Apr 19, 2014
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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

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.

I Waited Too Long To Buy A Tool

Apr 14, 2014

 I have blogged several times about how I bought this or that tool on a whim, didn't use the tool for a year or more, then was glad when that tool saved the day during a difficult repair. The other side of that coin is to have mutlple opportunities to buy a tool without pulling the trigger to buy it, only to run into a situation where the un-purchased tool would have saved time and effort.

Today I was on a service call, trying to couple a roller chain that was just a shade too short to get the master link to fit between the two ends. I was confident that the oily chain would squeeze the grease from between links and become "looser" once it ran for a while, but just couldn't gain enough slack to get the master link to slip into position.

The situation was even more aggravating because I have on multiple occasions turned away from buying "chain link pliers" designed for exactly that situation. The pliers have narrow jaws with special notches that allow the user to grab the rollers on the chain ends and easily draw them together for installation of a master link or half link.

The more I pulled and tugged, the more annoyed I got, because I knew it would have been a done-deal if I had bought those pliers when I had a chance. At one point I muttered about wishing I had a pair of chain pliers, and the farmer who was watching me work on his machine got a funny blank look on his face.

"I think I've got a pair of those that I bought off a traveling bolt and tool salesman one time," he said. He disappeaered and banged around in his toolbox for a few minutes, and re-appeared with a pair of chain pliers. "I've never used them, and almost forgot I had them."

Twenty seconds later the master link was installed, the farmer was returning his now-prized chain pliers to his toolbox, and I was stuffing a note into my shirt pocket to, "BUY CHAIN PLIERS."

How Often To Lube Tined Row Cleaners

Apr 11, 2014

 Last spring I blogged that there were questions about how often to grease the zerks on the hubs of tined row cleaners on planters. The installation instructions that came with aftermarket row cleaners indicated that the person assembling and installing the row cleaners had to make a choice, because the row cleaners were shipped with sealed bearings to be installed in the hubs of the tined wheels. The installer could leave the sealed bearings "as is," and reduce the need for the hubs to be greased, or one of the seals could be flipped off the bearing with a small screwdriver so lubrication could reach the bearing when grease was pumped into the grease zerk of the hub.

The only way to know whether or not the tined row cleaners on a particular planter didn't need greasing or needed frequent greasing was to disassemble one of the hubs and see if the bearing's seal was in place.

This year the same question arose about factory-installed row cleaners. The design is the same as the aftermarket units, and a search of our manufacturer's parts catalog proved that the factory-installed bearings are sealed bearings. The owner's manual said to lube the zerks on the hubs every 50 hours, but...why lube a sealed bearing?

An email dialogue with a tech guy at the manufacturer indicates that the factory-installed sealed bearings don't need to be greased every 50 hours. The new recommendation that hasn't yet been included in the owner's manuals is to grease those hubs every 200 hours, adding just enough grease to each hub till slight resistance is felt. That keeps enough grease in the hub's dust cap to reduce the opportunity for moisture or dust to get past the seal and into the bearing.

I know, I know--that's a lot of concern about a small component on a planter. But I've learned that when two or three farmers ask me the same question in a short period of time, it means there are probably a lot of farmers wondering the same thing. 

I Miss Farm Trucks

Apr 06, 2014

 I grinned to myself last week when I heard a familiar "clunk-BOOM-rattle-rattle" from outside the shop door. It was a long-time customer slamming the door on his farm truck. The sounds were an unmistakable combination of the clunk of the sprung door banging up over the doorsill, the hollow boom of the old, hollow-sounding 1970's door hitting the doorstop, and the rattle-rattle of the fringe of rusted out metal that laces the lower edge of what's left of the door panel.

There aren't many "real" farm trucks left. Most farmers justifiably took advantage of several years of good grain prices and retired those old pickups they'd been nursing for a couple decades. I'd say the majority of farmers in this area now drive pickups less than five years old, with no visible rust, and a towel or blanket on the driver's seat to keep it "nice" for at least a couple years.

That's far different from the traditional farmer's truck that used to pull into our dealership. The driver's seats were upholstered with duct tape, the radio antennas were loops of baling wire, and their dashboards were memories somewhere under years of receipts, scale tickets, and QuarterPounder wrappers. The passenger side of those trucks came in two versions: one version had mud all over the seat from the farm dog that always rode there, and the floorboard was nearly level with the seat due to layers of feed bags, seed bags, extra coats and coveralls, and at least one or two leaky hydraulic hoses. The second version had a "clean" floorboard, but only because gaping holes in the flooring kept debris from accumulating, and provided a self-cleaning waste receptacle for donut wrappers and other wadded-up wrappers from the local convenience store.

I could go on and on about farm trucks---their exhaust systems, or lack there-of; their paint jobs; the wondrous clutter in their beds and toolboxes. I understand that there comes a time when safety and economy require that even the most beloved farm truck be retired, but farming lost something when everybody started driving XLT Deluxe Cab Premium Super Whiz-Bang pickup trucks. 

So I was glad that my customer--who owns a $60,000 pickup decked with every possible accessory the salesman could think of, plus a few the customer added after he got it home--kept "Bertha," his beloved farm truck. Bertha has a special place in his shed, and still helps him check cows on occasion, or make a trip to town, just for old times sake. In his words, "The new truck is nice, but Bertha has personality."

And you know exactly what he means.

Another "Glad I Had It" Tool

Apr 02, 2014

 It's a leftover from the days when I used to race dirt bikes, and had to loosen steel Phillips-head screws from aluminum transmission cases. I only use it maybe twice or three times a year now, but when I need it, I'm glad I've got it.

I'm talking about an impact screwdriver. It''s a sturdy steel cylinder with a cam device inside. You put a screwdriver bit in one end and press the screwdriver bit against a stubborn Phillips-type or slotted screw head, and smack the other end with a hammer. The cam inside the metal handle translates the downward movement of the hammer stroke into circular motion. The downward impact forcing the screwdriver bit into the screw head, combined with the simultaneous rotation of the bit, can magically loosen stubborn, frozen screws.

Impact screwdrivers worked great on motorcycle case screws because they were usually frozen by galvanic corrosion. Once they were broken loose, they usually turned out easily. Impact screwdrivers can remove rusted screws that resist removal until the final thread clears the hole, but it takes patience and a lot of pounding.

A replacement impact screwdriver with a set of Phillips- and slotted-head screwdriver bits would cost me between $25 and $90, depending on how fancy and sturdy of a kit I buy. If I break or lose this tool that I only use once, maybe twice a year, could I justify spending the money to buy another one...?

Yep. I'd probably grumble about it, but those few times I've used my impact screwdriver in recent years have been lifesavers. It's one of those tools that you rarely use, but really need when you need it.

The Downside of Battery-Powered Lights

Mar 26, 2014

 The hot new trend in mechanic's lights is battery-powered lights that use high-tech LED "bulbs" for illumination. 

The new lights are pretty impressive. Just a few years ago, LED lights were somewhat feeble, tended to be directional, and had poor battery longevity. The new battery-powered shop lights are incredibly bright, diffuse their illumination nicely, and have decent battery longevity before they need recharged.

They also have a steep price. Figure on $80 to $180 for a professional-grade, battery-powered, LED-type shop light. They come in many shapes and sizes, and the prices vary as widely as the design.

As I've noted in previous blogs, I have an ongoing quest for good illumination. I've tried just about every light that's come down the road. It's hard to beat the price of a good ol' mechanic's light, the ones with an incandescent bulb in a metal reflector. But I get tired of getting burned on the metal reflectors, and incandescent bulbs last about one day before I drop the light and shatter the bulb. Shop lights with florescent bulbs are okay, but they tend to be dim and the light they cast is bluish, which can be annoying. Lights that use LED bulbs are bright, stand up to getting dropped dozens of times, and stay relatively cool to the touch. I had a nice battery-powered LED-type "trouble light" that worked pretty good, but it fell victim to what, for me, is a downside to battery-powered lights.

Maybe it's just me, but I tend to forget I've got a light hanging inside or underneath a machine, and the battery-powered lights eventually go dead. Which is no problem--just stick them in the charger and they re-charge nicely. My problem is that once the light goes dead, I forget the light is there and either start the machine or send it back to the customer. There are two battery-powered lights riding around on combines that I forgot to remove once repairs were finished last fall.

Sounds stupid, but I may have to go back to corded shop lights simply because the cords dangle out of the machine and run across the floor as a reminder for me to remove the light when I'm done with repairs. 

The fanciest technology in the world fails in the hands of a fool.


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