John Deere Dain Motor Press

Content Tools

804 Bergdahl Court, Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641

One of the many crowd pleasing demonstrations at the 1985 Old Threshers Reunion held August 29th through September 2nd in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, was my John Deere Dain Motor Press.

While I (David) was visiting a fellow tractor collector, I mentioned my desire to own an old hay press with eccentric gears like the one my grandfather used. I felt the shifting gears would make a very interesting exhibit for the Old Threshers Reunion visitors. The man happened to have traded for a 1937 John Deere Dain Hay Press and was undecided as to his need for the machine. Eventually I bought the press, which I found two states away in Arkansas, but it was manufactured only two towns away by the former Dain Manufacturing Company, now the John Deere Ottumwa Works in Ottumwa, Iowa.

The hay press was paraded in the Calvalcade of Power at Old Threshers in 1981. It became a working exhibit at the 1982 Reunion. The eccentric gears were a feature of both the Dain Hay Press and the early John Deere presses. It was a welcome exhibit, as the only other baling previously done on the grounds was the horse powered demonstrations. The hay press has also helped to take care of the problem of what to do with the accumulation of straw from the threshing exhibit.

The John Deere Dain Motor Press being demonstrated at the Old threshers Reunion held in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Dropping the blocks and tying the bale of straw are Rob Swailes, mark Crull and Bob Diamond. Using the hay fork to pitch the straw into the hay press is David Timmerman, owner of the machine. Shown at the end of the press is one of the blocks used to guide the wires between the bales.

One's first question may be why haven't I said hay baler instead of strange words like hay press. All literature I've seen, no matter what brand, called these tools presses, sometimes baling presses. My interpretation is that their main function was to press the hay and nothing more. They were hand fed and only pressed the hay tight while a worker installed the wires or bale ties around the hay, thus forming a man made bale. They were not true baling machines until complete bales could be formed without man.

Most hay or straw, at that time, was put up loose so the old presses were much less common than bales are today. To sell and deliver loose hay any distance was impractical. My uncles tell about their childhood winter days in the big cattle barn poking wire into grandpa's old Rumley hay press to make a truck load for some Missouri hay buyer. When they put hay in railroad boxcars, eight miles away at New London, Iowa, the bales had to be pressed tight to weigh 125 pounds apiece. A youngster had to know how to tie a man-size knot to make a bale that heavy stay together. Perhaps that is why they still discuss these matters today.

Luckily, my press became obsolete before it wore out so putting on a new operator's platform was the major restoration task. Later a safety rail was added. My father, Paul Timmerman, (Mount Pleasant, Iowa) did the restoration of the hay press. Then some one asked who was going to whittle out the wooden blocks. What blocks? It seems that the wood blocks play a major role in dividing the long wad of hay into convenient size cubes. First, at some proper time, known only to the experienced person, the operator quits feeding hay and after watching the bale chamber clean itself out, drops or stands the block on end into the empty bale chamber. The returning plunger strikes the block (hopefully before it falls over) and shoves it into the hay chute just like another wad of hay. This is the division between the previous and next new bale just like wax paper between segments of a taffy candy bar.

Secondly this block must have horizontal grooves on both the front and back side. The grooves are too narrow for the compressed hay to squeeze into but large enough for someone to poke a wire through. (The 14gauged wires left straight are factory precut to about nine feet with an eye twisted on one end. They are packaged in bundles of 500 wires.) The block and wire are moved along the bale chute by the addition of hay behind it. Again, at an exact time known only to a few, another block is dropped in place to start its journey down the chute, the other end of the wire is poked through the groove in the block so both ends stick through to the other side. The person on that side tied the wire, after pulling the end through the twisted eye, forming the bound bale. There were usually just two wires used to bind a bale but sometimes for a super heavy bale such as old paper bales, a third wire was used. Grandfather used red elm wood to make his blocks because they could be bent almost double before breaking. Running out of baling blocks has the same results as running out of wire to tie the bales. My blocks were made of plywood centers with whatever kind of wood used in troop seats for army trucks on the outside.

At last, after the blocks have done their mission of dividing the bales and guiding the tie wires in place, they move along the bale chute with the moving bales and fall free as the completed bales emerge. The blocks are then carried forward and recycled until worn out or broken. If a wire is pushed through on the wrong side, the block will not fall free, but be tied onto the end of the bale very securely. The bale must be broken to release the block and then recycled through the press again.

The Sandwich hay press, made in Sandwich, Illinos, the Dain and the John Deere both made in Ottumwa, Iowa, all had variations of eccentric gears to drive the main plunger as did the Rumely hay press owned by my grandfather. This eccentric mounting of gears made the outer teeth appear to move erratically or to orbit as if they were out of balance. The actual effect is a change of plunger speed during operation. The motion of the gears is timed to allow a slow, powerful plunger compression stroke and a fast return stroke with a relative pause at the bottom of the stroke. A pause at the return creates extra time to pitch in more hay before the plunger returns for another compression stroke. The changing speeds reduced power surge requirements and allowed a smaller flywheel. I am told that a stationary six horse power John Deere gas engine was mounted on many of these units. How far will six horses go on a baler today?

To an average Old Threshers Reunion goer, the threshing demonstration is a lot of mystery and a little magic. Few people quite know just what happens. A wagon load of grain bundles is pitched in one end, straw flies out the other end, and somewhere in between the two ends of this four wheel threshing box, the separated grain falls into a wagon. So much for the science of threshing grain. Baling the straw stack, which is produced by grain threshing, is simpler to understand. The gaudy motions of the hay press itself, plus the excessive manual activity around it tell most of the story.

The size and shape of the straw stack determines how many workers will be necessary to move the straw onto the feed platform of the hay press. The feed operator slides straw from the platform into the chamber when it is open. To make a uniform bale, the chamber must be filled full or else all the straw will lay only in the bottom of the press chamber and the finished bale would not be of uniform density. The bottom side, having more straw, would be curved or rainbow shaped around the lighter compacted side, so the operator must feed it to capacity without slugging the machine. After each charge of straw, if pitched into the top of the chamber, the (mechanical) vertical feeder stuffs it into place just before the plunger moves rearward compressing the charge against the straw already in the chute. At this time, the eccentric gear design is valuable. The eye appeal of the big open three foot tall gears orbitting instead of spinning is only incidental to the main purpose as was explained earlier.

As I was the only worker at this exhibit with a real straw hat, the Reunion visitors always directed their comments just to me. It seems they told me more about my exhibit than I told them. Different areas have different styles. For a better demonstration we tied the bales on the same side as the crowd and away from the straw pile. Some people said it was backwards, while others said they had always done it our way. Some said the tier also pokes his wires and another merely returns all wires back through while others said one pokes only and one ties only. Either way it still takes two people to get the bale tie wires installed completely. Yes, they still sell bale ties. I researched all summer and found several guaranteed leads before locating a farm store in East St. Louis that handles Red Head Brand wire. I am considering selling wire at next years' Reunion, the main drawback being our late Reunion dates (five days, ending Labor Day). In later years, some hand tie wires were available with a hook and bead on the end similar to the end of a bicycle spoke. These were simply hooked through the eye of the other end of the wire and formed bales all the same length, plus the wires were reusable. All baling wire is reusable for other things, but only the hooked bead wires remained untwisted which allowed easy rebaling with them.

Our baling crew, being different each year, was always able to find someone in the crowd who could tie wires. Different people do it differently. We have tied double wraps, singles, figure eights another time and some that couldn't be named. Several women have stepped forward to show how they had tied bales. Also, I had one very important oversight: it's the code of the Midwest that the long, straight lengths of wire waiting to be tied around the bales must be held handy in an old, used rain spout.

The machine manufacturers let the farmer decide exactly how long to make his bales. Generally, bale length is determined by how long the tie wire is made. Bales only two inches too long can cause the wire to be too short to tie or if tied, can break from too much tension. If baled short, too much extra wire is awkward to handle during the knot tieing. Bales must be kept close to twice as long as wide to conserve storage space and for an interlocked, uniform stack. Farmers devised many gadgets to measure length. Some had a spiked wheel that rolled as the bale lurched past, raising a marker or striking a bell. Others let the tie person yell 'block' when it looked time to him, so the feeder would stop feeding long enough to drop a block. In our own case, a rod was stuck in the bale close to the previous block. As the bale moved along the chute, it carried the rod to a predetermined mark on the chute, at which time a new block was installed. This worked pretty well if someone always remembered to move the rod back forward to each succeeding block.

No one agreed who was responsible for picking up the block and returning it up front after it fell free from the bale upon emerging from the chute. It seems to be an additional duty assigned to someone who is already very busy.

I found out that a number of people hadn't realized the bale chute tapers to almost three quarter inch smaller at the outlet end and is adjustable. This, I explained, made it possible to tie the wire with plenty of working slack and then get tight as the finished bale expanded after leaving the machine. This adjustable outlet can also be used to vary the amount of straw or hay put into each bale before it is forced out the opening.

One spectator told of baling hogs' hair for a packing plant with almost the same process. He said cleaning up a broken bale of hogs' hair was no fun.

Everyone has a favorite size or shape of baling hook to use when handling the finished bales. I met a man who always had his hooks chrome plated. Chrome makes them stay very slick with no between season tarnish that can cause some resistance to penetrating a bale.

Did you know the type of pitch fork used to feed loose straw into the chamber is very important? The more and the stronger tines a fork has, the harder it goes into a pile of straw. It also slides off slower if at all. The right fork could be a major influence during a long day. A light weight, three tine fork is available. Others prefer a four tine tool and some buy a five tine fork, cutting out the two middle tines, thus leaving three again, with a wider spacing. Occasionally someone removes the outside tines from a four tine fork and makes a narrow two tine fork. The fork I use is whichever one I can borrow.

The biggest problem the first year with setting up the baling demonstration centered around belt problems. The belt kept bouncing vertically and moving the tractor. We tried two different tractors, both two cylinder green ones. We tried three different flat belts, ranging from new, down to the belt I own with no effect. We had the front to the right and the front to the left. It was pulled tight, it was run loose. There was no belt dressing around so we bought some honey from a nearby stand. The belt was run inside to outside and it ran straight, The belt couldn't be twisted because of the clockwise rotation of the hay press. I plan to reverse the drive linkage inside to allow for reverse rotation and twist the belt another year. Also, one has problems lining a belt if he listens to more than five advisers concurrently.

By talking to people afterwards I found out the whole problem is that two cylinder John Deeres can't be used for belt work. My father, who has had a two cylinder John Deere on a belt for about 10,000 hours, does not agree.

The people who made the exhibit for the 1985 Old Threshers Reunion were Jim Whiritt who came all the way from Texas and was there for the entire five days to help get the exhibit set up and ready to make everything work. The others who were willing to get straw down their necks were Rob Swailes and Joel Proenneke young men who graduated from Mount Pleasant Community High School in May of 1985; Mark Crull, Larry Shelly, and Bob Diamond who are all seniors at Mount Pleasant Community High School; and, of course, myself. I want to thank each of these people for giving of their time and energy. I hope they will all be there to pitch in next year, starting on August 29th and ending on September 1st, when we will once again show our many visitors how the 'good old days' really were.

To the average Old Threshers Reunion goer, the threshing demonstration is a lot of mystery and a little magic.

I found out the whole problem is that two cylinder John Deeres can't be used for belt work.