IHC Baler Unit

Worn out but still in one piece, a rare IHC baler unit is lovingly restored.


Charlie holding the plunger rack after removing it from the plunger rack gears.

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This story begins with a phone call some years ago to Henry Abel, Clay Center, Kan., and an inquiry about a Reeves six-bottom plow. For many years Henry and his brother, Wilfred, had a reputation for being serious collectors of antique machinery.

The 1914 IHC motor baling press at the Col. Fulkerson Farm in Jerseyville, III., before restoration. The Titan engine had already been removed at this point.

Irvin Bruhn (at left), Charlie Bethmann (center) and Jim Philipps (right) check and adjust the friction clutch and power jack drive gears after reassembly.

Shortly after my phone conversation with Henry my son, Rick, and I made the trip from Illinois to Kansas and visited with Henry about the Reeves plow. After deciding to sell the plow to us, the topic of conversation changed to balers, and with that Henry turned and walked around to the east side of his barn. Stopping to part the tall grass growing there, he stepped aside and showed us a rare 1914 International Harvester Company motor hay press. Rusty, but basically complete, it was one of the most unusual balers we had ever seen - but the icing on the cake was the original 4 HP IHC Titan engine that was still mounted on the 7,000 pound baler.

The Baler

It turned out that Henry had tried for years to buy the baler from its original owner, but without any luck. Time passed and the owner died, and Henry bought the baler at public auction. At the time we came along Henry had owned the baler for several years, and as he showed it to us he told us he wanted to see it restored. We might as well, Henry told us, buy the baler and make our hauling trip to Illinois worthwhile.

We bought both items and prepared for our trip back to Illinois, quickly realizing there was no way we could haul both items in one load. After making two trips from Clay Center to the Douglas County Historical Festival site at Arcola, Ill., we had both pieces safely tucked away. Time passed, and the baler took a back seat to other priority projects. In 1995 the festival moved from Arcola, Ill., to the 60-acre historic farm of Col. William Fulkerson in Jerseyville, Ill., under the new name of the Jersey County Victorian Festival. The three-day festival is always held on Labor Day week end, and after settling in at the new festival site the unusual baler began to draw new interest. The Jerseyville festival has also become the official Illinois event for the ILL-MO Tractor and Engine Club (with over 140 members in Missouri and Illinois), and two members of the club - Jim Philipps and Charlie Bethmann, both from St. Peters, Mo. - took special note of the baler and offered to assist in its restoration.

Rick Nolan paints the wood feed apron while Charlie takes a break and Jim checks last minute details for the baler's first show.

Jim Philipps, who has a well-deserved reputation for his excellent work and assisting others in their restoration projects, picked up the Titan engine and took it to his shop in St. Peters. Once there he completely tore down the engine and began its detailed restoration. The engine was well worn from the heavy demands of running the baler, and Jim had to give it a complete rebuild. Jim's patience never wavered, and with the assistance of his many friends the engine began to take shape. It made its first showing at the 2001 ILL-MO Old Time Picnic Show in St. Peters, and the beautifully restored engine was truly a crowd pleaser and a testament to Jim's untiring efforts.

The following winter, Charlie Bethmann suggested we move the 27-foot long baler to his shop for a complete restoration. Charlie, with help from friends, disassembled the baler and then assessed its condition. Like the engine, the baler was well worn, and it became clear its restoration would be no small undertaking. Inspecting worn parts for wear, Charlie commented several times, 'This baler must have baled half of Kansas - twice!'

Cinder Charlie's direction work on the baler began immediately. As parts were cleaned and rebuilt they were prepared for painting working from detailed baler reference material and color schemes provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Meanwhile, the 2002 St. Peters show was fast approaching, and the restoration of the complete baler unit became a priority. Club members Jerry Hill, Charles Bryant, Ervin Bruns, Gary Pflum, Dan Schneider, Denny Puck, Jude Arras, Jim Philipps, Charlie Bethmann, Jim and John Bethmann, and Fred and Rick Nolan all worked together to meet the target date for the 2002 show. And meet it they did. The baler was fully restored, the original Titan engine mounted, and both performed beautifully for the first time in approximately 72 years for the crowd at the 2002 Old Tyme Picnic.

Hats off to the people who united in an unselfish goal to preserve a part of our agricultural history for future generations. This is most certainly a rare occurrence in this day and age, and we owe these people our thanks and gratitude. The baler is now a wonderful addition to the Col. Fulkerson Farm Museum at Jerseyville, Ill., but will always return to the Old Tyme Picnic every July.

Contact engine enthusiast Fred Nolan at: 25007 U.S. Highway 67, Jerseyville, IL 62052.