Project offers look inside a 50-year-old combine

A side view of the 50-year-old John Deere 95 combine with much of the tin cut away shows the inner workings.  |  Les Dunford photo

Alberta man converts the machine into a demonstration model to show people how the old equipment worked

People driving in the country at harvest time see the big yellow, green and red combines moving through fields of grain, canola or pulse crops, with chaff and straw blowing out behind, and hear the hum of the machine.

Some may see them unloading their bounty into grain carts or trucks, sometimes on the go.

But that’s about all most people know about the big machines. Most of us have little or no idea of what goes on inside to separate the grain from the straw and chaff.

That’s where Clyde, Alta., resident Art Purdy comes in.

“The idea of converting an old combine into a demonstration model has been a passion of mine for a number of years,” he says. “A lot of thinking and planning and what ifs was done first.”

Years ago, before moving to Clyde, Purdy had re-purposed a John Deere 55 combine while he was living at Valleyview, Alta., which he later donated to the Heritage Museum at Beaverlodge, Alta.

“In 2005, the right machine came along at the right time and the right price, and I was ready. After I was done, I put it in ag fairs and parades and it was a big crowd pleaser. So many people had no idea there were so many moving parts and nothing gets in the way of something else.”

He worked on a second one, a John Deere 95, which he donated to the Pioneer Thresherman’s Museum at Triangle, west of High Prairie, Alta.

“Both are running and are demonstrated each summer and are shedded in the off seasons,” he says.

Now living in Clyde, Purdy has visited the Canadian Tractor Museum at Westlock, Alta., and joined in the monthly Tractor Talk Time put on by the museum.

At one of these, he was the speaker, and talked about his first two combine re-purposing projects, along with a slide show of photos showing the work from start to finish. 

“I said that if the opportunity came along, I would be interested in doing the same for the tractor museum. After all, the harvester is probably the most important machine on the farm next to the tractor.”

That’s where he and Westlock-area retiree Keith Sterling started talking. Sterling and his wife, Gail, had a 1968 John Deere 95 combine they said they would donate to the Canadian Tractor Museum if Purdy wanted to re-purpose it.

Deal done, and the work was on.

The combine was driven down the road a short distance to the original Sterling family homestead, where Keith’s brother, Brent Sterling, and his wife, Evelyn, live. Brent has a good shop with tools and the space to work on the project.

Purdy first cut away much of the tin and removed shields and panels so that the inner working parts like the feeder chain, cylinder, concaves, straw walkers, fan, shoe and elevators are visible to allow people to get an inside look at how the combine works. During work on the project, they had donations to help. Martin-Deerline in Westlock donated parts and paint (the entire combine was repainted and new decals put on), Westlock Tractor Parts donated a tire and Fountain Tire in Westlock installed the tire.

All three men were involved in the project, with Purdy doing most of the work, which he estimates at about 180 hours of time. Brent and Keith helped out here and there with various parts of the project.

Now completed, the combine will be driven to Westlock a few kilometres northwest of the Sterling farm where it was scheduled to be on display for the Martin-Deerline combine clinic Aug. 15, and then in the Westlock Fair Parade Aug. 17.

It will then go to its permanent home at the Canadian Tractor Museum so that many will be able to view and better understand how a combine works.

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