by Daniel Baldwin
ILION, NY – Two years ago, farmer Marc Skottke purchased a 1952 Allis-Chalmers hay baler at an auction in Canajoharie, NY.
“An elder gentlemen had passed away,” Skottke said, “and he had quite a collection of antique farm machinery. This baler was there and in very good shape, and I said, ‘When am I going to find another one this nice of condition, this close to home?’ So I bought it and brought it home.”
Rather than simply looking at this antique in his backyard, Skottke wanted to use it and see if the old machine could still bale hay. In order to use it, Skottke also had to purchase a tractor to pull it, but instead of getting a new tractor model, the farmer once again went old school, purchasing a 1953 tractor a month after purchasing the baler.
“What would look proper on this old antique baler would be the proper Allis-Chalmers tractor,” Skottke said, “not a modern 100-horsepower John Deere. Obviously, they could do it, but to look right, it would be best to have the proper older tractor. Antique tractors really don’t go for a lot of money. You could get a running tractor like that for $1,500, so we bought the proper tractor to put in front of the baler, and we now have a nice matching unit.”
Skottke takes the tractor-baler combination out on the field once a year. In his first year driving the combination (2018), Skottke, along with his wife Amy, created 500 bales. They only did 50 bales of hay last year, but the Skottke family bounced back in June, creating 200 bales. Skottke said that the tractor and baler still work like a charm, and the family plans to continue using the machines as long as they are up and running.
The Allis-Chalmers balers were oddballs in the hay-baling market, according to Skottke. While many other manufactures have balers designed to create square bales of hay, Allis-Chalmers’ balers created round bales.
“If you think back to the 1950s, farms were very small,” Skottke said. “They didn’t have big tractors, and hay was gathered loose, so to get a baler was a pretty modern thing, and everybody was trying to invent a good baler. Allis-Chalmers people went to the round baler, where most of the other manufactures went to a square baler.”
Farmers using Allis-Chalmers balers also had to stop when the bale was full and wait for it to be twined together, which was a big disadvantage when compared to the square balers. Farmers relied more on square baling machines, and most round balers were taken to the junkyard, even during the 1960s and ‘70s – or became antiques.
Skottke wanted to relive the farming experience of his youth, which was why he purchased the antique hay baler and tractor.
“The reason I even have an interest in this round baler and tractor is when I was a young boy growing up, both my uncles were the only oddballs in the county that were still making these bales in the 1970s,” Skottke said. “When I was 14 years old, they taught me how to drive a tractor. Back then, I learned how to rake hay. Then I learned how to mow the hay, and then you work your way up to someday being able to run the baler. So as a young kid, I grew up around the round baler, and now here I am, 40 years later, doing it just for fun because I enjoyed those memories.”
Skottke said he and Amy do not have time to do farm-related work every day. He works as a truck driver during the week, but on weekends he and his wife return to the field and their barn to resume their agricultural activities.
“My wife and I both have been close to agriculture our whole life,” Skottke said. “Farming is enjoyable to us, and if it ever got too stressful, we would sell and get out. This is like exercise. Instead of going to the gym, we bale hay, we build fences and mow pastures. We don’t miss going on vacations. We enjoy doing the work on our farm on the weekends.”