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March 2012 Archive for 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.

In The Shop: In Search Of Clean Seed Tubes

Mar 24, 2012

 I'm probably overlooking a really simple solution, but I have yet to find a good way to clean modern seed treatment residue from the inside of planter seed tubes. Specifically, I'm trying to clean residue from the "eyes" of the seed tube monitor sensor.

In the old days a good brushing with a seed tube brush, or a swipe with a shop rag on the end of a long screwdriver, wiped away 90 percent of the dry, dusty seed treatments seed companies used. But the new seed treatments are thicker, stickier and harder to remove. I've tried seed brushes, I've tried Simple Green, I've tried window cleaner---and still don't get the insides of the tubes as clean as I'd like.

Anything is better than nothing---simply brushing with a seed brush helps to a degree, and washing with water or spritzing with some sort of cleaning product THEN brushing is even better. But I'm enough of a perfectionist that I'd like to find some thing or some way to get all the seed treatment off the inside of seed tubes so I know my seed tube sensor is "reading" as accurately as possible.

With that preface, here are my top three reasons seed monitors don't accurately monitor seed drop:

-the monitor's speed sensor isn't calibrated. Whether it uses radar, a wheel sensor or a satellite signal, seed monitors generally need to be calibrated to that signal. Read the owner's manual for instructions on how to calibrate speed/distance.

-incorrect set-up of the monitor. On old monitors it was common to have to re-set them from "high" rate to "low" rate when switching from last year's soybeans to this year's corn, but new monitors that track field, variety, weather, moon phase and your wife's birthday are incredibly finicky about having EVERY box on every page filled withe the correct info. Owner's manuals give instructions on how to set monitors up accurately--somewhere in the hundreds of pages of computerese.

-dirty seed tube sensors. Now we're back to where we started. If all rows are reading uniformly low after several days of planting, the sensors are probably dirty. Cleaning them will help. And--this will sound weird but I guarantee it happens---on dry, windy days, seed monitors may read "odd" when driving with the wind blowing from behind the planter. It sounds stupid, but dust can blow up into seed tubes and cause erratic population readings when there is a strong tailwind in a dry, dusty field. 

In The Shop: Remember The Planter Parts You Forgot Last Year

Mar 21, 2012

 Remember last spring when the shear pin on the (driveshaft, drillshaft, marker arm) on your planter broke and you ended up temporarily fixing it with a rusty 16-penny nail or 3/8-inch bolt you found in the bottom of the tractor's toolbox? Be honest---that nail or bolt is still in place, isn't it? Even if you take time before planting to replace it, it's not a bad idea to carry one or two spares in the tractor.

In fact, it's a good idea to spend a few minutes walking around the planter to make a list of the various shear bolts, roll pins, shear pins and other wear items that always seem to break just as a thunderstorm is rumbling over the horizon. Every planter has its unique drive system that uses specific-sized pins, bolts or cotter keys to connect various driveshafts or couplers. Be sure to get the right size and hardness for each location. It's also a good idea to add a few roller chain connectors and half-links that will fit various chains on the planter. Considering how cheap a seed meter drive chain is, it's not a bad idea to carry a complete spare--you can rob connectors or half-links as necessary from the complete chain.

While you're stocking up on spare parts, identify any tools that would make replacing those parts easier. Roll pins or shear bolts tend to break off inside driveshaft couplers---it's really handy to have the right size roll pin punch or pin driver when you try to drive the remnants from the coupler. It's useful to have a Crescent-type wrench to turn hex driveshafts, a hefty hammer for aligning things, and a screwdriver that fits the hose clamps holding seed delivery or vacuum hoses. 

Think back to last year when you had a minor breakdown with the planter that took way longer to repair than it should have, because you didn't have the correct replacement parts or tools to do the job quickly and easily. With a little planning those repairs will be fast and easy when they occur this spring. And you know they will.

In The Shop: The Worst Planter Repair?

Mar 18, 2012

 Repairing a leaky hydraulic hose on a planter is easy if (a) the engineers designed the planter with all hydraulic hoses running outside of frame tubes, or (b) the planter is a mono-frame design--as in, it doesn't have wings that fold up or forward.

But if a planter's hydraulic hoses are routed through the frame tubes, and the planter is a folding planter, it can be a challenge to repair a leaky hose. First, because it may be difficult to peer into the oily mud clogging the frame tube and determine which hose is the culprit, and second, because pulling the hose around, through or over a hinge assembly can be a major pain.

Patience and a pressure washer can help determine which hose is leaking. Pressure-wash all the accumulated goo from inside the frame tube, let it sit overnight to dry, then operate all the hydraulic functions, one-by-one, and check to see which hose is the source of the leak. A small, powerful flashlight is a big help.

Once the culprit is identified, figure out where to unhook both ends of that hose, diagram its location and head to the dealership to get a new hose. My preference--admittedly an expensive preference--is to replace rather than repair leaky planter hoses. With a new hose in hand I attach one end of the new hose to an end of the old hose, and use the old hose to pull the new hose into place.

In the March issue of Farm Journal, on the "$100 Ideas" page, Kristin Gall offers a clever way to connect hoses before the pulling process begins. He welds chain links to two pipe fittings, then screws the pipe fittings into the ends of the hoses to create a smooth, strong way to temporarily connect two hoses. Otherwise, it's best to use a combination of mechanic's wire and duct tape to connect the two hoses smoothly enough not to snag on obstructions, but strongly enough to withstand significant pulling stress.

If the decision is made to repair/splice the leaky hose rather than replace it, for gosh sakes be sure to tie a long stretch of strong mechanic's wire or secure an electrician's "snake" so you have some way to pull the hose back through the bar after it's repaired. Be certain to not only make a smooth, snag-free connection where you attach your pulling device to the hose, but make sure any splices or repair connectors used to fix the leak don't have square edges that will catch and snag as you attempt to pull it back into place. 

Don't be afraid to liberally lube hoses with something slippery before you attempt to pull them into place. Especially new rubber hydraulic hoses---fresh rubber tends to bind and resist traveling through tight spots.

Someday I'm Gonna...

Mar 10, 2012

Every time I find myself banging through the drawers of my toolboxes looking for tools, I promise myself that someday I'm going to take a few simple steps to organize things so I can find them when I need them. My list includes:

-take a block of oak and drill a pattern of holes in it to make a rack to organize the carbide bits for my die grinder. If a carbide bit isn't currently in my die grinder, it usually takes a half hour to find it somewhere in the "air tools" drawer in my toolbox.

-drill another, larger block of oak to make a rack to hold the chisel tips, hammer tips, pointed tips, rivet-head tips and other bits I use with my air hammer. I've got a dozen or more different bits, but only know for sure where two of them are, and one of those locations is "iffy."

-outfit a "battery tools" toolbox. Just a small, single compartment, fishing-tackle type of toolbox with a 1/2-inch wrench, a battery terminal cleaner, digital battery tester, a battery-carrying handle and other assorted tools commonly used when working on batteries. I like grab-and-go toolboxes dedicated to specific chores. Several years ago I outfitted a toolbox with a multimeter, assorted test leads, wire strippers, wire cutters, and an assortment of electrical connectors, and dedicated it to electrical testing and diagnostics. Its been a real time-saver, something I can tote up in a combine or inside a tractor cab, that ensures I have 99 percent of the tools I'll need for most electrical problems.

-sharpen all the dull drill bits I've accumulated over the years. I easily set aside a dull bit and replace it with a sharp one, but can never bring myself to actually throw away the dull one. If I ever take time to Drill Doctor all those drill bits I should have three or four complete sets of drill bits...

-throw away all the broken drill bits. Why I think I'll ever be able to sharpen all those shortened, ragged-tipped bits is beyond me, but I keep saving those darned broken bits.

-clean out my toolboxes. The few times I've actually done a to-the-bottom housecleaning of one of my boxes, it's been like Christmas morning---it's surprising the tools you find that you forgot you had, or thought you'd lost. Who knows what I'll rediscover if I ever drill open the jammed drawer on my "junk" toolbox.

Fantasy Revenge of the Combine Nerd

Mar 07, 2012

 I've spent the past week or so in intermittent correspondence with some computer geeks, trying to do some computer-software stuff that is way over my head. They're losing their patience with me; I lost patience with them a LONG time ago. But we forge ahead, individuals from different worlds who all speak English but can't understand each other. I have a fantasy that one of the computer geeks is actually a full-time farmer who's working part-time at the computer help center during the winter. In my fantasy, that farmer/computer geek calls and asks my help in repairing his combine. My response:

"Okay, are you in the combine? Good. Get out of the combine. You're going to have to remove the feederhouse. Just unhook the hoses, unbolt the upper clamps, and it will come right off. Then remove the straw chopper. Where is the straw chopper? At the back of the machine where all the straw spits out the back. Just loosen the belts, take out whatever bolts seem to be holding it in place, and it will drop--I mean, come right off. Then I want you to go up into the engine compartment, and at the bottom of the engine oil pan there's a drain valve. Trace the hose that comes off that valve and find the end of that hose. Okay, this next step is critical. As soon as you open that valve, get to the end of the hose as fast as you can and look up inside it to see if you can see light from the oil pan's interior light-emitting diode array. Call me back with what you see."

Later that day...

"Okay, did you remove the feederhouse? Yes, but...Oh, that doesn't sound good. You probably forgot to put jackstands under it. You must have one of the beta-models that didn't have self-deploying jackstands. How 'bout the straw chopper...? You did. It did. Was anybody hurt? You'll probably have to upgrade to a new chopper housing, since it sounds like that system crashed. What did you see when you checked the engine oil pan's light-emitting diode array...? You couldn't see any lights because engine oil kept running into your eyes. Oooooh--that's not good. I think you've flooped the muffler diode and ginzled the turbocharger/crankshaft interface. That's going to require a complete out-of-frame engine overhaul. Say, I'm sorry, but it's my lunchtime and besides, I'm bored with your problems, so I'm going to escalate your ticket to my supervisor. Hold please...

And that's when I put my phone next to a cassette recorder playing an endless loop of Debbie Boone singing, "You Light Up My Life," and walk away...

In The Shop: The Cost Of Being Cheap

Mar 03, 2012

Please don't take offense, but some farmers are just plain cheap. Not economical. Not frugal. Cheap. As in, they're so interested in saving a penny on planter maintenance and repair they lose the potential to make a dollar at harvest.

Here's a quote from the story, "Prep For Perfect Planting " found elsewhere on Farm Journal's home page:  "It may take $400 per row to go through an older 12-row planter and replace worn disk openers, gauge wheel arms and components other than the seed meter, " says (Dustin) Blunier, (marketing communications manager for Precision Planting). "That's $4,800 in parts. If you plant 500 acres of corn that maintenance costs $9.60 an acre. At today's prices, that's less than 2 bushels of corn spent to maintain the planter to potentially gain 20 bushels at harvest, if the corn yields 200 bushels per acre."

Blunier is referring to studies done at Purdue University that indicate reduced plant population at harvest due to misplanted seed in the spring can reduce yields by 15 to 20 bushels per acre.

Maintaining planters to keep them in showroom condition is expensive and borderline frustrating. Parts have to be replaced even though they're not broken. Sometimes the difference between worn-out and "new" is only fractions of an inch. You end up with a pile of used parts that really don't look much different from the new parts you just installed, and you wonder if you're really going to get your money back from the investment.

Any planter, no matter how worn or abused, will plant seeds and give you something to harvest. Even the junkiest, most worn-out, poorly adjusted planter can put 28,000 or 30,000 seeds per acre in the ground, or at least most of them. They may vary in depth by an inch or more, and have spacing that ranges from hill-drop close to a foot apart, but by golly, they'll be "planted." The problem is, it's not enough to toss seeds in the dirt and cross your fingers that most of them grow an ear.

I tell customers that their greatest yield potential is when they're sitting on the endrows of an unplanted field, with the planter full of seed. At that point they're looking at 200, maybe 250 bushels per acre, because they haven't done anything to reduce the potential of every seed to grow an optimum ear. Once they drop the planter and start planting, "potential" evaporates and reality sets in because every misplaced seed reduces final yield.

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