Kevin Bos makes a living farming and repairing machinery for others near Geneseo, Illinois but one of his other interests is old harvesting equipment, both threshers, cornpickers ands combines.
A few years ago Kevin attended a sale in Minnesota that included some early Deere model 55 combines and as can happen sometimes one of them followed him home. However the 55 that soon found its was on to Kevin’s trailer was not just any combine, showing serial number 827 it is the oldest known to still exist.
Like other early 55s, number 827 has 9.5×24 dual drive tires and 6.00×16 steering. The roller chain that turns the rear wheels looks like it came off a bicycle. Many of the pulleys are cast iron spoke harkening back to the time of threshing machines. Deere soon began using steel disk pulleys on their combines. The reel on the head is transmission driven, which means it only turns when the combine is moving, though it also matches ground speed. Take that modern technology! Yes it can be uncoupled for road travel.
Kevin was a bit taken aback when the previous owner of the combine asked him if he also bought the other old 55 that was on the sale for parts. When Kevin told him that he hadn’t the man looked a little concerned. Nonetheless the combine with its 12 foot head still attached was hauled from Minnesota to central Illinois where the work began.
The top half of the valves on the 55’s Hercules engine were completely rusted off and the cylinders had to be bored .060” to remove the pitting. Fortunately though the head and block were not cracked. It’s not hard to imagine the kind of work needed on the rest of a 70 year old combine. Freeing and cleaning rusted parts, checking and replacing bearings and shafts and dozens of other jobs. The unloading auger was beyond repair but Kevin found a replacement though it is 14 inches longer. That’s probably a good thing because the original auger barely stuck out beyond the combine’s 12 foot head.
After decades of inactivity the old 55 harvested again during the 2017 version of the threshing bee Kevin and his brother Chuck hold each year. While it can hardly keep up with the newer combines in terms of capacity, Kevin says the grain sample in the tank was as clean as any of them.