A couple months ago I wrote a column in which I discussed my wife's grandpa who owned a New Idea Uni-Harvest system. Last month we had several people tell their own stories about both the Minneapolis-Moline and the New Idea versions.
This month we have another person's experience with the unique harvesting system. This comes from Curtis Strode of Marietta, Illinois.
I read with interest your article on Feb. 5 about the Uni-Harvest system. The article brought back many memories from my childhood experience with the system. We live in west-central Illinois close to Macomb. There was a very strong MM dealership which sold many Uni systems over the years.
My father purchased his Uni with a combine unit in the mid-1950s. Three or four years later, he purchased an ear corn picker unit and in the early 1960s, he bought a shelled corn unit.
He built a special machine shed with three stalls, and an electric wench and cable system that allowed him to lift the harvesting unit up, back the Uni tractor out, lower the harvest unit, lift the next unit up and drive the tractor under it then and lower the unit.
The system worked very well. In fact, it was much easier than changing the heads on the early combines.
I was only about 10 years old when he purchased the first unit so I might not remember all the facts but I do have many memories. These are some of things that I remember.
1.) The tractor was powered by a V-4 engine because of the limited room for the engine. A V-4 didn't fire evenly, giving it a very distinct sound. My father explained to me why a V-4 couldn't fire evenly but I don't remember the details now.
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2.) The engine was directly behind the operator, so in the summer cutting of wheat it was very, very hot. The heat, however, felt great during corn harvest in the fall and winter.
3.) It had a variable size adjustable belt pulley drive propulsion system that let the operator vary the ground speed but not the engine speed. This was a feature well ahead of its time.
4.) With the corn picker, we pull a 50-60 bushel flair box wagon. In soft ground or mud it was very easy to get the unit stuck because there was little weight on the right drive wheel.
5.) We had several round wire cribs that held about 1,000 bushels. It took a decent day to fill one crib.
6.) Compared to the machines we had prior to the Uni system, this machine raised harvesting to a whole new level. The capacity and reliability of this machine was excellent. I remember very few in-season breakdowns.
7.) The shelling unit was right beside the operator so the noise was really bad. My father's hearing was very poor in later years and he always blamed the shelling unit for his loss of hearing.
8) Being around wheat dust made my father very sick and he had to wear a mask at all times. Because of this, he let me cut wheat by the time I was about 12 years old. I remember thinking that was really something to control such a big machine by myself.
9.) During the fall harvest I was in school. My job was to wait for my father to bring in the picker each evening. I would go out and turn the drive pulley to line up the grease zerks for him. It seemed to have a lot of zerks.
10.) Our neighbor had a worn out Uni-tractor with an almost new sheller unit on it. They traded the unit off to a dealer 35 miles away. The dealer decided to drive the unit the 35 miles back to their store. They got about one mile down the road when the tractor stopped. My father got the unit off the road for them and purchased the sheller unit on the spot. The dealership said they would come back and get the tractor. That was 55 years ago and the tractor is still sitting in our locust grove!
11.) The combine had an aftermarket straw chopper on it. I don't remember the brand name but it was orange in color and worked very well.
12.) We had an attachment on the right side that allowed my father to harvest timothy seed. I don't remember anything about how it worked but I do remember that he was doing well to get 2 to 3 bags of seed in an afternoon.
Thinking about the old Uni-Harvester system has brought back many fond memories of the machine, my father and my childhood. The machine was truly a well-designed and well-performing machine. It was far superior to any harvesting machines we had before it and, in many ways, surpassed the first couple of combines we had after it.
I am looking forward to what other farmers have to say about their MM Uni-Harvest systems."
Curtis D. Strode
A big thanks goes out to Curtis for taking the time to send me his memories about working with a MM Uni-Harvest system with his dad. Like he said, I would guess many memories he hadn't thought about in years came back to him.
If you have any memories or thoughts on working with either the MM or New Idea version of the Uni-Harvest system, please send them to me and I will include them in a future column.
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