This week I learned:
-That mice can stymie a computer. Computerized, low-voltage, negative-switched electronic systems on modern farm equipment often defy seat-of-the-pants, common-sense diagnosis. So we mechanics use computers to diagnose computers. We type in the warning code, trouble code or description of the problem, and our laptop computers lead us through rigorous step-by-step diagnostic procedures. Usually it works very well. Sometimes it doesn't. Twice this week I allowed the laptop to lead me by the nose through that diagnostic process. Twice it told me to replace expensive computer boards or high-priced electronic components. Twice the laptop's diagnostic procedures were wrong. Long story short, mice had chewed through wires causing short circuits and weird electric signals that apparently were not part of the logic process when the engineers were writing the diagnostic procedure. It's kind of frustrating that a couple bored or hungry mice could bring a $200,000 machine to its knees. But it happens.
-That biotechnology is going to create problems for the next generation of harvest and primary tillage equipment. We've know for a decade that Bt cornstalks are tougher than young trees, accelerate wear to corn heads, and are tough to chew up with disk rippers. Gene-splicing is taking soybeans and other small grains rapidly in the same direction. Equipment manufacturers are having a tough time with high-wear components in combines wearing out in a single season simply because crop materials are not only tougher, but often in higher volume due to higher plant-per-acre populations.
-That there is a difference in the seed coats of different soybean and corn varieties. I've talked to seeds salesmen and they're very aware of which hybrids have "harder" seed coats than others. But they don't seem to think it's a big deal. It is
a big deal if a farmer is harvesting and drying high moisture corn, and the type of seed coat is easily damaged by aggressive combine settings and high drying temperatures. It is
a big deal if soybeans, once dried below 12 percent moisture, become hard and brittle and shatter like glass beads. And wouldn't you know--in many cases the varieties that tend to be harder to handle without damage during harvest and storage are the same varieties that tend to be the highest yielders and therefore popular with farmers.
-I also learned that I can't slide down combine cab ladders anymore. I now have to turn, face the combine and methodically step on each step as I back down the ladder. After this harvest season's first day of fixing broken combines in the field and sliding down ladders as I've always done when I'm in a hurry...my shoulders warned me the next morning that I've finally reached an age where it's time to forego speed and accept a slower pace.
That was the same morning I learned why the veteran mechanics who taught me my trade kept big bottles of aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen in their toolboxes.