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Combine Revolution


By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
October 2012

Building on an Idea

"...I figured there should be a better way to separate grain than what had been done for over a century with the straw-walker...I went to see it in Saskatoon and I got excited about it..."
Merv Lloyd, Roto Thresh combine owner, 1999

It was a new way to thresh. Manitoba brothers William and Fred Streich came up with an idea for a combine that would use a rotating drum instead of conventional shaking action to separate kernels from chaff.

The Saskatchewan part of the story took place in Saskatoon with the building of prototypes by Asphalt Services Ltd. and extensive testing by the Agricultural Engineering department at the University of Saskatchewan. As with most new technologies, the finished product was the culmination of much trial and error, modification and adjustment.

Fred and Bill Streich with a prototype combineFred and Bill Streich with a prototype combine, c. 1962
Cheryl Cronin Collection, Western Development Museum

New Company

Western Roto Thresh Ltd. was set up in Saskatoon to manufacture the new combines. Beginning in 1973, the company produced the first of approximately 50 combines. The combines worked well, but the small company did not have the money to compete with the big manufacturing companies and the company ultimately failed.

Illustration from Roto Thresh combine sales brochure, c. 1975.
Western Development Museum, WDM-1989-S-389

Lasting Legacy

Although it was not a commercial success, Western Roto Thresh was at the forefront of innovation in combine technology. In 1977 International Harvester came out with its axial flow design, a concept that evolved from the rotating drum idea. Today, most modern combines use axial flow technology.

Case IH Axial Flow Combine at Harvest for Kids 2012Modern combine, Dalmeny, SK, 2012
Ruth Bitner photo

Long row of combines line up at Harvest for Kids 2012Congratulations to the Harvest for Kids organizers and volunteers who broke the Guinness World Record for the number of combines at work in one field. Nearly 250 combines took part in the event held on October 6, 2012 near Dalmeny, SK.
Ruth Bitner photo


Related WDM Research Papers:

Get Adobe ReaderResearch Documents are in PDF format and require Adobe Reader to view.

Innovative Implements: The Strength and Legacy of Saskatchewan's Manufacturing Industry by Amy McInnis (WDM)

Saskatchewan Contributions to Harvesting Technology by Amy McInnis (WDM)

Saskatchewan Farm Facts by Ruth Bitner (WDM)


Saskatchewan InnovationYou might also be interested in:

- More Saskatchewan Innovations

- About the WDM Collection

- How to donate an artifact