Gleaner Manufacturing Company
The Gleaner Manufacturing Company was an American manufacturer of combine harvesters. It built the first self-propelled combines, and it was a popular brand for many decades, first as an independent firm, then later as a division of Allis-Chalmers. The Gleaner brand continues today under the ownership of AGCO.
Gleaner combines date back to 1923, when the Baldwin brothers of Nickerson, Kansas, created the best and most reliable self-propelled combine harvester. They decided to use the "Gleaner" name for their radically redesigned grain harvesting machine based on inspiration from "The Gleaners", a famous 1857 painting by Jean-François Millet. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested, or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest, and in the broadest sense, it is the act of frugally recovering resources from low-yield contexts. Thus with the Gleaner name, the company evoked a positive connotation in potential customers' minds, of a brand of harvester that would leave none of the grain behind. A combine harvester combines the reaping, binding, and threshing functions all into one machine—hence the "combine" part of its name. To that list, the Baldwin brothers' Gleaner added self-propulsion. Earlier combines, the so-called pull-type or tractor-drawn combines, were towed by tractors.
The Gleaner was one of the pioneers in self-propelled combines. They were often considered the "Cadillac" of the industry because of this feature and because of their sound engineering. Buescher (1991) credited the design principally to one of the brothers, Curt Baldwin, and explained that it focused on the needs of custom cutters like the Baldwin brothers themselves—contractors who move north with the harvest season, selling harvesting services to farmers. It resulted in machines that were extraordinarily reliable and useful, which benefited not only custom cutters but anyone who bought a Gleaner. The short wheelbase and axle track allowed the combine to fit on a truck. The grain header did not need to be detached for transit, because it fit over the cab of the truck. Buescher said, "Since custom cutters didn't know where their next parts supply source would be, Baldwin designed his combine so that it wouldn't need parts." (Buescher's tongue-in-cheek point is that the machines were designed and built well so that need for repairs would be minimal.) The frame was "like a bridge" in its strength. The bearings were chosen with service in mind—large and good quality (to obviate service) and of common sizes (so that the operator could carry merely a small stock of spares in his truck and yet be certain to have the size he needed when a replacement did become necessary). The Gleaner's exterior sheet metal was galvanized (zinc plated), giving it weather resistance superior to that of typical farm equipment, which was painted but not plated. As Buescher said, "Baldwin reasoned that most of his combines would sit outdoors. Texas and Oklahoma dust storms have a way of peeling paint off of machinery." As a result of the silver color of the zinc plating, the Gleaner brand ended up having a distinctive color (just as Allis had Persian Orange, IH had red, and John Deere had green), despite the sheet metal not even having any paint.
During the Great Depression, owing mostly to the collapse of the farm economy and the Dust Bowl, the Baldwins' company fell into bankruptcy in the 1930s as equipment sales plummeted. William James Brace acquired the company with his son-in-law, George Reuland. The pair along with other investors brought the company back to profitability and maintained ownership until 1955. During World War II the factory, like many others, switched over its production to war materiel.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, other farm equipment manufacturers were offering increased competition to Gleaner, having introduced their own versions of self-propelled combines.
In 1955, Allis-Chalmers acquired Gleaner. This represented commercial renewal for Gleaner with the production and marketing success of various new models and technologies. It also represented a great gain for Allis-Chalmers. Allis was the market leader in pull-type (tractor-drawn) combines, with its All-Crop Harvester line. But acquiring Gleaner meant that it would now also be a leader in self-propelled machines, and it would own two of the leading brands in combines. The Gleaner line augmented (and later superseded) the All-Crop Harvester line, and for several years Gleaner's profits made up nearly all of Allis-Chalmers' profit. Gleaners continued to be manufactured at the same factory, in Independence, Missouri, after the acquisition.
In 1979, Gleaner released its first rotary combine, the N6. It was soon followed by the N5 and N7. The latter was the largest combine of its time, with grain headers as wide as 30 feet (9.1 m).
In 1985, Allis-Chalmers sold their farm machinery manufacturing business to Deutz AG and became known as Deutz-Allis, and in 1991, its North American operations became AGCO. Despite several ownership changes, the Gleaner brand never ceased to be produced or marketed. However, between 1985 and 2000, Gleaner lost significant market share, to other manufacturers with broader dealer bases and farm equipment product lines that had clear marketing and customer service advantages. Another attribute that did not bode well for Gleaner was that some of their combines were now built with the air-cooled Deutz engine, which was a departure from water-cooled engines predominantly found in most other industrial and agricultural applications.
In 2000, AGCO moved the Gleaner manufacturing operations from Independence, Missouri to its Hesston, Kansas facility, which featured modernized manufacturing equipment and techniques. It also centralized the engineering and production functions into one location. The Hesston facility is 35 miles east of Nickerson, Kansas, where the Baldwin brothers started the Gleaner company in 1923.
Some of the firsts introduced by the Gleaner were: an auger that replaced canvas drapers, a rasp bar threshing cylinder instead of a spike-tooth arrangement, and a down-front cylinder that put threshing closer to the crop. In 1972 Gleaner was the first manufacturer to use electro-hydraulic controls, an innovation that other companies didn't incorporate until 25 years later.
Gleaner also explored use of turbocharged diesel engines far before the competition. Records going back to October of 1962 list the 262-cubic-inch turbo-diesel engine as being available for the model "C".
Another Gleaner innovation was a "rock door" to protect the machine from damaged due to stones that it might pick up while harvesting. If a Gleaner combine ingests a rock, the rock door simply pops open and drops the stone on the ground preventing damage to the cylinder and concave bars, unlike other machines that use a "rock trap" that the operator must periodically clean out or dump.
Three models are currently available, the S67, S77, and S88 which are Class VI, VII, and VIII combines, respectively. These combines still utilize the transverse rotor which was originally introduced in 1979.
- List of Allis-Chalmers tractors
- All-Crop Harvester
- Gleaner E
- Gleaner Combine Models by Year of Manufacture 1922-2006
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gleaner.|
- Buescher, Walter M. (1991), Plow Peddler, Macomb, Illinois, USA: Glenbridge Publishing, ISBN 978-0-944435-18-2. A memoir by a man who worked for Allis-Chalmers company for over 30 years as a sales representative and sales manager.