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Our Story starts during the Summer of 2007 at Norfolk, in the UK.
Farming brothers Kevin and Steven Clarke who farm 185 acres and also carry out contracting with their mainly Massey fleet of tractors and combines, they had always longed to travel up through the great American wheat belt during the harvest season to visit the Custom Cutters, farmers, and operators who progress ever further North from Texas with the ripening crops, through this vastly changing landscapes of the various States.
To be perfectly honest if you could sell enthusiasm! You wouldn't sell it to Kevin and Steven, because they have an insatiable appetite for their working lives especially harvesting using their Massey Ferguson equipment especially Combines that is positively infectious to all who are fortunate to meet them.
With that said our intrepid duo booked their flight to the USA in May 2007 to experience what some may arguably say would be a busmans holiday.
Kevin and Steven had been fascinated by the American wheat Harvest having seen the 1975 BBC documentary entitled Yellow Trail from Texas, about Custom Harvester Dale Starks who operated nine of the largest Massey combines available at that time the 760s.
Dales harvest would start late May in Texas and progress Northward with the migrating seasons crops until reaching Canada some 2000 miles distance, a 6 month harvest season.
Because the American harvest season starts much earlier than ours in Texas during late May, Kevin and Steven knew they had a month or so before returning to their Norfolk farm for their own harvest preparations.
Kevin and Steven duly arrived on American soil and after catching a connecting flight they were soon on their way South following the yellow trail, Steven would capture every aspect of this road trip with his trusty camcorder, and this would prove to be a blessing as the footage would be eventually used for a best selling DVD.
The main aim was to travel down to Manchester Oklahoma to seek out Dale Starks, on their eventual arrival at his Ranch they were met by Dales son Larry who had only just started his own harvesting,and it wasn't long before Kevin and Steven spent some time capturing this operation on film and talking to the family members helping out,after an overnight stay they were given Dales position about 200 miles further South apparently he had been stood for a couple of days due to wet weather.
During the trip South our intrepid travellers captured several crews in action with various combines old and new and as they neared their destination the crops had indeed took a battering from the extreme weather, eventually they caught up with Dale it was a special moment as they felt they knew him because of their good friends Rob White and Charlie Norman who worked for Dale in the late seventies and early eighties, and the many stories told to them of Dales operation and his wealth of knowledge and experiences during his many years custom harvesting, and here they were with the great man now 83! And still harvesting!!.
Fortunately Steven captured their meeting on film and this would prove to be most poignant as just a few short months later Dale sadly passed away just a few weeks after finishing this season's harvest, his lifetimes work completed.
The following day they continued their trip through Oklahoma, Kevin spotted in the distance the distinctive red dot on a yellow landscape with the customary exhaust plume, it was definitely a Massey and as they got closer they came across a lonesome Massey 750 cutting wheat, they soon abandoned their hired car and made their way toward the working combine, you can only imagine what the operator must have thought seeing the pair approaching and one filming the event!.
This particular combine operator was Delbert Joyner who was somewhat amazed by Kevin and Stevens road trip and also their passion for Massey Ferguson combines.
Indeed from this very first meeting a sincere friendship developed and after a few short days together Kevin and Steven commenced their trip before finally returning home to Norfolk, during the next few months the pair kept in regular contact with Delbert and his family and discussed the idea of purchasing their own Massey 760 stateside to help Delbert with his 800 acre harvest the following season.
Early 2008 and after several discussions with Delbert and family, Kevin and Steven contacted American Custom Harvester Marvin Helland and enquired about him locating a 760 stateside.
Within a short period of time Marvin located an immaculate 1977 760 the deal was done and they arranged for him to deliver it on their imminent arrival before harvest that year.
They had known Marvin for a few years by way of the internet and their mutual interest in the Massey combines, Marvin snr and Junior had ran Masseys for many years in their custom harvesting business and their knowledge of them was second to none, they still run a 8590 rotary alongside their newer equipment today and also retain several other models at their farm in South Dakota, their 8590 was one of the last built at Brantford in 1987 before it's closure.
Kevin and Steven returned to Oklahoma in June 2008 and proceeded with preparations on their new purchase thanks to Marvin, a few minor repairs and an overhaul of the air conditioning was carried out this was a must as the temperatures here in June would regularly top 100deg.
Sourcing spares for these old Masseys is not a problem as you can imagine in the States they were the combine of choice for Custom Cutters and farmers alike and there was many thousands built,also there was a large breaker just 30 miles from Delberts farm which made a lot of sense to justify running older machinery in these input cost conscious times, so after some very long days and trips to the local breakers our Norfolk farmers were almost ready to put this old girl to work except the weather had other ideas and several inches of rain fell in a few short hours but thankfully the forecasted tornadoes and golf ball size hail missed Delberts farm by a few short miles and at least the rain didn't destroy this crop but it was a close thing and this is common weather here every harvest season and Delberts mostly used tool is his lap top with the latest radar weather hourly forecasting information.
After a couple of days the intense heat soon had the crops fit to cut and both Delberts 750 and the Clark's 760 headed to the field and begun cutting the 800 acres of wheat, the 760 apart from a few minor adjustments behaved impeccably and now Kevin and Steven farmers from Norfolk found themselves Custom Harvesting in Oklahoma a dream come true from a chance meeting a year before.
Their return trip also captured the attention of the local media and the boys were subject to coast to coast television coverage about their friendship and help with the harvesting at Delberts farm.
Over the last few years Kevin and Steven have returned to Oklahoma to help out Delbert and filmed their harvest experiences extensively,capturing all the trials and tribulations associated with the breakdowns, the extreme weather,also the sheer resilience of these prairie farming family's who take it all in their stride and face the odds with humour and a next season might be a lot better attitude! Along with the breath taking scenery and experiences of other farming family's it gives an insight into this challenging business.
During early 2009 Kevin and Steven received a call from Marvin Helland who while cutting in Kansas the previous season he was told about an abandoned early model 760 that was parked in a corner of a prairie spread by its owners some 30 plus years beforehand because of a transmission failure,as Marvin was cutting nearby he agreed to take a look.
As Marvin inspected this unassuming old 760 he was aware of some subtle differences on this combine that he had never seen on any 760s that he had owned or ever worked on and as he cleaned up the serial number plate he was astonished to find the number 0001 this indeed was the very first 760 rolled out of the Brantford plant in 1971 amongst a blaze of publicity, this was one of ten machines dispatched for that season to pave the way for a radical change in the size and capacity of harvesting machinery.
Marvin Kevin and Steven and Delbert were keen to secure this piece of history and prevent anyone cutting up and destroying this very important combine, so Marvin contacted the owners and offered to purchase the machine but unfortunately the offer was turned down and it was not for sale!.
So it seemed that this piece of harvesting history would continue its days on this hot windswept prairie at the continuing mercy of the elements and only the company of the coyote and wipowillow bird and watch every seasons harvest come and go and play no part it seems, her work done.
You may wonder what use this Combine would be after so long parked up and left to all what mother nature could throw at her, but the tin work was in remarkable condition because of the drier arrid climate unlike here in the uk without doubt here the combine would be rotted out and no use for restoration.
Just about everything else on the combine would require attention belts,chains,and bearings and it would take all the skills of someone and dedication to bring her back into harvest order, a major challenge indeed.
Kevin and Steven
Kevin and Steven's farming and Contracting business typically relies on older machinery obviously Massey Ferguson their motto was simple if it ain't red it stays in the shed!! The Clarke brothers stringent maintenance and care for their machinery helps to tackle the workload on their 185 acre farm and also their sizeable contracting acreage that is carried out every year, the machinery is a must in these cost conscious times and it seems a logical way to run their business in Norfolk.
Their machinery to date would leave any Massey collector possibly green with envy, it includes the following tractors,
A 3655, a 3670, on their sludge and muck spreading operation and around their farm they use a 3080,3075 a 575, x2 135, an articulated 1505, a1100,85, a 165, a 65,and 35, a Te 20 also a Massey Harris 744.
X6 Massey Ferguson 865s three of these used on contract cutting around Norfolk, and the other three on their own acreage, also they have x2 500s and x2 410s an 892 and an 87 also a 735, plus 3 vintage Class combines! Quite a collection by anybody's standards, and now with their venture into the US and further combine ownership and restoration you have to give them a great deal of credit for devoting so much time to keeping yesterday's future alive today!!
A stroke of luck!!
During the course of 2013 Marvin Helland contacted the Clark's about a surprising development regarding the 760 no1, apparently the owners of the farm and machinery had decided to put everything up for auction! Everyone agreed that Marvin should put in a successful bid for the 760 no matter what! Marvin had agreed to share the cost of the purchase with the team and thankfully this time around the bid was successful! And very shortly this old maiden of the wheat fields would be heading 300 mile South to Oklahoma to start a new life in the capable hands of individuals who see it's importance and not just scrap to be cut up and history lost for ever!.
Marvin Helland Snr has been in the custom harvesting business for over 50 years! along with his son Marvin Jnr they have established their business on the philosophy of second to none work ethics and a loyal customer base season after season,their machinery is kept in tip top order and they take great pride in a professional job for their customers! And it is this that has sustained their business in good and bad times.
Custom Harvesting is a very tough business like any other but the industry is littered with company failures over the years, the one secret ingredient seems to be the honest relationships made between cutter and farm owners and also the will to overcome the odds stacked against you at times, having a fleet of shiny new kit is not always the answer.
During their many years harvesting the Hellands have used Masseys for more years than any other make and they still retain a few models and use a 8590 rotary alongside their Challenger today,the 8590 was one of the last built in 1987 at Brantford before it's closure and this combine still serves them very well.
The Hellands can quote any details regarding settings controls and running these old Masseys off the top of their heads because of their experiences, and they are indeed a useful ally when involved in restoration work of any kind.
For sure people like the Hellands and the many others who migrate every year to carry out this demanding job, we should all be grateful that with their considerable efforts we can harvest the grains that feed the World.
Homeward Bound !
Once the deal was finalised on the purchase of the 760 Marvin decided to travel to Kansas with the low boy (low loader) and his portable workshop and assess what would be required to get the combine running and up on to his trailer.
Marvin found that the fuel system would have to be by passed as the filter assemblies and lines were badly corroded, so he set up a temporary fuel supply courtesy of a plastic drum and tube direct to pump, also the coolant hoses would need replacing and he had these on board luckily also the radiator held coolant and he would need to 're inflate the tyres, the traction belts were poor but would probably get the old girl on and off the trailer, the electrical system was a worry and Marvin wired up a temporary starting jump to the starter in case of any wiring shorts that could potentially cause a fire.
The one job that was clearly a concern for Marvin was the fact why this combine had remained here for over 30 years! The transmission failure! On close inspection of the transmission drive shafts Marvin couldn't quite believe his luck it seemed the cause of failure was nothing more than a broken shear pin!! These pins would lock through a collar and were designed to break if severe torque was placed upon the transmission from the wheels, this was indeed a straightforward fix and within no time he had this old maiden up and running and loaded upon to his trailer for the 300 mile trip to its new life in Oklahoma.
It had taken a very long days work to successfully get this old maiden mobile again, but here it was ready to go onto a second life doing the job it was built for.
The irony of this story is if that pin had not sheared 30 years earlier then for sure this combine would of now been broken and lost, what a stroke of luck it fell into these safe hands!!.
For this lucky combine the persistent harvest seasons would again become a reality and it would be in good company alongside a 750, 760, a fitting legacy of Brantford built machines.
The work begins!!
Delbert and his family are typical of the very good prairie farming family's who farm this great expanse of land and face the many challenges every season to secure a crop, no two harvests seem to be the same and its not to uncommon to lose your whole crop because of the diverse weather patterns that affect this region near harvest time.
With all that said you have to admire the infectious enthusiasm and attitude that persists even when the odds are stacked against them, but Delbert and family have experienced it all over the years and continue to farm with that same confidence and faith they started out with earlier in their lives,and it's a way of life that few of them would probably want to change by choice.
March 2013 and the 760 finally arrives at Oklahoma, and with just a few short months to go before the arrival of Kevin and Steven Delbert keeps them up to date on the condition of the combine and they plan their work on its restoration.
When the Clarke's arrive at Delberts in May 2013 they soon get acquainted with their latest combine and soon start stripping out all of the ceased and broken chains and belts, also removing the front elevator and replacing several bearings throughout the combine, the engine was serviced and the fuel system given an overhaul, the fuel lines cleaned out the tank removed and cleaned out, the list was positively endless, just cleaning the combine took several days!several nests were removed, and don't forget the daytime temperatures now was in the high nineties! But the boys had a mission to return it into a full running machine in a month!! A formidable task.
Fortunately with the combine breaker just 30 miles away the boys had a good source of spares and they put in some very long days to fulfill their aim of getting it working before the harvesting started.
One issue the team discussed throughout was the badly faded paintwork on machine was it worth 're painting or leaving it in its original patina! Well pretty unanimously they all decided to leave in its original patina but they spent several days 're cutting the paintwork with compounds and then 're polishing and amazingly it came back to a very acceptable standard.
At the end of a long months work I don't think anyone could quite believe this was the same combine that had sat derelict on a windswept prairie field but now it was time to put this old girl back into crop and with somewhat perfect weather conditions the 760 no1 was now harvesting Oklahoma wheat one job that didn't get done was the restoration of the air con system! But for know this would have to wait the important thing was to iron out any problems and adjustments to having this combine running like a clock.
After a few starts and stops and tinkering this one time shape of harvesting to come that left Brantford in a blaze of publicity was again attracting attention as she did way back then in 1971, Delbert now had three classics to use on his 800 acres and I think his future harvests would never be quite the same again!!
Well you may well think this is probably the end of this story but for sure I think with Kevin and Steven this is probably just the beginning!?
Without the help of everyone concerned in this story the details and photos would not of been possible to list on this website, can I say a big thank you to you all for sharing this with us.
My special thanks also to Rob White for his help in putting this story together.
You can catch up with Kevin and Steven' experiences in the American wheat belt as they filmed it, it is available on two dvds entitled The American Dream part one and part two A Combine called Dale.
These are available through Tractor Barn Productions.
Also highly recommended is the 1975 documentary Yellow Trail From Texas made by the BBC and also available now on DVD
I hope you have enjoyed this story.
Have a safe harvest 2015 Colin Cloude
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