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Ag historian needs your help

Forgotten Tool: Can you identify what these men are doing?

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

May 4, 2023

1 Min Read
black-and-white photo of farmers and horses in field
SOLVE THE MYSTERY: Author Fred Whitford is looking for help in understanding this picture. Can you explain what type of tool the team of horses is pulling in detail? Courtesy of Fred Whitford

Look at the black-and-white photo above. Can you explain what is going on in detail? If so, Fred Whitford wants to know.

Whitford, director of Purdue Pesticide Programs, is also an author, writing primarily about ag history related to Purdue University and the Extension Service. This time, he’s documenting the transition from horse to tractor farming.

“This picture really has me stumped,” Whitford says. “Some believe the horses are pulling a corn binder, but why are men picking stalks off the ground? I would really like to know what these men were doing.”

Corn binder question

Is the unknown implement an early ancestor of the PTO-driven corn binder? The John Deere corn binder pictured below, purchased new in the 1930s, belongs to the Hancock County Ag Museum in Britt, Iowa.

John Deere corn binder from 1930s

Farmers often cut green corn and gathered bundles into larger shocks to dry and later run through an ensilage chopper. Is that what is happening in the black-and-white photo?

Email [email protected] with a detailed explanation. Or mail to 599 N., 100 W., Franklin, IN 46131. If Whitford judges your explanation most accurate of all submitted, you will receive either his recently released book “Planting the Seeds of Hope: Indiana County Extension Agents During the Great Depression and World War II” or an earlier book, “Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family: A Photo History of Indiana’s Early County Extension Agents.” Include your physical address and preference of book.

Related:Name this tool from the past

To order any of Whitford’s books on agricultural history in Indiana, visit

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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