Seeing red

‘Red Combines’ provides colorful display of agricultural historyBy Lauren Adams

Photo: “Red Combines 1915-2015” is available for purchase on

By Lauren Adams

A few months ago, a friend and I debated the merits of an e-book versus a “regular book.” I’d decided that I didn’t care what format it was in, as long as I could read a story. She disagreed, saying that reading was a sensory experience—she wanted to smell the pages, hear them as they turned and feel them as she shuffled along through the story.

After reading “Red Combines” by Lee Klancher, I’ve changed my mind.

In a world where we’re all racing to express ourselves in 140 characters or less, Klancher, Gerry Salzman, and their team have created a stunning 384-page coffee table book on the history of red combines and harvesting equipment, and more specifically, the birth of the axial-flow combine. The book chronicles the last 100 years of these machines, and the rise of the agricultural and industrial revolutions with spectacular photos, and meticulous and enriching storytelling about the families and ideas that led to these creations.

I know as little about farming and agriculture as anyone could, but it didn’t feel that way while reading the book. The team spent two and a half years researching and compiling the histories and photos for the book, and it shows. They have catalogued and photographed virtually every IH (International Harvester) combine model created in the last 100 years. I spoke with Klancher, and told him that I felt like my hands needed to be extra clean before flipping through the polished pages.

“It’s really got to celebrate all the things which are great about books,” Klancher says, “which is beautiful paper, and a beautiful presentation, as well as content that is so in depth and so deep you just can’t get it elsewhere.”

I asked what sparked his love and enthusiasm for farm equipment and agriculture, and there were a number of inspirations—like the way the farm looks at dusk, his understanding of machines and the ways in which these machines paved the way for the technology that we use today. Perhaps the most fascinating and insightful influence was that he likes being around men that remind him of his grandfather.

In the same way Klancher has nostalgia for experiences that remind him of his childhood farm memories and his grandfather, I find myself missing tangled phone cords, 25-pound desktop computers, or having to carry around both a phone and a camera.

From the prologue to the epilogue, there’s this recurring idea that our technology is coming full circle. In the same way that Microsoft and Apple rush to out-invent one another, engineers were fighting for the same advancements and achievements in the early 1800s, which eventually led to the rise of the agricultural revolution and these monster machines. Klancher makes explicit comparisons between these competitors, generations apart, and many of the stories center on cutthroat competition, top secret developments and the ways in between these machines help propel history forward and connect families and countries in ways that were unimaginable before their conception.

Before these farming advancements, many families were unable to keep up with the weather, demand for products and the sheer amount of land that had to be worked in order for them to make a living for themselves. Gradually, it became easier for them to connect with other farmers and other geographical regions, the same ways in which today’s technology allows us to fly around the country in a few hours, or FaceTime across the globe. Conversely, due to machines such as the combine and other harvesting and farm equipment, many Ohio farms were actually unable to keep up with the demand and afford these massive machines. This caused many Ohio farmers to lose business to larger farms with more resources that were able to afford these tools.

In the same way technology comes full circle, this book spans generations. With today’s focus on farm to table restaurants and organic everything, it’s pertinent that Klancher, Salzman and their team have created a book that shows and tells us the history so clearly, particularly for younger generations.

“As a writer I’d hope [young readers] would pick it up, want to learn a little more about the technology, and in the process they learn more about the world around them and their place in it as a farmer,” Klancher says. “I think you’re going to have to have a real interest in science and technology and design and probably farming to really be a reader.”

With technology moving as quickly as it is, it’s great that all of us have the opportunity to pick up a book like this, and think more about the world around us and the ways in which farming and agriculture have paved the way for the major industries that we utilize so much today, and how in many ways they are indeed one in the same. For young readers without an innate interest in farming and agriculture, it’s incredible to consider just how much massive farming combines and touch screens have in common, and for readers that grew up farming and are able to closely relate to the history and the lifestyle, it is a vivid and rich retelling.

“Red Combines 1915-2015” is available for purchase on For more information, please visit

 Reach DCP freelance writer Lauren Adams at



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Reach DCP freelance writer Lauren Adams at

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