Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler


The Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler could easily be one of the most complex farm machines I have ever used/laid eyes on. It requires detailed attention to all the springs, latches, bearings, chains, and belts.  If one component is not finely tuned, there is a good chance the machine will not work. The round bale machine has some very interesting history behind it. What people may not know is Allis-Chalmers did not invent the round baler, the company modified an already invented machine and was able to successfully mass market it.

Baling Press
“Baling Press” Patent No. 972,884
(United States Patent and Trademark Office )

The idea of the round baler was spawned around the year 1890 from an idea of rolling straw chaff into logs for fuel, which the Luebben Family of Sutton, Nebraska, is credited for devising. Hugh Luebben and his sons, Ummo and Melchior, worked on a machine that made straw logs for prairie dwellers to burn as fuel in the winter. Melchior provided the financial aspect of the project, being a banker, and Ummo was the creative force behind the baler. Melchior was caught up in a scandal at the bank that led to its closure around 1910, and he was sentenced to prison. Ummo kept building and improving the round baler design. He applied for his patent in 1901 and was granted a patent to his “baling press” design on October 18, 1910. This original unit was a stationary machine mounted on a chassis. Material brought to the machine was fed in and rolled. Eventually the design was improved to be used on the go, and material was fed into the machine while in motion. Luebben continued to improve his rotary baler design until it resembled what would be the Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler.

1930s Luebben Baler
1930s Luebben Baler

In 1940 the Allis-Chalmers Tractor Division Manager Harry Merritt acquired the rights to Luebben’s baler for the company to use. Engineers at Allis-Chalmers immediately began modifying and building a baler based off of Luebben’s model. According to Norm Swinford’s book, Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment: 1914-1985, a number of prototype units were built and tested in the early 1940s. The earliest patent granted to Allis-Chalmers for their baler was in December 1945. From the illustrations in the patent application, this patent appears to be on the chassis and delivery system to the bale chamber. A patent granted to Allis-Chalmers in 1946 illustrates and describes the bale forming chamber and tying mechanism. After tests were run, and the engineering department fine tuned the machine, another company patent was grant in April 1949. That 1949 patent appears to be the machine that went into production. Notice anything missing from the drawing of that 1949 patent? (pictured below)

AC Rotary Baler Patent No. 2,468,641
(United States Patent and Trademark Office )

Allis-Chalmers put their baler concept into production in 1947 and built 3,000 units in the first year. The Allis-Chalmers La Porte Works had  the job of building the balers, and called their rotary baler the Roto-Baler. According to C.H. Wendel’s book The Allis-Chalmers Story, Allis-Chalmers applied for a trademark status in 1948, and the trademark was issued in 1950.

Roto-Baler Assembly Line at AC La Porte Works( The La Porte County Historical Society Museum)
Roto-Baler Assembly Line at AC La Porte Works
( The La Porte County Historical Society Museum)

The Roto-Baler could produce bale sizes from 14″ to 22″ in diameter, and, depending on the size, could weigh from 40 to 100 pounds. A double windrow was required to make an even, full-width round bale. One setback of the Roto-Baler had been that when the tying mechanism was engaged, the operator needed to stop forward travel but also keep the PTO running. The hay conveyor was also stopped as the tying mechanism was working. Once the bale was tied, the chamber would discharge the bale, then the conveyor would reengaged, and the operator could continue forward motion until the next tying cycle.

Allis-Chalmers had a few options for the farmer that did not have a two-clutch tractor and wanted to have a Roto-Baler. One option was to buy an Allis-Chalmers tractor that did have a two-clutch mechanism. The other was to buy a power unit to mount on the Roto Baler. A third option, which was the Allis-Chalmers’ solution, was to redesign and market a non-stopping Roto-Baler. For whatever reason Allis-Chalmers had, the company called the non-stop baler the No. 10 Roto-Baler.

No. 10 Roto-Roto Baler at 2008 Orange Spectacular.
No. 10 Roto-Baler at 2008 Orange Spectacular

Allis-Chalmers introduced the No. 10 Roto-Baler in 1955. The redesigned baler featured a second conveyor that was a bypass conveyor. This second conveyor routed material back to the front and onto pickup conveyor. This allowed for forward motion to continue while the bale was being tied. The material would continue to loop on the conveyors until the bale was tied and discharged. Another important improvement was the overdrive tying mechanism, which sped the tying cycle up (taking about 3 seconds).

No. 10 Roto-Baler

As amazing as this machine was, it never fully amounted to what Allis-Chalmers wanted. The No. 10 Roto-Baler was not efficient enough for baling up all materials in different conditions. According to Swinford, About 1,500 No.10 Roto-Balers were made, and most of them were eventually converted into standard ones. Although the non-stop Roto-Baler never worked out, some of the balers features improved the Roto-Balers functions. The overdrive tying mechanism was made an option for the Roto-Baler at an addition cost. The No. 10’s wing-type rotary feeder was also standardized on Roto-Balers to allow for even, improved feeding into the bale chamber.

The first run of Roto-Balers was from 1947 into 1964. The Persian Orange 1 paint scheme was used on balers  built from 1947- 1959. Allis-Chalmers changed their paint scheme combination in 1960 to Persian Orange 2 and Cream.  The Roto-Balers in the early 1960s and 1970s wore these colors (nicknamed the White-Tops for the white colored roof over the baler). Allis-Chalmers reintroduced the Roto-Baler in the early 1970s and built 2,400 units from 1972 to 1974. Allis-Chalmers improved  the operation and safety of the last run of Roto-Balers, adding more safety screens and improved mechanical operation. Allis-Chalmers built an estimated 78,700 Roto-Balers in its production time. Stories circulated that lawsuits from Roto-Baler accidents was a significant reason why Allis-Chalmers never built and marketed a big round baler.

We bought a Roto-Baler from a neighbor a few years back. I spent a significant amount of time and effort to get that machine running just right. I was very close too, but the machine broke beyond repair. Do any of you have memories of using the machine? Or maybe use them today? What is your Roto-Baler story?

*Read more about the Roto-Baler by these authors:
C.H. Wendel
Norm Swinford

15 thoughts on “Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler”

  1. i have a 1972 i think it is in almost perfect shape, i understand why it is hard to use so i leave it in the barn; i really like ac products i have a d12 d14 d15 d 17 deisel 185 6080 ca c

    1. I love your AC line up. I have a G, WD-45 with factory power steering, a D12, D-14, D-15, D-17 it’s a 6 cylinder diesel, D-19, 2-170’s, 3-175’s, a185, 190XT and a 6080 in 4 wheel drive. Right now the D-14 is down for overhaul when I get time. I love AC orange and really hate them discontinuing the best tractor made in this old man’s opinion. Keith from Kentucky

  2. Good article Austin. I do want to point out a few things though. Ummo did not file the first form a patent for the round baler. I believe he father did. At that time the patent was for a device to wrap up straw to make a “straw log” for fuel in steam engines. Ummo’s brother Melchior also had a hand in things. Malchior even was misappointing funds from the bank he managed to get the baler company off the ground. When it failed he ended up going to jail. When he got out he wanted nothing to do with the round baler. Ummo however was determined to see the baler a success, so we worked on it and was broke for years until A-C purchased it from him. I have a few more stories about the Roto Baler. Let me know if you ever want to hear them.

    1. Thanks Jim! I didn’t know all that. The information I put on here was what I found in books and around the web, but thank you for clearing that up. I will for sure have to update that! Thank you.

  3. Just purchased 100 small bales today. They were baled by a 1947 roto baler. I was very impressed with the consistancy of the bales. I would estimate over eighty percent consistent. The rain shedding ability came in very handy as it had been raining steady the morning I picked up the bales and they were not soaked through like a square bale would have been. The bales stack well in stock trailers and really don’t waste space. The rancher was eager to explain the baler. He said next hay season he would teach me to use the roto baler and offered to sell me one of his backup balers. I am excited to buy and use one on my small ranch and on my family’s farm.

  4. we have used a roto baler on this farm since 1950 and still use it today, they are a mechanical marvel and u have to be a little insane to make it work as it works or doesn’t work, no inbetween. but this one is on its 3rd set of chamber belting and has made 1000’s of bales in the years it has worked, including cornstalks, but they are a real challenge as will blow out the mechanical latch’s too often for your sanity.

    1. I used to talk to the guy that was the local AC dealer. He said he could still remember how to tune a Roto Baler. He said that most of the problems farmers had was from lack of lubrication, or they let the equipment sit outside and parts would corrode or rust up.

  5. Thank you for explaining how the AC #10 baler non-stop mechanism operated. It has been at least a 50 year mystery to me. Dad sold many AC balers; and I helped with setup and repairs. But, I never saw the “non-stop” until years later, passing by a farm yard.
    The standard round baler was a mechanical marvel to a school boy. Interesting to watch it tie and eject.
    I baled up a cotton mouth moccasin, once; should have left it in there.
    Replacing those flat belts was a pretty good job, too.

  6. My dad bought a used one in about 1960. I started baling with it when I was 13 years old, pulled by a farmall h tractor,. I know how to pull the tractor out of 2nd gear with just a touch of the clutch, and nearly keep the mechanism working. I became an expert at it and baled thousands of round bales.

  7. I have wondered why Allis Chalmers didn’t make the leap to large round bales. You say it was because of safety liability with the Roto Baler. Nevertheless, it seems they could have been the industry leader in large round balers and might have missed an opportunity.

  8. I have baled 10’s of thousands of bales with them. I started in 1959 and would be using my baler today but my darn back was severely injured in an accident .. Easiest baler to use compared to the darn square balers I’ve owned.

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