Baca County History

by the Plainsman Herald

The Search for the Elusive Broomcorn Seeder


By Steve “Sodbuster” Doner

The seeder at Gregory’s Red Ranch mounted on a 1950s GMC truck with broomcorn enthusiast Kent “Broomcorn” Brooks” in the background.
Broomcorn Johnnies laying broomcorn on the table for ‘seeding’ at the Ray Bishop farm 1967. Seeding broomcorn was done to remove the seeds from the brush to begin preparing it for broom makers. In some locations ‘seeding’ was referred to as threshing.

Several months ago Kent Brooks and I were discussing that it was a shame that Baca County did not have any of the equipment from that bygone era in a place where people could learn of the tools of that industry.   Most of the pictures we have of broomcorn seeders show the process and the crews at work, but there are no closeup pictures of a seeder and how it functioned and no historical displays of the equipment, where people can see the size and scale of the actual equipment and operation.  So recently we set out on a search for any remaining seeders and balers.  

We had heard rumors of a couple of museums having broom corn seeders, but as we begin to search our efforts came up empty.  The Plains Indians & Pioneers Museum in Woodward, OK, for example, had some broom making equipment when I stopped there the last part of October but no seeder or baler.  Same story with the museum at Limon, Colorado.  We asked many others and Troy Bishop (Ray “Budge” Bishop’s grandson) informed us that he didn’t have any old equipment but pointed us to a couple balers at Challenger Farms (Schroeder); Pat Cooper had an old baler and part of an old seeder next to the old Morrison and Sons Broomcorn building west of the Springfield elevator; disappointingly the Cimarron Heritage Center in Boise City informed us they didn’t have a seeder; neither did Stanton County Museum in Johnson. Finally, the Morton County Museum in Elkhart said they had a seeder in perfect condition that we could photograph. So with much anticipation, on Dec. 20, we left Springfield, headed for Elkhart. 

Broomcorn Johnnies taking broomcorn to the table for ‘seeding’ at the Ray Bishop farm 1967.

On the way we stopped at Kent’s cousin Bill Brooks house and we asked if he knew of any seeders. His immediate reply was, “Yes, I know where there are two seeders. There are two balers and a seeder on the old Schwietzer place that had belonged to Rich’s and a seeder at Gregory’s Red Ranch.” So for over two months we had been asking everyone across the county if they knew where a seeder was located and finally found two within a few miles of his cousin. 

The old seeder that belonged to the Rich family that was located on the Schwietzer homestead north of Ray/Michael Brook’s place. It was in rough shape. The frame was made of oak with metal flashing.
This was our first experience in which pack rats had modified a seeder into a cozy dwelling, but it would not be our last. The threshing cylinders are made of wood in this older model. “Broomcorn Brooks” and I still think this one is worth salvaging.
The backside of the Rich seeder shows the seed blower tube that discharged the somewhat worthless seed. This machine’s purpose was the exact opposite of a combine which threshed the seed from the head, saved the seed, and discarded the stalk. Whereas a seeder threshed the seed from the head, discarded the seed, and saved the head.
The Gregory seeder showing the spiked threshing cyclinder with the top one missing.
The Gregory seeder chain with spring tension hold down that clasped the butt end of the broomcorn heads and held them fast a they passed through the spinning threshing cylinders that removed the seed.
The off table where the “off bearers” gather the “cleaned” broomcorn, then tapped the armful on the top of a barrel to get the stalk butts even before handing them to the “baler man” waiting inside the baler.
The Gregory seeder had been ingeniously modified to accommodate an added gearbox that ran an added sickle that served to cut the butt end of the stalks off evenly. They had moved the Wisconsin engine mount to a position above the gearbox in the top right of the picture from it usual position on top of the seeder.
 This is the steel table that was attached to the seeder’s feeding table where the broomcorn was brought from the “rick” and spread out evenly and pushed along to insure that the “feeder man” could feed the heads into the seeder smoothly and evenly.

Update on Search for Broomcorn seeders.

 In October, on a local Facebook page, Kent Brooks and I made an appeal to Baca Countians to help us locate broomcorn equipment, especially a seeder, so that we could photograph them closeup. All of the old pictures of seeding broomcorn do not show the workings of that machine in detail.

We are grateful to all of you for your suggestions and interest. We contacted or had wonderful visits with many of the names and museums you gave us: Leon Kerr, Dennis Dunivan, Kip Bitner, Elvin Shaffer, Anita and Troy Bishop; museums: Plains Indians & Pioneers Museum in Woodward, OK; Limon CO; Cimarron Heritage Center in Boise City, OK; Stanton County Museum in Johnson, KS, and all of them had either sold the equipment, loaned it and never got it back, or simply never had any.

The Gregory seeder chain with spring tensioned hold down that clasped the butt end of the broomcorn heads and held them fast a they passed through the spinning threshing cyclinders that removed the seed.

This is the steel table that was attached to the seeder’s feeding table where the broomcorn was brought from the “rick” and spreadout evenly and pushed along to insure that the “feeder man” could feed the heads into the seeder smoothly and evenly.

Bonnie Grahn shared a picture of two broomcorn balers she had at her farm and invited me for a visit to photograph them. They were two older “sweep” balers cleverly converted to hydraulics and mounted on an old ford truck frame. When I described them to Max Woolley, he thought they might be the set his dad, Doyle Woolley, had made. Max and I made a mad dash up to Grahn’s and sure enough, they were his dad’s, made exactly the way Max remembered. We reckon Fay Frazee bought them at the Woolley sale who then sold them to Kip Bitner who sold them at auction to the Grahns. Bonnie and Lars said we could have these balers, or that is what I thought they said. Yikes!!!

Bonnie Grahn’s balers that Doyle Woolley mounted on a Ford truck frame decades ago. This is the side that the door is on that swings open to allow for tying and removal of the bale. Both lids are closed, but one is not in such good shape.
This is the backside of the balers where Doyle Woolley cleverly mounted the hydraulic controls. The latches for the swinging door and the lid are clearly visible on this end of the balers as is the hydraulic “horse”, I mean cyclinder, that works the bottom platform of the balers to compress the bale. Notice how tall these are because of the scissor mechanism under the baler that is missing in the other hydraulic models with cyclinders on the sides.

The Search Continues

I called the Morton County Museum in Elkhart, Kansas, and they had a seeder we could photograph. So on Dec. 20th, with great anticipation, Kent and I sent off for Elkhart taking back roads and soon found ourselves at Bill and Patty Brooks home. While visiting with them, we learned that there were two seeders within a few miles. Kent and I both thought the same ironic thought: “We have been searching high and low for a seeder and asked everyone in the county, and all the while two of them were within a few miles of Kent’s cousin’s.” We decided to stop and see the one at Gregory’s Red Ranch on the way to Elkhart. It was mounted on a 1950s GMC pickup and had a table hitched to it as well.  Brian Brooks had tried to tell us that on Facebook, but for some unknown reason we had simply ignored his comments on Facebook. I apologize Brian for that oversight.

When we got to Elkhart, we found that they actually had a seeder, but it was a foot operated treadle version that had one small threshing cylinder that cleaned one head at a time.

The next day Kent and I invited ourselves to the Bill and Patty Brooks Cafe in North Boston, Colorado for breakfast and then spent an hour finding and taking pictures of the old wooden Rich seeder on the Schweitzer farmstead north of Bill’s.

The day after Kent had to go back to Casper, I was visiting with Max Woolley about seeders, and he said he knew where there were two of them within 4 miles of my home. What!! I had been searching everywhere when two of them were so close!! Both seeders belonged to the Bryan clan, one old one I remember from riding Roy Bryan’s pasture land almost 50 years ago and the other was on Homsher land just east of Roy’s old place. The old seeder has been donated to our endeavor by Carolyn NickelsonVirgil Bryan’s daughter, and the newer one has been donated by Curtis Bryan and Vic Bryan. Thank you Bryan Clan!!!

I am sure this old seeder covered several generations of Bryans in broomcorn “itch”. It probably belonged to the clan of Bryan’s but Roy must have taken care of it. I first remember seeing this old seeder almost 50 years ago so it was kind of like visiting an old friend. I had made a half-hearted effort to find it a couple of months ago but was unsuccessful. Then with the help of my best friend, Max Woolley, we found her waiting for us. She is a beauty. Notice the large drive pulley is covered with several layers of belt material to help it grab the belt coming from the tractor pulley. It had a steel pipe frame covered in a combination of wood planks and steel flashing.
The cast iron threshing cyclinder and the spiked chain and spring tension mechanism to clasp the stalks are clearly visible in this picture.
The feeder table of the old Bryan seeder showing the 45 degree angle at which the heads entered the seeder so that the threshing cylinders could thresh the grain the full length of the head.
The newer Bryan seeder located on Homsher land but belonged to and was last used by Paul and Harold Bryan and sons. The pack rats had made a wonderfully cozy dwelling out of this seeder. This seeder seemed to be a very similar model to the Gregory seeder. The feeder table on this model had a belt that helped feed the heads into the threshing cylinders.
The paddle fan, which spun at a high rpm, blew the seed away from the seeder. I have seen pictures where it was blown into a truck, but most often it was simply blown into a pile on the ground several yards behind the seeder. In circa 1979 I found a huge pile of unwanted seed in a Johnny Morrison field, got permission, and scooped it from the ground into a tall tandem grain truck to feed the myriad of peacocks when I lived at the Sam/Roscoe Bryan mansion. I was very thankful the seed weighs much less that corn or milo!
The pack rat lodging made it nearly impossible to see the bottom threshing cylinder. This seeder survived a fire that burned up the two hydraulic balers visible behind Max. For more on the fire, ask Vic Bryan. lol 

On Dec. 26th, my oldest son, Eric, and I had a wonderful visit with Pat Cooper and photographed his older model baler and seeder that were appropriately situated east of the old Morrison and Sons Broomcornbuilding. However, the seeder was so ancient that its workings were dissimilar to the more mechanized models we sought. If you live in Springfield or have attended the county fair, you have driven by these many times.

The next day, on Dec. 28, I sent off to photograph Liberty school southwest of Springfield and decided to travel back roads in order to check out an old Hancock seeder and look for others. I found the remains of the Hancock seeder and baler that would only be good for parts.

The blower housing on the Hancock seeder is visible in this picture. This is what an old wooden framed seeder looks after more than a half century of use as a cattle rub!
I made an appeal to all of my students to help me find a seeder, and Ty Hoffman told me about one the Hancock’s had that could be used for parts. He was telling the truth. You can see the rough remains of one of the wooden threshing cylinders in the pile of rubble. Thanks Ty for your help.

Then from Hancock’s seeder I headed southwest and saw a couple of farmers working outside their shop. I stopped to ask them if they knew of any broomcorn equipment. Surprisingly, I had stopped at Troy Bishop’s place. After some friendly introductions, Troy assured me there were a pair of balers in Curtis Schroder’s equipment yard. After getting permission from Ryan, I found two hydraulic balers missing their cylinder but otherwise in good shape.

 This is the Schroder pair of hydraulic broomcorn seeders that appear to be in great shape

On the way home from Liberty school I stopped at Melvin Konkel’s place to see the balers Zaylan Konkel had mentioned on the Facebook post. No one was home but I made a sashay in the lot behind the house and found the balers. They were also hydraulic and missing their cylinder but in good condition.

This is the Konkel balers, which are in better shape than this picture shows.

For a time Kent and I were upset because we heard that other museums around the country had seeders and balers and we had none! But in a strange twist of fate it is now reversed; we have seeders and balers, and they all have none! We are grateful to have obtained these items and feel quite blessed by all of you the opportunity it affords all of us. So what do we do with them? Where do we display them? How do we display them? 

I hope you have enjoyed the pictures and that they satisfied your curiosity to a degree and sparked you interest in this part of our past. 

One more observation. I came to realize that Max wasn’t nearly as excited to find this old broomcorn equipment as I was. I have come to the conclusion that those that ran this equipment do not share the interest or enthusiasm in preserving them as much as those of us who never operated them and suffered through the “itch”. Go figure!!

Other Broomcorn articles on Baca County History

Broomcorn Capital of the World

German POWs in Baca County: “Many Thanks to Mr. Schroeder from his Broomcorn Crew”

The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Broom Industry

When the Humble Broom built Broomcorn Empires

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