1831 and 1847 Reapers

By Howard Raymond,

At the IH Collectors Winter Convention in 2023 while  visiting with Ben Trapani, Penna Chapter 17 IHC Collectors, I was made aware  that the IHCC Trust had received several pieces of historic equipment from Navistar. I was  told that they had a couple of the 1831 reaper replicas that needed a home but what really got my attention was what was referred to as an 1859 reaper. Wanting to complete the harvester story between the first reaper of 1831 and the self binding harvesters that were being produced when International Harvester was formed in 1902 I was keen to know more. At the business meeting of the IH Trust board during the Winter Convention, I made a formal request to take the three reapers on loan for our IH museum at the Tri-State Antique Engine and Thresher Assn at Bird City KS. The request being approved, I was subsequently able to receive the reapers from PA Chapter 17 in August 2023. 

We had some other projects going on here at the Thresher Grounds so I did not want to start on the reapers until after our Annual Draft Horse and Mule show in October. The last week of October I was able to get the reapers unloaded and start sorting out the pieces. I assembled  the newer reaper first because I was really curious as to what we actually had. As near as I can tell, this reaper design was introduced in 1845 and the patents call for the raker seat to be added in 1847.  Gearing was changed later in probably 1848 or 49 to provide for the driver to ride also. Our machine has the raker seat only which I believe would be correct for 1847.   

It was quite a puzzle to fit all the pieces together. The best reference I had were pictures of a machine shipped to Denmark in 1852 and used there. I did have to make a repair on one arm for the reel but everything else fell into place. For a while I was puzzled about the gearing as a gearset from an 1831 reaper was in the crate of parts and I couldn’t quite see how it was going to work properly but then I dug to the bottom of the 2nd 1831 reaper crate and low and behold, there were exactly the gears I needed. As I would go along I would find sticks and pieces that I did not know what were for, but I just kept putting the pieces together that I could decipher and the rest soon followed.

The week before Thanksgiving I made the trip to Madison Wisconsin and spent four days researching the history of our 1847 McCormick reaper replica. I had suspected that a similar machine had been displayed at the 100 Years In Chicago exhibition in 1947. This was a big event put on by International Harvester at Soldier Field and drew 500,000 people. I was unable to come up with concrete proof that our particular machine was at the exhibition but I did confirm that one of that model was on display in the historical tent and found 2 pictures of it displayed on a raised dais. It is clearly marked as being a 1847 model. This reaper is a duplicate to ours in every aspect except it does not appear that the wood parts are varnished or painted. The third day of my adventures I came across a picture which was in a folder with other things from events and demonstrations but no caption as to the exact location and date but I do think it appears to fit the same time frame as the 1947 exhibition. The format was an 8×10 photo and I spent quite a while examining it with a magnifying glass. I believe that this reaper pictured with the horses could very well be the actual machine that we have. The people in the photo are dressed in period costume and appear to be waiting for a parade or something to start.  One clue I have to go on is that our machine has a small amount of crop residue on the platform wheel axle shaft. Proof that it was once outside in a grain field. 

1847 reaper in Historical Tent at the 100 years in Chicago event in 1947

1847 Reaper Replica, with horses, date and location unknown but from the lack of background I am guessing the picture was taken along the Lakeshore

1847 Reaper replica on display at TSAE&TA Bird City KS

After Thanksgiving I began assembly of the best pieces into an 1831 replica. International Harvester built 400 of these replicas for the Reaper Centennial in 1931. Machines were dispersed to all land grant colleges, many museums, and all branch houses. International Harvester dealers were encouraged to obtain models for display in their showrooms. Consequently, many of these machines have survived and can be seen today in many museums around the country. Our particular machines came out of a Navistar warehouse in Melrose Park, a suburb of Chicago. From the condition of the pieces, broken and missing, they have obviously been assembled and displayed and then returned to International Harvester. I was able to retain and repair most of the major parts for assembly of our display model but for the machine that we plan to demonstrate many parts were broken or missing. Being thus, we decided to use materials that would be more durable for actual use, including laminated plywood for the main frame. I added a tractor hitch as we do not use horses on the grounds during the thresher show. 

The assembly of the 1831 machines was fairly straightforward as I did have the assembly instruction manual for these! Once completed I told our Association President  that to be complete, our reaper needed a horse. We were able to find one suitable from a manufacturer in Long Island NY. 

 I am very pleased to add these reapers to our collection of harvesting machines and encourage  all to visit.  Starting in May 2024 we will be open daily, Tuesday -Saturday. Our annual Thresher Show always starts the last Thursday in July. 2024 will be our 71st year. The working model of the 1831 reaper will be demonstrated in the field cutting wheat. 

1831 Frame support repair

1831 Main frame assembly

Reaper instruction

1831 Reaper with horse

Reapers on display in Visitor center with 1899 McCormick Binder