The Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler could easily be one of the most complex farm machines I have ever used/laid eyes on. It requires detailed attention to all the springs, latches, bearings, chains, and belts. If one component is not finely tuned, there is a good chance the machine will not work. The round bale machine has some very interesting history behind it. What people may not know is Allis-Chalmers did not invent the round baler, the company modified an already invented machine and was able to successfully mass market it.
The idea of the round baler was spawned around the year 1890 from an idea of rolling straw chaff into logs for fuel, which the Luebben Family of Sutton, Nebraska, is credited for devising. Hugh Luebben and his sons, Ummo and Melchior, worked on a machine that made straw logs for prairie dwellers to burn as fuel in the winter. Melchior provided the financial aspect of the project, being a banker, and Ummo was the creative force behind the baler. Melchior was caught up in a scandal at the bank that led to its closure around 1910, and he was sentenced to prison. Ummo kept building and improving the round baler design. He applied for his patent in 1901 and was granted a patent to his “baling press” design on October 18, 1910. This original unit was a stationary machine mounted on a chassis. Material brought to the machine was fed in and rolled. Eventually the design was improved to be used on the go, and material was fed into the machine while in motion. Luebben continued to improve his rotary baler design until it resembled what would be the Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler.
In 1940 the Allis-Chalmers Tractor Division Manager Harry Merritt acquired the rights to Luebben’s baler for the company to use. Engineers at Allis-Chalmers immediately began modifying and building a baler based off of Luebben’s model. According to Norm Swinford’s book, Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment: 1914-1985, a number of prototype units were built and tested in the early 1940s. The earliest patent granted to Allis-Chalmers for their baler was in December 1945. From the illustrations in the patent application, this patent appears to be on the chassis and delivery system to the bale chamber. A patent granted to Allis-Chalmers in 1946 illustrates and describes the bale forming chamber and tying mechanism. After tests were run, and the engineering department fine tuned the machine, another company patent was grant in April 1949. That 1949 patent appears to be the machine that went into production. Notice anything missing from the drawing of that 1949 patent? (pictured below)
Allis-Chalmers put their baler concept into production in 1947 and built 3,000 units in the first year. The Allis-Chalmers La Porte Works had the job of building the balers, and called their rotary baler the Roto-Baler. According to C.H. Wendel’s book The Allis-Chalmers Story, Allis-Chalmers applied for a trademark status in 1948, and the trademark was issued in 1950.
The Roto-Baler could produce bale sizes from 14″ to 22″ in diameter, and, depending on the size, could weigh from 40 to 100 pounds. A double windrow was required to make an even, full-width round bale. One setback of the Roto-Baler had been that when the tying mechanism was engaged, the operator needed to stop forward travel but also keep the PTO running. The hay conveyor was also stopped as the tying mechanism was working. Once the bale was tied, the chamber would discharge the bale, then the conveyor would reengaged, and the operator could continue forward motion until the next tying cycle.
Allis-Chalmers had a few options for the farmer that did not have a two-clutch tractor and wanted to have a Roto-Baler. One option was to buy an Allis-Chalmers tractor that did have a two-clutch mechanism. The other was to buy a power unit to mount on the Roto Baler. A third option, which was the Allis-Chalmers’ solution, was to redesign and market a non-stopping Roto-Baler. For whatever reason Allis-Chalmers had, the company called the non-stop baler the No. 10 Roto-Baler.
Allis-Chalmers introduced the No. 10 Roto-Baler in 1955. The redesigned baler featured a second conveyor that was a bypass conveyor. This second conveyor routed material back to the front and onto pickup conveyor. This allowed for forward motion to continue while the bale was being tied. The material would continue to loop on the conveyors until the bale was tied and discharged. Another important improvement was the overdrive tying mechanism, which sped the tying cycle up (taking about 3 seconds).
As amazing as this machine was, it never fully amounted to what Allis-Chalmers wanted. The No. 10 Roto-Baler was not efficient enough for baling up all materials in different conditions. According to Swinford, About 1,500 No.10 Roto-Balers were made, and most of them were eventually converted into standard ones. Although the non-stop Roto-Baler never worked out, some of the balers features improved the Roto-Balers functions. The overdrive tying mechanism was made an option for the Roto-Baler at an addition cost. The No. 10’s wing-type rotary feeder was also standardized on Roto-Balers to allow for even, improved feeding into the bale chamber.
The first run of Roto-Balers was from 1947 into 1964. The Persian Orange 1 paint scheme was used on balers built from 1947- 1959. Allis-Chalmers changed their paint scheme combination in 1960 to Persian Orange 2 and Cream. The Roto-Balers in the early 1960s and 1970s wore these colors (nicknamed the White-Tops for the white colored roof over the baler). Allis-Chalmers reintroduced the Roto-Baler in the early 1970s and built 2,400 units from 1972 to 1974. Allis-Chalmers improved the operation and safety of the last run of Roto-Balers, adding more safety screens and improved mechanical operation. Allis-Chalmers built an estimated 78,700 Roto-Balers in its production time. Stories circulated that lawsuits from Roto-Baler accidents was a significant reason why Allis-Chalmers never built and marketed a big round baler.
We bought a Roto-Baler from a neighbor a few years back. I spent a significant amount of time and effort to get that machine running just right. I was very close too, but the machine broke beyond repair. Do any of you have memories of using the machine? Or maybe use them today? What is your Roto-Baler story?