Lessons Taught by a 1460 International Harvester Combine
As recalled by Thomas F. Johnson, with assistance from Dan Kennedy and Darren Klemp
A special thank you to Anna Gritters for giving advice and proof reading my story.
In the fall of 2005, I was winding up a whirlwind tour of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. For the past several weeks, I had been updating hydraulic systems on tillage three and five-section machines to a proposed production level. After I had turned South onto Interstate 35 towards Iowa, I passed a gentleman with a pickup pulling a trailer with a restored 1957, International R185 grain truck. I slowed down a little to look at this truck and then went on by, giving the driver a smile and a thumbs-up of approval as I went on down the road.
Several miles down the road, I pulled into a rest stop and was standing by my truck preparing to leave. Looking back at the off ramp, my attention was caught by the restored International truck on the exit ramp pulling into the rest area. I waited for this gentleman to get parked and then walked up to him as he came up the sidewalk. I quickly introduced myself as Tom Johnson. His name was Dan Kennedy. I asked him if he would mind if I looked at his restored truck. “Not at all,” Dan said with a broad smile. As I examined this restored beauty, I mentioned to him this restored truck did not have very many miles on the chassis. He explained this had been a Fire Department tank truck. He had purchased the truck recently from a gentleman who had put the grain box and hoist on the chassis. I asked him where he was coming from, and he told me he had picked the truck up in Wateska, Minnesota. Dan had purchased the truck from a gentleman who had been a trustee in the Wateska Fire Department.
Dan wanted to know whom I worked for because it looked like I might have tools and parts on my truck. I told him I had worked at an International Harvester dealership and several other dealerships after the farm crisis of the 1980's. I presently was an experimental tillage mechanic for John Deere and was getting back from North and South Dakota and Minnesota. Now he really perked up and wanted to know how I got started in that line of work.
I told him of my farm background and of being a mechanic at Klemp International in Ottumwa, Iowa when the Axial Flow combines made their debut. I told him that we had sold five combines that fall and one, a 1460, gave me quite an education. The Herbert Molkenthin family had purchased a 1460 combine, a 15-foot header, and a 6 row 30-inch corn head. The Molkenthin’s raised very good crops in the fertile soil near Ollie, IA.
From the moment the Molkenthin’s started harvesting corn, I knew we had a big problem. Corn pouring off the sieves on to the ground is not a pretty sight! Now, the Molkenthin’s were nice and polite. They realized I was checking and rechecking every possible reason for this occurring that I could think of. Readjusting the sieves and creeping along under two miles per hour was the best we could do. I informed them I was going to go back and call my area service representative to see what I might be missing. My call to the service representative did not reveal a solution; he just went back over all I had previously tried. My service representative recommended trying to take every two wires out of the concaves. That made the situation worse with pieces of cobs now getting mixed in with the grain. I quickly switched back to pulling every other wire out of the concaves. Bolts were installed in the grates to help fluff up the husks to ensure all the grain was getting removed. I had already pulled the spreaders off the back, and I can assure you, the yellow ribbon of corn out the back was definitely not acceptable. I then decided that I needed to try something different, because by the time we stopped the machine and allowed it to empty out, we had no way of really knowing what was happening inside the machine. I asked Robert Molkenthin, who was operating the machine, to simply reach over, turn off the key, leave the hydro handle alone, and wait for the machine to stop when the grain-loss monitor went off. I then instructed him to shut off the separator and header, put the hydro handle back in neutral, restart the engine, and set the park brake. I started looking under the head. Very few kernels were under the head. Next, I pulled off the side shields by the concaves. The auger beds had corn nearly up to the concaves. I walked around back and discovered the sieves were way overloaded, thus the swath of corn pouring off onto the ground. Adjusting the sieves open further did not help. By now, their soybeans were ready to harvest, so they switched over to harvesting soybeans. They had no problems whatsoever as they easily harvested their entire soybean crop. None of the other combines I was dealing with that fall had any issues like what the Molkenthin’s were experiencing. In fact, all the Axial Flows our dealership delivered that fall were set up the same way. All the customers loved the results they were getting.
I kept reading the Blue Ribbon bulletins as they came in, studying up on possible cures for this problem, trying every suggestion I could find. I called the Molkenthin’s early in the morning to find out where the machine was going to be and allowed for routine stops to the combine. I continued to emphasize to them that I had not forgotten their concerns.
One Monday morning as I walked in the front door of the dealership, Loren Klemp, my boss, yelled at me to come to his office. He wanted to know if I knew of the Molkenthin family and their problem with harvesting corn. I assured him I was well aware of the problem and proceeded to go over with him all I had tried and how often I had been in contact with our territory service representative. I also let him know at this time, International Harvester did not have a solution to this problem. I explained that none of the other combines we had delivered were having any issues like this. He very bluntly informed me I was to spend every available moment trying to fix this issue because quite frankly, Herb was talking about returning the combine if IH couldn't come up with a solution.
IH service representative Merele Bodmer called me early one morning and wanted to come to the field and visit this combine. Once there, he started going over the same items I had already checked. Herb, who was sitting on the tailgate of my Scout, asked him what the hell he was doing. Then Herb went on to explain that I had already checked all of that, and he had watched over my shoulder and was confident that the threshing part of the machine was fine. Somehow, larger rear wheels were brought out, and Merle and I switched the rear pivot casting position and installed the rear wheels. The thought was, by raising the rear of the combine, we could keep the corn on the sieves longer, but it didn't help. Installing fishback risers for the sieves did not make a difference. Crawling along at about two miles an hour was the best we could do to keep the corn in the combine. I was ever so thankful the Molkenthin’s were so accommodating to me as I strived to resolve this problem.
Rain set in and slowed harvesting. In the meantime, our dealership had traded for an International Harvester 915 combine on our remaining Axial Flow combine. This 915 combine had the straw walkers completely plugged up with wheat beards. The dealer's teenage son, Darren Klemp, and his high school friend, Jim Anson, were given the task of cleaning out the plugged straw walkers. One afternoon, they asked me if I would back it out of the shop to clean the garbage off the cardboard they had laid over the sieves. With the sieves cleaned off, I pulled out the cardboard and threw the separator in gear to help loosen what was still in the straw walkers and blow out some of the chaff and beards. These young men who were cleaning out the machine informed me it would be much easier to set a match to the straw walkers than to do what they were doing to dig out this mess. I made sure they knew that was not going to happen! When I went back around to look at the sieves, I realized right away they were significantly different from what the Axial Flow combine had and appeared to be about the same size dimensionally. The last Axial Flow combine we had was sitting on the lot ready to be delivered. I grabbed my tape measure and found out the sieves were the same size and fastened in the same way. I hurried up to Loren's office and told him I wanted to take that sieve out to the Molkenthin’s 1460 and see if that would help. I was readily granted my request, and Loren wished me good luck. I called the Molkenthin’s and left them a message requesting they let me know where I could find the combine the next morning. I had something I wanted to try.
The next morning, I set out with this special sieve, and Robert and Herb were at the combine waiting expectantly. I quickly switched the sieves and instructed Robert to perform the stall technique we had been using so I could see what was happening with this sieve. Without the machine being stalled, I already noticed a huge difference. When Robert finished the stall and restarted the machine, I found I needed to adjust the sieve a little bit further open, and the sound of corn dropping down into the shoe was like music to my ears. I instructed Robert to try running the machine again. This time he continued on across the field and came back with a smile on his face. This sieve definitely was a large improvement over the factory sieve.
I had written down the part number off the sieve, and when I got back to the dealership, I filled my boss in on the results. I told him I was going to call my territory representative and see if we could order a special corn sieve for this combine. The territory representative said yes, order the special corn sieve, but it would have to be ordered special as a machine attachment. It turned out, there were not any of these sieves in stock, and the factory would have to build one. With the order placed, I kept daily contact with the Molkenthin’s to see if this was still working. Pretty quickly after the order was placed, Loren told me I needed to go to the factory, that the sieve was being built in the morning, and I could pick it up on a will-call. Just before noon the next day, I received the prized sieve and headed directly to the combine. The combine was running when I pulled into the field, and they promptly stopped and let me install the new one. Just a little additional tweak after the initial adjust, and they were off and running. But now, the problem was the shoe had too much corn and weight, the clean grain and tailings augers were full and the elevators were running full.
When I wrote up my warranty claim for the new special sieve, I also explained the need to either speed up the augers and elevators or make them significantly larger. Dan, whom I had been talking to at the truck stop, started laughing and said, "There is no way you could make this story up. Who was your territory representative?”
“Merle Bodmer” I said. Dan then proceeded to explain. He had been in charge of the IH and then Case IH Harvest Support Program and had heard this story before. In October of 1981, the dealership was forced to close. I never knew what had become of the warranty claim and suggestions I had made. Dan told me that International Harvester had changed to larger grain augers and elevators on Axial Flow combines. International Harvester engineers and technicians had confirmed my findings and made the necessary design changes.
As we were preparing to go our separate ways, Dan opened his wallet and pulled out his business card and explained that he and his department had been transferred to Racine, Wisconsin. This group transfer occurred after the sale of IH Ag group to Tenneco. Dan said if I ever needed a job to call him, and he would do what he could to help out. Companies were looking for people like me. I don't know which one of us enjoyed our conversation and break from driving more.
Well, I never expected to see Dan again. However, as members of International Harvester Collectors, our paths continue to cross. I cannot venture a guess as to how many Winter Conventions and Red Power Roundups we have both attended. We both share a connection to the success of the International Harvester Axial Flow combines. While we each had different roles, we shared a commitment to our customers. We, along with all the other people involved with these machines, are proud to be a part of the behind-the-scenes legacy of the Case IH Axial Flow combines that are still being produced today.