell corn in the field. They would shell corn for neighbors who wanted high-moisture corn to feed their hogs.

Gerald was only a teenager at the time but he did enjoy using the machine. It didn't have a cab, which made it kind of dusty and dirty to operate, but he remembered it doing a good job of harvesting.

Despite this, his dad traded the MM Uni-Harvest system in for a 2-row Ford corn picker in 1960.

Marvin Stiegman of Thawville, Illinois, also sent me a note on the MM version of the Uni-Harvester. Here it is:

"I once owned a MM Uni-Harvester combine and picker/sheller. The combine was used mostly on windrowed oats and it was a nice machine.

"The picker/sheller didn't work out as well though. It just couldn't handle the corn and do a good job without going very slow. We eventually replaced it with a combine, which was much more efficient.

"I have had quite a number of MM machines -- mostly tractors, some that I still own. I'm 91 years old and I am still involved in farming with a crop share lease with my son."

Now onto the New Idea version of the Uni-Harvest system. The first one to contact me right after the column was published was Dennis Ott of Greene, Iowa.

Back in the late 1960s/early 1970s he bought a New Idea 701 Uni-Harvester which had a gas engine. He also owned another one (he couldn't remember the number) with a Cummings diesel engine.

Dennis said he liked the Uni-Harvest machines. All that was needed to change the different attachments were a few wrenches. He had several different attachments, including a hay attachment, a chopper and a 3-row snapper.

He said the main advantage was it could shell corn with the correct attachment, something not common at that time. He also remembered the cab being very basic with a little fan and heater under the seat.

At some point probably in the early 1970s, he traded off the second New Idea Uni-Harvest system for a regular combine, he said.

One of the questions I still had about these vintage machines was if the design shifted from MM to New Idea at some point and why did this occur.

Roger Ricketts of Rockford, Ohio, called and told me the design did move from MM to New Idea, which I assumed. He said he didn't know why but thought around 1960 the machine was made by New Idea.

Ricketts' home of northwest Ohio is not too far from the town where New Idea was headquartered for many years -- Coldwater, Ohio. In fact, one winter many years ago he even worked at New Idea plant pressing parts.

He said the New Idea plant was open through probably the 1990s.

He said the Uni-Harvest systems were made at this plant even in the years after White bought New Idea. According to an internet search about New Idea, a company called AVCO bought New Idea in mid-1940s, White bought AVCO New Idea in 1984 and AGCO bought White New Idea in 1993.

The web search also showed the New Idea Coldwater plant was closed by AGCO in 1999 due to "reduced demand for agricultural equipment." Roger said the plant is still there in tiny Coldwater, but now sits empty.

The other question I had about these vintage machines was what exactly was a "superchopper." According to Roger, a "supperchopper" was just a larger chopper unit used to harvest ensilage.

Makes sense, I guess.

My deepest thanks go out to Gerald, Marvin, Dennis and Roger who enlightened this ag writer with their first-hand experiences with both the MM and New Idea versions of the Uni-Harvest system.

Next month I will have more Uni-Harvest comments. If you have any experiences with these vintage iron machines feel free to contact me.