Farm Horizons, May 2006

Old-time model farm equipment that really works

By Linda Scherer

Ken Sunderland’s first project was a working replica of a Minneapolis Company threshing machine manufactured around 1912-1915.

Parts were scaled down to 1/8 the original size, and each made individually by referencing old machine manuals and parts books.

Sunderland, of Winsted, began working on his threshing machine project a few years before he retired in 1993. His first project took a year to complete with approximately 300 pieces that were painted to reflect the original model and then put together to make his working threshing machine a scaled-down replica.

Previous to retiring, Sunderland worked as a mechanic at Northwest Airlines for more than 37 years. He orginally hoped to become an airline pilot but started out at Northwest as a welder, then became a mechanic. He eventually got his own pilot’s license, but never flew for a commercial airline.

It wasn’t airplanes that interested Sunderland, though. It was his memories of farming that came from his early years spent on a family farm in Montevideo with five sisters and one brother.

His parents had eight milk cows that they milked by hand. They also raised beef cows, hogs, and in the summer, Sunderland would water and feed the 500 chickens that they raised.

He remembers the threshing machine that was owned by his dad and two uncles. Working in the field in those days required about two dozen helpers to get the job done, and there was an excitement about the whole process.

“Everyone worked hard, but had a good time too,” Sunderland said.

He has made a total of eight threshing machines, six electric tractors, one steam tractor, and five hay balers. Each is an incredibly detailed replica of a bygone farming era and, most unique, they all run and work according to the equipment manual.

None of Sunderland’s equipment is for sale but he does enjoy sharing his equipment with others. Sunderland and his wife, Sandra, have spent many hours at area nursing homes showing the equipment to the elderly residents who remember the good old days. In addition, Sunderland has two of his threshing machines and a tractor on display in a museum in Belle Plaine.

Sunderland and his wife also travel to nine or 10 threshing shows throughout the state each year, displaying all of his models, and showing how they work.

He just recently completed a 1926 Case threshing machine Model 28-46. “I am always glad when I finally get done and then, I want to start another one,” Sunderland said.

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