Russ' Vintage Iron

Fetching Pumpkins Leads to a Look at a Vintage IH Combine in the Trees

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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An International Harvester 303 combine sits in a grove of trees near Scribner, Nebraska. The combine was manufactured during the 1960s. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to my sister-in-law's father's house. He lives in a rural area of eastern Nebraska about 25 miles northwest of us, and we stopped to get some pumpkins for the kids as he grows many of them.

As I loaded the pumpkins into our car, I noticed in the tree line there was a rusty combine with trees growing up around it. And I mean it was rusty -- the only thing I could make out as I got a little closer was "303" on the back of it.

As you might have figured, it was an International Harvester (IH) 303 self-propelled combine. I don't know if I had ever seen one on a farm before, but I had seen a fully restored 303 at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, several years ago.

This got me thinking about vintage IH combine models so I did some Googling and there really are no websites about makes/models of combines like there are for tractor makes/models. I found info about newer IH combines, mainly the introduction of the rotary or axial flow combines in 1977.

From my own research, it appears the first self-propelled International Harvester combines were models 123 and 125, introduced in the 1940s. I couldn't find if there was a 124 model. I came across a couple of photos from the Wisconsin Historical Society showing 123 combines working in the field.

On one website, someone said in a chat box the 123 was introduced in 1942 and was built until 1948. I really couldn't find much more info than that. I am guessing the IH 125 was the 123's big brother.

Then at some point -- likely the 1950s -- IH introduced another line of self-propelled combines. The models included 101, 141, 151 and 181.

These were similar combines to the first series for IH, as they too were open-station combines. Someone on the internet had a sale brochure for a 1958 IH 151 combine, so we know they were made then.

Sometime in the early 1960s (either 1961 or 1962 depending on where you looked), International Harvester introduced the 03 series which included the 303, 403 and 503. From looking at the different photos online, this was the series in which cabs first appeared on IH combines. I believe the old rusty 303 in the trees I saw that day had a cab.

My grandpa and then later my dad and uncle hired different neighbors with self-propelled combines to harvest their soybean crops (they didn't buy a combine until the early 1970s) in the 1960s. One of the neighbors had an IH 303 combine while another one who harvested their beans had a John Deere 45 combine.

I really don't remember anyone in our area having this series of IH combine when I was a kid. I do remember several having the next series (introduced in either 1968 or 1969, again depending on the website) which was the 15 series, which included the 715, 815 and 915.

When I was in high school, I used to help our neighbor bale hay and walk soybeans and he had an IH 715 combine. He didn't farm too much but he did milk cows. One year over Christmas break, he was still combining corn so I rode with him for a couple of days and helped him unplug the machine.

Maybe that's why he was still picking corn in December. I think it was a wet year that year, which also might explain why he was harvesting corn in December.

The 15 series was the last conventional combine for International and its rotary or axial flow combines were introduced in 1977. This was the 1440 and 1460 with the familiar white-topped cabs like the 15 series.

Then the 16 series was introduced in 1985. There were many 1640/1660s in our area. That was the same year International Harvester became Case International Harvester, now known as New Holland Case.

In 1993, the 16 -- 4/6/8 series was introduced. This would be 1644, 1666 and 1688. I remember the first two models but I don't remember any 1688 in our area.

Next was the 21 series (2144, 2166 and 2188), the 23 series, the 120 series and finally the 88 series.

I am sure this list is not 100% correct but this is some of the vintage IH combine information I could find while searching the internet. Again, I'm kind of surprised there are not any websites about old combines like there are for tractors.

Did I forget any IH combine models? Do you have any memories of vintage combines? Please let me know. I look forward to your responses!

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Russ Quinn