In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
A First For This Mechanic
Nov 06, 2008
I've known Big Al for more than 40 years. He's a farmer who lives up to his nickname in every way. Big Al is a bear of a man, with a deep, gravelly voice and a well-practiced vocabulary of colorful profanities.
To the best of my ability, I refrain from profanity for a variety of reasons. Big Al is always entertained by my use of, "Shucky darn!", "Rats!" and other euphemisms when things go awry during repairs. He jokingly volunteers to swear for me, since he's convinced that machinery responds favorably to the sincere and emphatic use of profanity. In reality, when we're working together, he consciously reins in his vocabulary and keeps things PG-rated, though it's not easy for him.
"I respect a man who doesn't swear at equipment, " he once growled, "because I sure as hell can't even change oil without a couple %$*#! and &&$^@! to help things along."
So the other day Big Al had a mysterious rumbling, howling noise in the feederhouse of his combine. He was convinced it was in the feederhouse reverser gearbox, couldn't prove it, and called on me to diagnose the exact problem. After listening to the machine run and making a few rudimentary checks, I suggested that it wasn't the reverser gearbox making the noise. I suspected it was a bad bearing in the upper variable speed sheaves on the feederhouse drive, and the noise was telegraphing through the belt and framework so that the reverser gearbox seemed to be the source of the noise.
I could tell that Big Al had serious doubts about my diagnosis. It took a little convincing to get him to allow me to tear apart the variable speed sheaves rather than dive into the reverser gearbox. But bearings in the sheaves where thousands of dollars cheaper than a new gearbox, so he was willing to let me check the bearings. Though he was concerned about who would pay for the extra labor and unneeded bearings if my "guess" proved incorrect. With a doubtful shake of his head, he helped me disassemble the sheaves. I can't say that I was totally sure the problem was in the variable speed sheaves, so I was secretly greatly relieved when one of the sheave's bearings was noisy and rough once we got it apart.
Even so, Big Al wasn't convinced that a rough bearing could be the source of so much noise. He grudgingly helped me put things back together with new bearings, and we stood back while the hired man test ran the combine to check the repairs. I heaved a deep sigh of relief when the rumbling, howling noise was gone, and the feederhouse ran smooth. I couldn't help but turn to him with a big, smug smile.
And then something happened that has never happened in all my years as a mechanic. Big Al turned to me and I saw his mouth briefly form the letter "m" and then maybe an "f." His right arm flexed upward as his middle finger involuntarily twitched once, twice before he jammed that hand in the pocket of his Carhartt overalls. For a moment he stared at me in frustration, unable to convey his reaction to my smug smile. It was obvious that he wanted to call me a "smart-***", a "cocky so-and-so," or an "effin' know-it-all," but he was desperately trying to follow his practice of not swearing at or around me.
So Big Al crossed his arms over his thick chest, scrunched his face and stuck his tongue out at me.