Going for a Spin, The Axial-Flow Combine

Revolutionary Red Tractors
post by
Lee Klancher
combine in field

The following excerpt is from Revolutionary Red Tractors, an ideal book for young readers fascinated with machinery as well as for anyone who wants to learn more about the hardworking people and the machines that feed our world! In this excerpt, the axial-flow combine speeds up harvesting on the family farm. 

“Michael!” Linda shouts at her seven-year-old son. “Stay away from the combine!” Michael groans. What is he, five? He knows to keep a safe distance when the machine is running.

Linda and her husband have been spending the day harvesting. Now a corn stalk has jammed the machine. They must stop and clear out the stalk before they can work again.

Clearing a jam in a combine is dangerous work. Combines have many moving parts with teeth. Plenty of farmers have lost an arm or worse when they’ve tried to pull out a corn stalk out of a running combine. Linda turns the combine off and puts the parking brake on. They pull the corn out with a hard yank and start moving again.

Combine technology leaped ahead in the 1970s with the release of IH’s Axial-Flow combine. This new technology spun the grain around a rotary. The Axial-Flow combine made farming even more efficient.

how an axial-flow combine works

The idea of spinning grain to thresh it had been around since 1772. But no one had come up with a successful way to do it. In the past, IH engineers had designed a rotary corn sheller that worked well. A corn sheller separates corn kernels from the cob. Realizing they had something good, the engineers decided to build a harvester using similar technology.

In a secret garage, IH engineers started working on the new project. The team began in the late 1950s, thinking they’d need a few years to design the combine. In the end, the machine was released almost 20 years later!

Secrecy was important. Other companies could spy on the project and steal the technology for themselves. So, a small team of engineers worked inside a locked garage with frosted windows no one could see through. Almost no one knew about the secret project. The engineers tested all sorts of grain and crops to make sure the combine could work through everything. They also tested it in fields away from prying eyes.

axial-flow combine
Engineers worked on the Axial-Flow combine in secret for years. Even higher-ups at the corporate office may not have known about the project! This international 1460 model was the first made. Lee Klancher

Early on, the combine threshed corn easily. But it had issues with grain. The straw wrapped around the equipment and got stuck. But finally, the engineers had perfected the technology. The Axial-Flow combine ran faster and harvested more than any other combine. It was a leap ahead of the competition.

In 1977, there was a showcase of an IH combine against a John Deere combine. Despite the field being muddier than a pigsty, the Axial-Flow harvested the corn easily. And the John Deere? It got stuck in the mud!

Axial-Flow combines started rolling off the production line in 1978. They were so efficient that the rest of the combine companies were hard-pressed to catch up.

Michael hears his parents talk about the new IH combine. His mom is impressed by the engineering. The family buys one to help on the farm. They’ve been doing so well lately. Crop prices are up, and their family has been able to harvest more too! Life is good.

1977 international 1460

Check out Revolutionary Red Tractors for more!