Alphons Urbanovsky

Alphons Urbanovsky in his 1956 combine
  Alphons Urbanovsky in his 1956 combine

In 1949, Aquilla farmer Alphons Urbanovsky of Czech descent purchased his first self-propelled combine for harvesting crops. The combine had an umbrella to keep the sun off his back, but sitting directly behind the header portion he had no protection from the dust, heat and constant itching associated with operating the machine. He would wear a respirator, a long-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt and a towel wrapped aroundĀ  his neck, but would have to quit for the day after five or six hours of combiningĀ milo and oats because of the itching and skin irritation.

In 1956, a year after purchasing a new combine, Urbanovsky decided to remedy the problem by building a cab to keep out the dust and chaff. His plan also included what was considered unthinkable in those days - he was going to cool the inside of the cab.

Urbanovsky developed the idea after observing the design of an old air-traffic control tower located on his farm. When he purchased the farm, the control tower and an auxiliary airstrip used for training pilots during World War II came with the land. The Urbanovsky family lived in the three-room control tower for six years until they built a new home in 1952.

The tinted glass in the tower was the impetus for his invention. He fashioned a windshield out of the glass, then slit a rubber hose to use as the housing around the glass. Next, he constructed an angle iron frame, using sheet metal to cover it, and made a door out of plywood. "Everything was simple, and shop-built," Urbanovsky says.

Alphons Urbanovsky in modern combine
Alphons Urbanovsky with a modern combine that came equipped with air conditioning 

He then created a water cooler system using a pump to circulate the water and a 45- gallon water tank to recycle it through the evaporated cooler system. This worked for a while, but soon humidity filled the cab, and dust clogged the cooling pads. "Inside, the cab was dust-free, but it was still hot" he recalls.

During those years, cars did not come equipped with factory-installed air conditioners, but refrigerated air conditioners were being custom installed. "There was a man in Hillsboro who was putting them in cars at that time, so I drove the combine 13 miles to town and asked if he would install one in my combine cab. He installed it in the cabin, hooked it up to the combine's engine and it ran just fine," he says.

When Urbanovsky made the trip back to the farm, heads began to turn and neighbors were amazed. Word spread quickly about his invention. The Dallas Morning News ran a feature story on the Aquilla farmer. At that time, it was believed his was the first of its kind in the state and possibly the nation. He received letters from all over the country commending him on his innovative idea. His wife Betty laughs when she remembers asking him to put an air conditioner in her kitchen so she could also enjoy the luxury of working in cool conditions.

The invention was a sight to see and drew crowds wherever it went. Neighbors and friends would come to sit in the cab to experience the comfortable ride. His cutting edge concept was a little ahead of its time, as combine manufacturers did not begin equipping some combines with air-conditioned cabs until 1958 - two years after he started combining crops in his 75-degree, dust-free climate.

True Texas Tales of the People, Places, and Events of Hill County, Texas