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Necessity prompts farmer to breathe new life into old combine

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | November 19, 2020 1:00 AM

STRATFORD — Necessity is, in fact, the mother of invention.

Or at least repair.

That’s what farmer Dan Hendrickson found this year as he prepared to harvest around 130 acres of corn he planted in the spring.

“We put some corn in because the alfalfa and timothy hay market was not good, and we’ve not done that in 18 years,” said the 68-year-old Hendrickson, who farms the northwest corner at the intersection of Stratford Road and Road 16 Northeast.

Hendrickson said he contracted with someone to come in and harvest the corn for around $10,000. Because he had no way of harvesting the corn himself, save for an old New Holland TR75 combine that was sitting, rusting and a decaying, surrounded by weeds, in a corner of a field.

That old combine hadn’t run in 15 years, Hendrickson said, and the last time it did, it was to harvest wheat.

Still, Hendrickson and his sons Quinton and Preston decided to try and get the old combine up and running, initially to see if they could.

After clambering through weeds to get inside, Hendrickson said they found there was still plenty of gasoline, oil and antifreeze, and the tires still held air. Despite being a home to any number of critters — they had to shovel out piles of feathers and rat poop — the wiring was still in tact as well.

“We put a battery in it,” Hendrickson said. “It starts right up, and runs good.”

But a lot of things needed to be fixed or replaced — chains, bearings, cylinders. The combine’s wheat header needed to be swapped out with a corn header sitting nearby, which itself needed work. And all of the guts, the rollers and sieves, for threshing wheat needed to be replaced with specialized corn parts, which Hendrickson said he cannibalized from a pair of old New Holland combines sitting rusting in his brother’s field.

“Maybe we’ll put this together and play with the corn,” Hendrickson said. “We have this custom harvester coming in, and as the corn dries around the edges, we can actually poke around a little bit if we can get it going and converted over to corn.”

Even though Hendrickson said they hadn’t set a hard and fast limit on how much they were prepared to spend on the project, they were always prepared to pull the plug on it just it case it ended up costing too much.

“We were always ready to pull the plug if it got too expensive,” he said. “We don’t want to put any more into it than we had to.”

And then their harvester called in and said he was having problems with his own, much newer, combine, and would not be able to come harvest Hendrickson’s field.

“He had his own problems to deal with,” Hendrickson said. “So, what came from just poking around, might just do some of the edges stuff and have a little fun with it, became a full-fledged deal that had to work.”

And it did. That 40-year-old combine plodded slowly at around one mile per hour through all 130 acres.

“We did the first couple of hundred feet, the grain was beautiful, clean as a whistle, no grain wasted in the field,” Hendrickson said. “It was nice.”

“It’s good corn,” he added.

Things broke along the way, but Hendrickson said even with all the work, all the parts for the restoration — including some custom repair work done by a mechanic in Quincy — came to around $2,000. That doesn’t include the time he and sons spent working on it, though.

But it’s still a lot less than the $10,000 the custom harvester wanted.

And it’s not bad for a piece of machinery that had, at one point, been valued by a professional assessor as “not worth nothing.”

“A lot of this is just not natural,” Hendrickson said, crediting divine intervention for the “resurrection” of his combine. “It just isn’t natural that this stuff should run like it does.”

photo

Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald

Stratford-area farmer Dan Hendrickson stands out in the cornfield he and his sons Quinton and Preston are harvesting with a 40-year-old combine they restored this summer.

photo

Charles H. Featherstone

Stratford-area farmer Dan Hendrickson chucks an ear of corn in the way of his 40-year-old New Holland combine, which he and his sons restored this year.