Way back when I was in elementary school I remember my teacher asking the question, “Do you know anyone who had received a patent?” Maybe one or two classmates would raise their hand, but for most of us our hands remained on our desks. As a class, over the next week we would try to think of a new invention or rework an invention. I don’t remember any of my thoughts on any inventions.
Over the last few years Dad has told the story of him and his brother Bob telling their uncle Ray about a new corn head they had purchased for their New Holland chopper. The corn head is used to harvest standing corn and feed the stalk into the chopper. The chopper chops the corn plant into small pieces. Then the pieces are blown into a silo where they will ferment and be come silage for cattle. As they told Ray about the cutting mechanism Ray said, “Where the hell is our money?” Dad and Bob didn’t know what Ray was talking about. Then Ray told them how their Great-Grandfather Courtland Bird had invented that very cutting mechanism.
I started think about that story and one day I did a little research on the internet looking for Courtland’s patent and I found his patent. It was titled “Cutting Mechanism of a Corn Harvester.” I looked over the drawings and noted the patent drawings where of two designs. The first design was a friction drive. As the cutter would approach the corn stalk, the stalk would slip between two sharp disc cutting it just above the ground. The second was a mechanical drive of the cutting wheels. The drawing doesn’t show how the discs were driven, but I assume by one of the wheels.
Today is the 90th anniversary of Courtland’s patent. When Courtland designed this idea it was designed for the corn binder. The conventional way of cutting the corn stalk on the corn binder was using a short sickle moving back and forth cutting the stalk close to the ground.
I took a look at Dad’s New Holland 824 corn head and noted their design. The corn head of today uses two disks with a mechanical drive design. New Holland drives their disc cutters with a chain being powered by the gathering chains on the head. The only improvement I noted was that New Holland notched there discs. I also stopped by one of the local implement dealers and looked over their collection of corn heads. I also saw a Case head sitting there and saw it too used a disc cutting mechanism.
I guess my 2nd Great-Grandfather was ahead of his time and we are still farming with him every time we put up corn silage.