Oklahoma farmer uses functional antiques on the family farm

Most collectors of antique farm machinery collect equipment for historical and personal reasons and never have any intention of using their vintage tractors or combines in the field full time. However, for Kenneth Slagell of Hydro, Oklahoma, his barns of old Gleaner equipment still serve him well in harvesting his crops. At the same time, some of them bring back memories of when they were first brought to the family farm when he was an adolescent decades ago.

Kenneth was born and raised on the farm where he now resides. He attended college in Virginia and from there taught school in Nigeria for three years, then came back to Virginia and taught for another six years before entering the work field of aviation. However, in the summertime he found time to return to Oklahoma and help his family during wheat harvest.

“A long time ago during harvest we used to run five Gleaner A combines and the whole family would be here,” Kenneth reminisced. “It wasn’t a paying business, but that’s what we did.”

Elmer Slagell, Kenneth’s father died in 2003 and after Kenneth retired, he and his wife, Janet, returned to the farm in 2007 and began to farm just like when he was growing up, right down to some of the same equipment. Kenneth said being on the farm again reminds him of working with his dad.

“I just love it here and there’s a lot of nostalgia about being out here on the farm again because I was here when I was growing up,” Kenneth said. “Dad would come out here and lay on the grass when I was working and tell me what I was doing wrong.”

Although the operation used to raise wheat, cotton and peanuts, Kenneth said he got sick of feeding the peanuts to feral hogs, so he stopped growing them years ago. Right now his farm consists of 350 acres of cotton and wheat, which Kenneth farms himself with two 1981 L2 Gleaner combines. He said the number of acres he grows is not really enough to warrant a new combine and besides, he enjoys using the older machines.

“For no more than we have, the L2s work fine,” Kenneth explained. “They fit the size of the operation and we can fix them. They aren’t full of computers either, the older Gleaners are just simple. A lot of the new machinery can only be worked on by the company that makes it and an old man like me can’t figure them out. You can also soon spend $300,000 to $400,000 easily on a new machine and I bought those L2s 10 years ago for $12,000 and they are still running.”

Right now Kenneth has five Gleaner L2s, two Gleaner C2s and six Gleaner As. Kenneth says over the years the family has had to make adjustments to the equipment—such as extending augers to dump grain—to continue using it with other equipment that has only gotten bigger each year.

“Another reason that I collect the combines is I don’t have to take many parts off to pay for the combine as compared to buying new parts,” Kenneth said.

When asked why the Slagell family only runs Gleaner equipment, Kenneth answered is there any other kind? Some of the combines, such as the L2s he owns were bought at auctions. However, many pieces of equipment were bought by his grandfather and father and have just stayed on the farm all these years.

“We don’t really collect them intentionally—we just buy equipment and it stays here forever,” Kenneth explained.

Although Kenneth finds great joy in running his older machines on the farm, he is in no hurry to add more to his hoard.

“I would never miss an auction, but now I’m at a time in my life that I don’t need any more combines,” Kenneth said.

However, he admits if he saw a combine he liked nothing would stop him from adding it to his shed.

Agricultural heirlooms

It is true most family histories detail the lives of ancestors and their descendants from where they were born, who they married and when they died. However, the Slagell family history tells a tale of tractor and combines, right down to the year and model, which demonstrates the importance of farming throughout the generations of Slagells. Joe Slagell, Kenneth’s grandfather, and Elmer owned a 10-foot International Harvester combine from 1920 to 1923. According to a family history document, eight horses were used to pull the combine through the field and a BB gun was used to prod the horses along. In 1926, the Slagells bought a Fordson tractor for $900 and rigged it up to run the combine. The Fordson was then traded for a Baldwin 10-foot machine. In 1928, the Fordson was traded for a 20-horsepower drawbar Rumley at the cost of  $1,100.

In 1929, the 10-foot Baldwin was traded for a 12-foot Baldwin and was used for 22 years on the Slagell farm. In 1934, Elmer and Joe started using a Caterpillar Twenty-Two, which they bought for $1,600, to pull the machine. By 1944, they were using a 101 Massey Harris to pull the Baldwin combine and they recorded the wheat yield as 15- to 20-bushels per acre. In 1951, the Slagells bought a Gleaner Baldwin 51R combine for $4,200 and used it with the 12-foot pull combine. In 1966, the father and son team bought a Gleaner C2 for $8,000, which is still on the farm today. Kenneth’s brother, Michael who lives on the same road, restored the C2 a few years ago and it is in good running condition right now.

“I can still remember when they unloaded it,” Kenneth said with a smile.

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Before it could be restored, the brothers had to pulled the C2 out of a shed at the bottom of a canyon. The radiator had been stolen off of it so it had to be replaced, as well as several hoses and chains. Once it was up and going again, the Slagells had the C2 put back to work in the 2019 and 2020 wheat harvests. Michael noted how impressed he was with how clean the wheat was considering the combine’s age.

“It’s in pretty good shape now and fun to ride in,” Kenneth said. “We used it last year and cut a 15-acre patch of wheat with it.”

There is no doubt antique machinery brings enjoyment to collectors who appreciate the evolution of agricultural machinery over time and the progressive thinking of agricultural engineers throughout history. However, for farmers like Kenneth, the real thrill of owning these machines is utilizing them for their intended purpose on a multi-generational farm. Plus, he is able to harvest a crop in 2020 with equipment from a different era that accomplishes his farm objectives and reminds him of the good old days all at the same time.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].

See a video of the 1966 Gleaner C2 back in action during wheat harvest and a collection of Kenneth Slagell’s antique machines below.