Museum Houses Big Farmer’s Custom-Built Equipment

Phyllis Carlson says that visitors to the Dawes County Historical Museum in Chadron, Neb., can time-travel through 140 years of agricultural history while looking at some of the most unusual farm implements ever invented.


   “We have several buildings, including one that houses very rare equipment invented, built and used by Dawes County farmer Marcus Cain,” Carlson says. After he retired from farming, Cain wanted his special machinery to be housed in a museum, and that finally occurred in 2016 when Dawes County built a special Cain Exhibit Building to store and interpret his inventions and those of other Nebraska farmers.


   Marcus Cain was way ahead of his time in terms of the land he operated and the equipment he used. He farmed nearly 4,000 acres of potatoes and wheat in northwest Nebraska using machinery he built himself or modified. He improved existing implements to get more done and built others that solved labor, planting and harvesting issues.


   The museum holds a 200-hp. tractor that Cain built in 1965 using the framework of a World War II tank retriever. Carlson says he stripped off the heavy shielding to make it smaller and lighter but kept the original tracks. Like other equipment he built, the tractor is painted orange with his name on the cab.


   Long before no-till farming was even thought of, Cain built a 20-ft. wide stubble chopper to lightly incorporate wheat stubble into the topsoil and provide a nice seedbed. Then, rather than till the soil and use a conventional grain drill, Cain built and used a self-propelled 24-ft. combination tiller/drill/packer. It was powered by three engines, including two flathead Cadillacs and an Allis-Chalmers. The device incorporated two grain drills with a rototiller in front and rubber tires behind to gently firm the seedbed. He named it Marcine, after his daughter, and attached front and rear lights so he could work well into evening hours.


   The museum also displays three of Cain’s signature orange farm trucks. One has an oversized cooling system, and another is fitted with a fanning mill to clean grain. Cain dumped clean seed into a tank on the truck that incorporated a discharge auger he used to fill his seeder.


   “Cain was a smart and inventive farmer who had machining and welding equipment on his farm,” Carlson says. “He went to a couple of years of technical school, but mostly he learned from his father and built out his ideas by trial and error. He even had an oil and gas refinery on his farm.”


   Carlson says that Cain also built a self-propelled combine that was probably the first of its kind in the United States. Unfortunately, it was dismantled and sold for parts. Cain was offered jobs by several equipment manufacturers but always turned them down to remain on his farm.


   The Dawes museum has hundreds of other artifacts in two log buildings, two schoolhouses, a blacksmith shop and an authentic railroad caboose. Call or check the museum website for viewing hours.


   Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dawes County Historical Museum, 341 Country Club Rd., Chadron, Neb. 69337 (ph 308-432-4999;