HAY BALER? NO, A HAY PRESS
David Timmermann & Karen Proenneke
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.