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Did Vermeer really make 1st self-propelled hay baler?

Vermeer self-propelled baler
STILL 1ST: This Vermeer baler is the first self-propelled big round baler offered for sale, as far as we know. However, Minneapolis-Moline had a similar idea more than 60 years ago. New Holland also made a self-propelled baler that produced small square bales.
Throwback Tech: Technically, Vermeer’s self-propelled large round hay baler is the first of its kind, but Minneapolis-Moline fans from the 1950s might want to argue their case.

When Vermeer announced it was producing the first self-propelled hay baler about a year ago, most people took it at face value. The Vermeer ZR5 is now commercially available, and it’s an impressive machine with a comfort-controlled cab. As far as anyone knows, it truly is the world’s first self-propelled, big round bale hay baler.

Thanks to the internet and some savvy mechanically inclined people, it’s known that a couple of other companies made hay balers you could drive. New Holland made several versions of self-propelled hay balers, including the Model 166 in the late 1970s. They were apparently most popular in Western states. But they produced small square bales, not big round bales.

If you search “New Holland self-propelled baler” on the internet, you can find numerous YouTube videos of various models at work. There are comments from people who say they still use one today. One comment said finding one at an auction in decent shape is a real find. Indications are that not many of any one model were produced.

Then there was the Uni-Balor (their spelling, not ours) from Minneapolis-Moline. Whether the Minnie-Mo entry was a true self-propelled baler or a tractor with a mounted baler is where it gets tricky. Technically speaking, Minneapolis-Moline developed and sold the Uni-Tractor, including perhaps the best-known Model L Uni-Tractor. Internet lore claims many parts were the same ones used on the Minneapolis-Moline 445 tractor.

Uni history
The Model L was basically a chassis with large wheels set wide apart, an engine and drivetrain, and an open operator’s platform. The earliest models had one rear wheel, but later models had two small rear wheels. The idea was to provide a power unit which could handle various interchangeable machines. There was a husking unit, sheller, combine head, forage harvester and, yes, a baler. If you watch enough YouTube videos, the consensus is that the Uni-Balor first appeared in 1951. Minneapolis-Moline was still advertising it in 1956 in farm magazines, and a 1957 model owned by a family in Ohio is featured in one YouTube video.

SELF-PROPELLED BALER? The unit on the front page of this 1950s-era repair catalog certainly looks like a self-propelled hay baler.

Once the Balor unit was hooked to the Uni-L tractor, it functioned as a self-propelled baler. Anyone watching wouldn’t know that the baling unit could be removed and another harvesting machine inserted in its place. The Uni-Balor also produced small square bales. If you liked the Balor but didn’t want to invest in a Uni-Tractor, Minneapolis-Moline also sold it as a stand-alone, pull-type baler operating off the tractor PTO shaft.

POWER UNIT: Some people believe history will repeat itself, and in the future there will be autonomous power units that accept various machines like this 1950s-era Minneapolis-Moline L Uni-Tractor. Time will tell.

Minneapolis-Moline would later sell the “Uni” machine concept to New Idea, which had already tried and failed with a small square baler in the 1950s. There’s no record that New Idea attempted to resurrect the Uni-Balor. However, New Idea Uni-Harvesters became popular in niche markets, especially for picking seed corn. New Idea was later purchased by Agco, and the New Idea name was retired more than a decade ago.  

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