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Massey-Harris two-row, self-propelled corn picker
ONLY A FEW LEFT: Roger and Nick Wenning went a long way to find and bring this Massey-Harris two-row, self-propelled corn picker to Greensburg, Ind. Roger hopes to restore it.

Why 2-row self-propelled corn picker quickly became obsolete

Throwback Tech: Timing is everything in the world of farm machinery.

Sometimes a good product doesn’t stay around long. It’s not because there’s something wrong with the product. It’s all about timing. The Massey-Harris self-propelled corn picker is a good example. They were used for such a short period that I never knew they existed until a few years ago.

Mechanical corn harvesting started with one-row pull-type pickers. Then there were two-row pull-type pickers. But you still had to knock down corn on the outside rows when you opened a field. Then one-row and two-row mounted corn pickers came along. With two-row mounted corn pickers, you no longer knocked down outside rows, but mounting the picker could be a daylong, knuckle-busting job, no matter what the operator’s manual said. If you’ve got a mounted corn picker that you can mount in an hour or less every time, I’ll build a bridge to nowhere just to sell it to you!

Massey-Harris engineers seemed to have a bright idea when they decided to put a motor on the corn picker and make it self-propelled. No more mounting a picker on a tractor or tying up a tractor all fall. There was just one problem: By the time the company designed, tested, built and marketed it, the days of picking corn on the ear were numbered. Self-propelled combines were on the way, and someone soon figured out it was more convenient and took less space to store shelled corn rather than ear corn.

Many of the Massey-Harris self-propelled pickers that were built were soon parked. Others wound up in scrapyards. A few survived. Roger Wenning, Greensburg, Ind., recently found one in Kansas and brought it home. He actually brought home two; one was for parts. His hobby is collecting and restoring Massey-Harris tractors and equipment. He hopes to get the picker in top shape and running again one of these days.

Internet chat sites indicate Massey-Harris made the self-propelled picker for several years. One unconfirmed estimate pegs the total number made at just under 10,000. Some featured four-cylinder engines while others used six-cylinder Continental engines.

Massey-Harris picker-sheller brochure
SHORT LIFE: The self-propelled picker only lasted a few years, and the Massey-Harris picker-sheller didn’t even last that long; it was soon replaced by self-propelled combines.

Although Massey-Harris was also making self-propelled combines by then, the company was slow to give up on the self-propelled picker concept. One advertising piece, likely from the mid-1950s, introduced the “New Massey-Harris Self-Propelled Picker-Sheller.”

“Now — you can shell your corn as fast as you can drive your picker … anywhere from 200 up to 600 bushels per hour, sheller capacity,” the brochure states. That’s quite a range. And why could Massey-Harris make the case that shelling corn at the same time you picked it was innovative? Because many people still picked ear corn, cribbed it and then shelled it months later with a stationary sheller, if they didn’t feed it all.

This machine had 226 cubic inches of “proven, economical power to do your job faster.” Unfortunately for Massey-Harris, agriculture was changing quickly, and soon much larger combines that could harvest wheat or soybeans and still shell corn would dominate the landscape.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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