Letting Go

Susan Manzke
Now Media Group

My husband works with old farm equipment. Bob has only purchased one new tractor throughout his whole life. That was before we were married in 1973.

Back then, the partnership he had with his father bought a Ford. Big Blue, as I referred to it, worked great — well, it worked great until it had issues. A rear tire would come loose and could actually fall off.

Most of Bob's tractors were/are IH red, and he still uses these old tractors today.

Combines were a different story. Those have been different colors: silver, green and orange.

Recently, I asked Bob about one particular combine. This one has a long history with the Manzke family.

In the late 60s, Bob and his dad bought a new Case 660, a modern combine for the time but still considered small — small because it had a four-cylinder gas engine. Another big benefit was that it had a cab and a 13-foot head. Oh so modern.

Bob liked it because it was a simple machine. 'It had two hydraulics,' Bob said. 'One raised the head, and one worked the variable speed. It was belt-driven. Three gears forward, one reverse.'

He especially liked it because it ran smoothly. Bob has aches today after driving over a bumpy field, disking.

'I didn't get a backache driving that Case,' he said. 'It didn't have straw walkers; instead it had a shaker pan. The shaker pan moved in the opposite direction of the cleaning sieves, which means it was smooth running.' (For nonmechanical people, this refers to internal mechanisms to remove grain from plant and deposit plant straw onto ground.)

'The combine's original bin held 40 bushels of grain,' Bob added. 'I added an extension, so then it held 50 bushels. Dad was afraid we were going to blow out a tire when I added the extra boards. He didn't like putting all that weight on there.'

As usual, Bob made some of his own improvements on the combine. He eventually stuck a straw chopper on the back that came off a Gleaner combine. A car heater went to the cab for those cold harvest days. Bob also added a winch to pull the auger up to unload grain into wagons.

The combine had no automatic header control; you had to work it manually. (Years ago, Bob had an eye issue where he had to wear a patch on one eye. Because of this, he had no depth perception and couldn't run this combine. Crops needed harvesting, so Bob tried to teach me how to run the machine. I tried so hard but just couldn't get the hang of it. That's when the old Case 660 was retired for a newer John Deere.)

'I liked driving it,' Bob said. 'I actually liked driving it more than the newer JD we got. It was the first new combine bought by Manzke & Manzke. We bought it from a dealer that was going out of business. It was the last combine he ever sold. It was also the last in a series of Case combines. I actually went to Racine to learn how to operate this complicated machine, and I remember going up to the implement dealer late winter. George, the old mechanic there, tore the machine apart and put it back together, showing me how everything was adjusted. He was a fussy old German. He was so fussy he wanted the cotter keys to all go in the exact same direction. He was a pretty particular guy.'

Over the years, Bob bought another Case 660. He then took his two machines and made one working combine. That one has been sitting in the back of our machine shed for ages. Last week, Bob sold it.

My husband helped pull it up on a trailer, and we waved it out of the yard. After 50 years, there's no 660 on the Manzke Farm.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; ;