PENFIELD, Ill. — The rollout of the first axial flow combine was a game-changer in farming and the first ever produced — an International Harvester 1460 — will be featured at Historic Farm Days July 11-14.
These harvesters, released in 1977, differed from the traditional combine design in that threshing and separation was performed mainly by a rotor, as opposed to the drum and straw walker type models previously used.
The bulk of he processing area is devoted to a cylinder that spins and threshes grain from the grain heads, allowing for far greater capacity than the previous drum and walker harvester design.
There were 300 hand-built IH 1460s produced in 1977 — production moved to an assembly line the following year — and the first one, owned by Matt Frey, Pocahontas, will be showcased at the Penfield show.
The combine was original shipped from the East Moline IH facility where it was built to H & N Equipment Co., Albers, and purchased by a Lebanon, Missouri, farmer who had it for four years before trading it in at H & N.
That’s when the Freys unknowingly purchased what would be a historic piece of equipment. It would be years later before they learned it was number one off the line.
“We had a 1978 IH model four-wheel drive combine by father bought, and we were busy with custom work. Being we had the only four-wheel drive in the area, we had a lot of customers. So, we were looking for a secondary machine, and instead of an 815 or 915 we thought, H & N just got this 4-year old used machine in, so we bought it,” Frey said.
“My brother, Mike Frey, originally bought it, and we used it on the farm as a secondary machine. Since it was two-wheel drive, it didn’t get as rough a use as the other machine did, but we still used them side-by-side and that’s what we liked about the. We could have two 1460s and that way we could just buy one set of parts to cover both machines.
“It was a simple combine to fix. I guess that’s why we kept ours running for so many years. It seemed like every four or five years we would pull the rotors out of both machines and just kind of rebuild them. Years before that, if you had a combine for four or five years, you better be getting rid of that thing because it was shot and too much work to repair.”
The timing also was right for a combine that would be long-lasting during the dismal ag economy in the early to mid-1980s.
Since it was a new type of combine, built by hand rather than an automated assembly line, International Harvester kept a close eye on those first 300 and required two weeks of training for any implement dealer technicians that would work on the machine. Anything done on the combine down to tightening a bolt had to be documented in a log book and submitted to IH.
Jerome Ripperda was working at H & M Equipment when the first 1460 arrived.
“We had to go in for training on the electrical system because that was all together different than what they had before and train on the threshing components. The cleaning system was basically the same as the old machines, but we still had to go through. The main thing was adjustments,” Ripperda said.
“We weren’t allowed to make any changes on the combine unless we had engineer approval.”
Ripperda did have to do some engineering of his own with a modification on the first day the combine was used. It was a Sunday and the company engineers were unavailable until the next day, but harvest had to begin.
“We started harvesting corn and it was putting whole corn cobs into the grain tank. I hung some mud flaps on it to keep the corn cobs from flying back into the clean grain system. Then the engineers flew out and checked it out and a few weeks later some new flaps came. I put truck flaps on and it worked, but they came out and made it look a little prettier,” Ripperda said.
He also recalled the time the Freys combine needed to remove the beater shaft, which typically required taking off one side of the machine.
“International sent us a schematic and told us where to drill the hole, so we could get the beater shaft out without taking the whole side of the combine off,” Ripperda said.
There were some hurdles to overcome when the 1460 first rolled into fields.
“The biggest challenge was to get farmers to drive fast enough. They were all worried about choking it up, but it wouldn’t do a good enough job if you didn’t drive if fast enough. You had to keep it full. There’s a beeper in there when the engine gets full torque and will beep at you and you just back off a little bit,” Ripperda said.
“I delivered every combine and I would make the first round in the field and they’d say, ‘you’re going to unchoke it.’ The old combine took a lot of horsepower and they didn’t have much horsepower, and you’d try to thresh everything in one pass of the cylinder, where this thing made seven or eight passes through the rotor, so it didn’t have to thresh it the first time around.”
No. 1 Found
Fast-forward to the spring of 1998, Frey still was using was the 1460 and received a call from Case International asking if he owned the very first model constructed. He didn’t know, but checked the serial number and found it was indeed the first 1460 off the line.
“They were doing a promotional thing for their 100,000th combine. It was a 2388. They had a special day for it at East Moline. They were doing a promotional video and that was really nice. They came down to our farm in late August or early September. We talked a little bit about the machine and ran the machine in the field,” Frey said.
The combine was featured on the cover of Lee Klancher’s book, Red Combines.
Frey’s combine also was highlighted at the 2017 Farm Progress Show, when Case IH was celebrating its 175th anniversary. Frey plans to use it to harvest soybeans at this year’s Half Century of Progress at Rantoul.
Ripperda is a classic farm equipment enthusiast, as well, and serves on the American Thresherman Association’s board. He and his 1913 Titan steam tractor will be at Historic Farm Days. He currently also has 16 International Harvester antique tractors, ranging from 1936 to 1962.
When Ripperda was asked why he feels it is so important to preserve farming’s past for future generations, he said, “People have to know how hard those guys really worked. If you take like that Titan tractor, there were no computers back then. Everything was done with slide rules, and I’m not even sure they used slide rules back then. It was amazing.”