Iowa State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Celebrating 150 Years of Excellence in Agriculture at Iowa State

Essays on the College of Agriculture's History

Large Round Baler

By Wesley F. Buchele, professor emeritus in agricultural engineering

Wesley F. Buchele
professor emeritus,
agricultural engineering

Editor’s note:  Wesley Buchele served Iowa State for 37 years as a faculty member from 1952-1989. Buchele writes about the grooming of a graduate student and the birth of the first large round baler.

In the fall of 1965, graduate student Virgil Haverdink came into my office for his weekly research conference. He sat down and worriedly asked, “Can you please suggest a research project for my master’s thesis?”

Those words were music to my ears. I had been sketching large round balers for years. I replied, “Let’s build a large round baler!”

“Why do we need a large round baler?” he asked.

I explained to Virgil that the balers now on the market make “people bales” to be specifically handled by people. I told him I didn’t know of anyone that liked to sling around “people bales.” Also, after farmers had stored people bales in the barn, one-half of the work of making and feeding bales was finished. The other half of the work was expended during the retrieving of the bales from storage and feeding the bales of hay. I knew round balers had a thatched roof effect; they resisted weathering.

During a number of design sessions, I steered Virgil away from Allis-Chalmers Roto Baler design. I knew of the problems that A-C was having with the pinch-point of the compression belts catching and pulling off the arms of farmers. We needed to try a new approach.

Virgil wanted the large round baler to accomplish the following tasks:

Virgil went right to work in the machine shop and did a masterful job of fabricating a large round baler. He baled second cutting alfalfa in the summer of 1966. He continued the development of the baler with succeeding cuttings. During the last cutting, he baled 10 large round bales at 35 to 40 percent moisture content for long term storage tests along with about 30 small, square, people bales. He graduated and was immediately employed by Deere & Co.
After three months of storage, Deere design engineer Gust Soteropulos and I cut the large round bales apart with a hay knife and broke the square people bales apart. The people bales were moldy, but the leaves in the round bales were bright green and still attached to the stems! The top of the round bales had a two-inch rind of brown hay from rains during storage. The cows ate it all.

Farmers accepted the large round baler technology faster than any other agriculture technology. More than 18 companies were manufacturing large round balers in the late 1970s.