When we attended the annual Kenosha County Dairy Breakfast back on June 19, I was fascinated by this piece of antique farm equipment — a 1915 Belle City threshing machine.
The machine’s owner is Bob Koenecke. In the video above, Bob is wearing a cap from Koenecke Equipment, Inc. in Reedsburg, Wis., but Bob himself lives near Burlington, not far from Crane Dairy, which hosted this year’s Dairy Breakfast.
Here’s the description Bob gives :
This is a Belle City threshing machine, 1915. This is an all-wooden frame machine. It’s one of the last ones left around. They were built in Racine, Wisconsin.
I bought it from the original owner’s son. His dad purchased it brand new in 1915. It was hauled by rail to Trevor, Wisconsin, unloaded with a team of horses, and taken to the farm.
It was last used in 1959, and I purchased it in 1998. The man that I bought it from was 84 years old at the time, and two weeks after I bought it from him, he died. I was after him for over 20 years trying to buy it from him, and he finally sold it to me. But I had to buy the grain binder also, which is a 7-foot, ground-drive, horse drawn grain binder.
This machine is used for separating straw from the oats, and you can thresh wheat with it, too. They would bring the shocks of grain in and pitch them into the machine, and this would separate the oats from the straw. The oats would come out on the hopper up on the top. There’s a scale up there that actually weighs it, and it counts bushels. And then the straw would go through the machine, and it would blow out through that tube over there, and onto a big plie. Or they would poke that tube up into the barn, and blow the straw up into the barn.
Poking around YouTube, I found other videos of similar Belle City farm machinery. Here’s one of a 1948 Belle City threshing machine in use:
And another of the same 1948 machine, this time from the deck on top:
As for Belle City Manufacturing Company, the maker of this antique farm equipment, online information is somewhat thin. There’s a 1910 book by Fanny S. Stone titled Racine, Belle City of the Lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin (Volume 1); A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, which contains this brief sketch:
This is one of the oldest manufacturing concerns in Racine, having been established in the late ’70s. The company was incorporated as early as 1882 and was capitalized recently for $300,000. The plant is devoted almost exclusively to the manufacture of agricultural implements of all kinds and about 175 men are given employment throughout the year. The officers of the company are John Reid, Jr., president; John H. Jones, vice-president; Walter J. Tostevin, secretary; Milton M. Jones, treasurer. The factory is located at Seventeeth Street and Junction Avenue.
Another book, the 2004 Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques by Charles H. Wendel, contains several illustrations of Belle City’s farm equipment, but little about the company:
Although our current research has not determined the origins of this company, an 1894 engraving shows its small Columbia thresher. The company specialized in small threshers and also built feed cutters and other farm equipment.
A few more tidbits — including Belle City’s relationship with J.I. Case — are mentioned in a thread at SmokStak.com.
But I had better stop now, before I too am bitten by the antique farm equipment collector’s bug.
By the way — at the beginning of my video, I refer to the thresher as a “thrashing machine.”
Mostly, though, “Thrasher” is one of my most favorite Neil Young songs: