Apr 20, 2014
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January 2014 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.

What A New Planter Seed Monitor Will Teach You

Jan 24, 2014

 Planter seed monitors have become incredibly precise in their ability to monitor seeding rates, seed spacing, and in some cases row unit down pressure and other variables. Add auto-steer to the tractor, and the operator has time to sit and study all the information that's being thrown at him.

Once planter operators sort through the information and decide what's relevant and what's entertainment, there seem to be some universal points that draws people's attention:

-Some seed monitors provide a cash value/acre of how much underseeding, overseeding, skips and multiples are effecting potential yield. Farmers who previously "couldn't afford to plant any slower than 6 miles an hour" suddenly found they "can't afford to plant any faster than 5 miles an hour."

-Being able to monitor variations in seeding accuracy within fractions of a percent between rows can cause ulcers. No machine is 100 percent perfect all the time. Worrying about 0.5 percent difference between rows is wasted energy. Yes, it's nice to fine-tune the machine as close to perfection as possible, but...I've seen guys spend all afternoon on a sunny, 75-degree day in the last week of April trying to make all seed meters on a 24-row planter plant EXACTLY the same. 

-Seed monitors are not inherently "genius." They have to be calibrated correctly, and need accurate data loaded. If the tractor's radar gun hasn't been calibrated, the planter's speed readings will be off and the population readings will be skewed. The planter is a mechanical beast that can only plant what the sprockets and chains make it plant. The best test is to dig and see what's actually in the row. It's then up to the operator to use calibrations and accurate data inputs to make the monitor match what the planter is actually doing. Only after the seed monitor has been tweaked so its numbers match what's actually going in the ground do I pay attention to all the numbers and pretty colors on the screen.

What I'm trying to say is that a seed monitor is merely an informational device that tells the operator what sort of job the planter is doing. Before you panic because the seed monitor shows things aren't perfect, it's critical to (1) determine if numbers or values are inaccurate because the monitor is incorrectly calibrated or programmed, and (2) determine if it's really necessary to be "perfect" in that aspect of planting. Just because it's possible to detect 0.5 percent variation between rows doesn't mean it's cost effective to chase absolute mechanical perfection.

Include An Ash Or Oak In Your Toolbox

Jan 18, 2014

 For years I had a shameful secret about how I once used a tree to straighten a bent cross auger on a soybean platform. The auger was bowed about 4 inches after a softball-sized rock got wedged between the flighting and the back of the platform. It was bowed badly enough so it rocked the combine at full throttle, so something had to be done.

I kind of glanced around to see if anybody was watching, then strapped an old fencepost to the bowed section of the auger, wrapped a log chain around the post and auger, and attached the other end of the chain to a convenient ash tree. I carefully and gently used the hydro handle to back the combine away from the tree, and in the end I got the auger within 1/2-inch of straight.

Being a "professional" mechanic, I was a little ashamed of have resorted to such crude repairs. Until I started comparing notes with other mechanics and farmers who I consider to be crackerjack mechanics. Come to find out, once I got the other guys to start confessing, there's a long list of things trees are good for:

-If an outside snout on a corn head is slightly tweaked, a skillful driver can snag that snout against a tree and turn the combine hard left or right and bend the snout back into alignment. Mostly.

-The same goes for the row divider snouts on the outer edges of soybean platforms. 

-Bowed reel bat tubes can be pulled straight using a tree as an anchor, but the consensus is that this is a VERY delicate process.

-I've heard of one instance where a tree was part of the process to straighten a bent boom on a sprayer. It was a complicated procedure that used the tree as the fulcrum and a parked tractor as a "deadman" from which the farmer used a chain hoist to pull the end of the boom into alignment.

-And there are dozens of old-school tales of using tree limbs to support chain hoists to pull engines out of cars and trucks. 

So, yes, I once used a tree to straighten the auger in a bean platform. I used to be embarrassed by the crude nature of the repair, but after comparing notes with other mechanics, I now realize such innovation is the sign of a creative mechanic not constrained by rigid adherence to traditional mindsets and rules.

Yeah, right. Whatever lets me sleep at night.

ABCs of Rebuilding Spray Pumps

Jan 15, 2014

 First, I highly recommend having a spare spray pump on hand for self-propelled and pull-behind sprayers. Yes, it's expensive to have a spare pump, but the window of opportunity for spraying each spring is SO small that it's much more time-effective to bolt on a new or rebuilt spray pump than it is to spend time installing a seal kit in the leaking or faulty pump. 

Second, mid-winter is a good time to rebuild any spray pumps that got stripped off a sprayer last spring and tossed under the workbench to be rebuilt, "when I get time." It's not difficult to rebuild spray pumps---it's just a matter of getting the right parts, having the right tools, and having enough patience to do the job correctly.

The exact procedure to rebuild spray pumps varies slightly from model to model, but in general:

-Before doing ANYTHING, use the model number and other relevant information on the pump's information tag to get the correct seal kit/rebuild kit from your local spray pump supplier. 

-Wear rubber gloves of some kind while working on the pump. Even if you triple-flushed it with water, there will be residual pockets of chemicals you'll disturb during disassmbly and re-assembly.

-Before disassembling the pump, use a center punch or cold chisel and hammer to make reference marks on the halves of the pump housing and whatever hydraulic motor or belt drive-assembly that powers the spray pump. The goal is to mark the various components so you can re-assemble them in the correct orientation so the hoses and fittings will line up correctly when you put the pump back on the sprayer. (Center-punched or chiseled marks won't wash or rub off like alignment marks made with paint sticks or Magic Markers. Trust me on this.)

-The instructions that come with seal kits/overhaul kits are usually pretty detailed. Read them carefully, follow them completely. Shortcuts generally lead to leaks.

-When in doubt, replace parts. If the impeller looks funky, replace it. If the shaft on the drive motor/belt pulley shows corrosion, replace it. If the inside of the pump housing is corroded and severely pitted, replace it. That is, unless you like doing things once in the winter and again in the spring.

-Many pumps have a ceramic seal pressed into the pump housing through which the impeller driveshaft runs. Instructions with rebuild kits say to break that ceramic seal with a hammer and punch to remove it. Don't break it---CRUSH it, SHATTER it, DEMOLISH it into many tiny pieces. If you are timid and break it into only two or three pieces and then try to pry those pieces out of the cavity, those brittle, sharp-edged ceramic shards will wedge against the driveshaft or pump housing and carve scratches in those surfaces that need to be absolutely smooth. Once you've crushed the ceramic seal into small enough pieces so they literally fall out of the housing when you invert it, flush all the dust and broken pieces out of the housing with brake cleaner before reassembling the pump with a new ceramic seal.

If you can do basic maintenance on a tractor or farm equipment, you can rebuild a spray pump. Move slowly, follow the instructions, and you'll have a back-up pump ready to slap into place and keep you spraying next spring.

Moving A Gelled Machine

Jan 10, 2014

 There are lots of reasons to lose your temper on sub-sero days, but the frosting on the cake is if the diesel engine on a tractor or other farm machine gels up and dies on the road, in the driveway, in the feedlot or out in a field.

There are products that claim to un-gell diesel fuel that has already clouded enough to plug the filters. I can't say whether or not they work. When machines gel-up around the dealership, our goal is to get them running long enough to get them into a heated shop so we can "thaw" the fuel, change the filters and add anti-gel to the fuel in the tank. I can vouch that most anti-gel products will prevent gelling as long as they're added to fuel BEFORE it gels.

Our policy is to have a 5 gallon fuel can full of diesel fuel in a warm place in the shop at all times. We've got a clear plastic 5/8-inch (inside diameter) hose with fittings on each end that match the most common line fittings on the intake side of fuel filters. When a machine gels up we disconnect the fuel line from the fuel tankwhere it connects to the fuel filter, attach the clear plastic hose, and put the other end in the bucket of warm diesel fuel. Then we either manually prime the warm fuel into the filters, or use the machine's electric fuel pump to prime the filter. Then it's necessary to either hang the fuel can on the side of the engine, or have a brave soul perch and hold the can and hose in place while somebody else cranks the engine long enough to draw the warm fuel through the system.

Once the engine fires we limp the machine indoors and then let it sit for a couple hours to thaw the fuel in the tank before adding anti-gel to the tank.

There are other ways to deal with gelled engines. I have built a windbreak out of tarps and aimed a kerosene-fueled torpedo heater at the fuel filters and injection pump. I have poured warmed fuel into the gelled fuel tank. I've changed fuel filters, making sure the new filters are full of warmed, treated fuel. I've heard of people wrapping heat tape around the fuel lines and filter, and using a portable generator to power the heat tape.

My favorite and preferred tactic is to remember to put in anti-gel before temperatures fall below zero, and therfore avoid the whole hassle of gelled fuel. But every year I forget to treat the fuel in at least one machine--and it's always the one farthest from an electrical outlet and/or heated shop.

I Was Wrong About Torque Wrenches

Jan 03, 2014

 I was betrayed by my age in a recent blog when I wrote that it's important to apply force to a torque wrench only at the handgrip. Frank from Missouri politely questioned my statement, so I contacted Snap-On Tools' tech support staff and got answers from experts.

In my defense, if you're using an old-school, beam-type torque wrench where you have to read the indicated torque as you apply force to the handle, it DOES matter where you apply force to the handle. The handle on that type of torque wrench literally flexes to produce the torque reading, so you have to apply force to the handgrip to get an accurate reading. That's the type of torque wrench I grew up using, and I incorrectly assumed that modern "click" or "beep" torque wrenches required the same strategy.

I was wrong. It doesn't matter where you apply force to the handle of a click or beep torque wrench---they will click or beep whenever the torque at the wrench's head exceeds the pre-set torque value. 

Clicker torque wrenches use a coil spring that applies pressure to the equivalent of a ball bearing sitting in a notch. Setting the torque wrench for, say, 150 ft.lbs cranks the spring against the ball and holds it in place until there is enough force applied to move the ball sideways out of the notch. In an electric "beep" torque wrench, a sensor in the head signals when sideways force exceeds the preset value.

Neither the ball-and-notch or electric sensor "care" where force is applied to the handle--they just signal when torque at the wrench's head exceeds the pre-set value. 

So Frank was right---you can grip a click or beep torque wrench anywhere on the handle, and it will accurately signal when pre-set torque is achieved. I truly appreciate his bringing my error to my attention, and enjoyed the opportunity to update my understanding of torque wrenches.

I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Woof! 

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