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Sunshine Waterloo Combine

Sunshine combine

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum has a late model Sunshine Waterloo combine in the collection.

The Sunshine combine was a design of the H.V. McKay Company of Melbourne, Australia with the first one built by McKay in 1924. While we would call this machine a combine, the Australians call it a stripper header not because one needed to be naked to operate it but rather because the machine was equipped with a comb type header to straight cut grain by cutting the stalk immediately below the head so only the heads and a minimal volume of stalks were taken into the cylinder to be threshed. In other words, only the head was stripped off the stalk during harvest. This form of operation was successful in Australia as the growing seasons are quite long and there is no winter with snow at the end of the season. In many areas of Australia as well the growing season is timed so as the harvest begins with the onset of summer when the weather becomes hotter and drier. The crop then can remain out in the field until perfectly dry.

Stripper type headers for combines have been experimented with in Canada over the years but have not found favor on the Prairies.  One reason is that straw is needed in many areas to bed cattle during the winter. The operation of a stripper header would result in no straw being readily available for baling. Another reason would be that many areas of the Prairies are wetter than Australia and more straw is produced. If this straw was left standing in the field it would cause issues with further field operations. So farmers are inclined to cut it down and chop it up with the combine.  Canadians could also be victims of the “not invented here” syndrome however.

The first Sunshine Auto Headers used a Fordson engine. In 1926 McKay switched to a Wisconsin 4 cylinder in-line water-cooled engine. The model WA, WT and WB Auto Headers had a 30 HP engine and 2 forward (3 mph, and 2 mph and 1 reverse gear 1.4 mph. The width of cut was 12 feet. In 1937 the improved KA and KT headers were produced with a 36 HP engine, a 3 speed gear box and a forward/reverse gear and a hand over-centre clutch. The platform raising and lowering were power operated and the cutting width was 12 or 14 feet. All models featured a reversed tricycle type of wheel arrangement with one-wheel drive. A pinion on the inside of the gear-box drove an internal ring gear on the 54 inch diameter  drive wheel  at the front of the machine on the right side.  On the left front side was a 54 inch diameter un-powered wheel. There was a lone 30 inch wheel at the back of the bagging platform that did the steering. All wheels were steel. The engine was immediately beside the drivers seat. With the engine so close perhaps many operators did remove their clothes in order become more comfortable when operating the machine.

In 1929 McKay and Massey-Harris along with the Waterloo Manufacturing Co. incorporated the Sunshine-Waterloo Company Ltd. with the intent of adapting McKay’s self-propelled combine design for the North American and Argentinean market. In 1930, the newly formed company built a 285,000 sq. ft. plant in Waterloo, Ontario. In exchange McKay was granted the exclusive Australian distribution of Massey-Harris farm equipment.

Although set up to produce mainly farm equipment, in order to survive the tough economic times of the thirties, the new company manufactured a multitude of products, including baby carriages, bicycles, tricycles roller skates and  automotive stampings for cars. Waterloo Manufacturing withdrew from the joint venture in 1934.

During World War Two the Sunshine Waterloo Co. was a major producer for the war effort as a result of being converted to war production in 1939. During the war security was high at the plant due to the fact that it produced tank, airplane and truck parts, as well as ammunition, land mines, and various bombs.

After the war the company resumed production of bicycles and began producing office products, stoves, shelving and lockers. The Sunshine combine was rather dated by this time and does not appear to have been put back into production. In 1955 the McKay family sold their holdings to Massey Ferguson. In 1961, Sunshine Waterloo became the Sunshine Office Equipment Company. The company wrapped up operations in 1978.

Hugh Victor McKay was an early pioneer in the combine field.  Australian farm machinery in the late 1800s was quite different than what was developed in North America. With no need to harvest straw the Australians had developed a horse drawn stripper type header. This simple machine just cut off the heads and dumped them into a box. This material was then taken to a hand powered or horse sweep threshing cylinder which threshed these heads with the grain and chaff then going on to a separate machine, the winnower, which cleaned the grain. McKay hated cranking the winnower apparently and decided to build a machine that would do all these seperate operations in one machine. After collecting a number of old or junk machines including a reaper, binder, winnower and a stripper header plus assembling a set of blacksmith tools McKay and one of his brothers set to work. By 1884 they had a prototype which managed to harvest two acres of wheat. The machine was named the “Sunshine” harvester.

The Sunshine Harvester’s benefits were immediately obvious and McKay enjoyed good sales success. By 1920. H.V. McKay owned the largest farm implement factory in the Southern Hemisphere and had significant sales outside Australia. At its peak, the enterprise employed nearly 3,000 workers.

Massey-Harris did a lot of business selling grain binders but did not have a combine.  In 1900 Massey-Harris joined with H.V. McKay and wasted no time getting into the Australian market with their stripper/thresher.  This machine stripped the grain heads off and sent them directly into the threshing cylinder and on to the cleaning shoe.  The Australians were quick to adopt the bulk-bin concept.  The bin could dump directly into a waiting wagon or could drop the grain into sacks for hauling away.  Sacking required two people and quickly fell out of favor.

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