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July 2013 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.

Tarp Straps, Duct Tape and Zip Ties

Jul 30, 2013

 I recently had an encounter with a customer who felt I wanted to fix his equipment "too good." He felt I was trying to rack up extra repairs by pointing out every little missing pin, bracket and safety latch. He was a master at using tarp straps, duct tape and zip ties to keep machines running, and felt "factory repairs" were an unnecessary waste of time and money.

I confess that on my own vehicles and equipment I can be creative in making temporary repairs. I'm not too proud to use tarp straps, duct tape and zip ties to finish a job or limp home. Anything to get me by until I've got the cash or time to fix things right.

But there are farmers all across this land--and you know who you are--who take secret pride in using tarp straps, duct tape and zip ties for permanent repairs. I am sympathetic--I understand the reasoning behind using duct tape to patch upholstery on a chore tractor. I support the use of tarp straps in place of broken access door latches. I've zip-tied a lot of wiring harnesses and hydraulic hoses in place after their wiring looms or hose clamps mysteriously disappeared.

But when I run across machinery where creative repairs impinge on safety, I draw the line. I've seen hydrostatic cable linkages attached to hydrostatic transmissions with duct tape and baling wire. I've seen batteries vaguely held in place in a combine's engine compartment with a single over-length tarp strap. Then there was the brake linkage on a tractor that was missing a pivot pin, and the owner had wrapped a chunk of baling wire around and through the linkage yoke to hold things together.

For me to berate farmers for being creative in the way they make temporary repairs would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I feel a little more comfortable taking a stand on permanent repairs that are related to safety. I occasionally bump heads with customers about such repairs--sometimes they don't want to spend the money to fix things "right." In that case, I often hide behind the excuse that, "I can't legally send the machine out with a known safety issue..." 

I admit that's the cowardly way out. But it lets me sleep soundly at night, and offers up lawyers and bureaucrats as targets for the customer's ire for having to spend money on a safety issue even though, "...the duct tape was working just fine."


I Smell A Weed

Jul 27, 2013

 A customer was at the dealership this week buying sweeps for a row cultivator. He had a field of soybeans where water hemp had defied two passes with a sprayer, so he was dragging out the cultivator to "apply some iron" to deal with the problem. I joked that if the cultivator didn't do the job, he always had the option of grabbing a hoe or corn knife and "walking" the beans. He assured me that walking beans was NOT an option, no matter how bad the weeds got. 

Which got me to thinking about the thousands of hours I spent walking beans when I was younger. That evening I was doing some yardwork and had to pull a few stray butterprints that had sprouted around the Anderson estate. (I call it butterprint, you call it velvetleaf, either way it's still a weed...) I'd almost forgot the pungent odor of crushed butterprint leaves. Which reminded me of the smell of cocklebur, which reminded me of the feel of sunflower, and suddenly I was reminiscing about a part of my farming experience that I never thought I'd reminisce about.

There was a time when I could identify the majority of common farm weeds blindfolded. Butterprint (velvetleaf) has its namesake soft leaves and unique smell. Cocklebur leaves also have a special aroma when crushed. Sunflowers have rough, hairy stems that will leave the inside of your forearms raw if you have to pull lots of large ones--I remember cutting the toes out of old socks and wearing them as sleeves on my forearms to prevent "sunflower rash." Foxtail has its trademark bushy seedheads, smartweed has smooth, waxy leaves and low-growing stems that contribute to a unique type of backache, and pigweed just felt like pigweed, for some reason.

This all reminds me of a family legend about the time our family was driving to town with the car's windows down on a hot, humid summer evening. As we cruised past one of our recently-walked soybean fields, Dad abruptly said, "I smell a weed." He slammed on the brakes, put the car in park, clambered over the fence, waded about 50 yards out into the beans and plucked the lone, offending butterprint. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure that light-colored butterprint in the sea of dark-green soybeans caught the eagle-eye of my weed-hating father, but from that night on, the Anderson kids always sniffed the air for weeds as we drove past our bean fields.


Tools I'm Ashamed To Like

Jul 23, 2013

 I admit I'm a tool snob. I refuse to use the cheasy, cheap, unbalanced, underweighted claw hammer my wife keeps in the kitchen drawer. At hardware stores I look down my nose at bargain bins full of screwdrivers on sale for 99 cents each. I generally wouldn't be seen in public using any of the multi-tools that have a 38 different tips, bits and accessories stored in the handle.

But there are a few tools that I own that I'm embarrassed to admit I like. For example, while I'm too good to own one of the multi-tools with 38 tips, bits and accessories, I confess the go-to screwdriver at home and around my garage is a sturdy plastic-handled screwdriver that has a removable shaft with a Phillips tip on one end and a flat tip on the other. And the Phillips tip and flat tip are double-ended, so I end up with two Phillips tips of different sizes, and two flat tips of different sizes. This particular reversable screwdriver has a quality handle and hardened tips that have endured a lot of abuse. I actually bought two more of that brand and style of reversable screwdriver, so I'll have spares in case they stop making them. 

I've got a fancy digital tire pressure guage that would probably give my wife justification for a new pair of shoes if she ever found out how much I paid for it. It's got a neat, LED-illuminated round gauge-housing mounted in shock-absorbing rubber, with a hose to a two-way chuck. It's really cool. But most of the time when I need to check air pressure in a tire, I grab my old slip-stick tire pressure gauge. It's quick, it's easy, I never have to calibrate it and its batteries never go dead because it doesn't have any. Just like the screwdriver I'm ashamed to own--the slip-stick tire pressure guage is what I use at home when nobody else is around.

Yes, I am a tool snob. But not such a snob that I don't recognize a simple, useful, durable tool when I see one. When I tried to explain my tool buying philosophy to my wife, she smiled, patted me on the head and said,"That's the exact strategy I used when I was looking for a husband."

"Unsticking" disk openers on planters

Jul 13, 2013

 This is a little out of season, but we're doing a lot of planter work before customers put them in the shed for storage, so it's fresh on my mind. Maybe you'll remember it next spring when you're working on your own planter.

When removing disk openers for replacement or adjustment, the individual disks often wedge onto their spindles and refuse to come off after the nut has been removed from the spindle shaft. It's because spring tension, created by the contact area where the leading edges of the disks press together, "locks" them onto the spindles.

I've beat on them with my hand, flailed at both sides with a hammer, and tried to pry them loose with a pry bar. But that spring tension creates a locking force that makes simple removal into a briefly annoying challenge. 

An air driven impact wrench or a battery-powered impact wrench is the answer. Removing a disk's nut with an impact wrench creates enough vibration to briefly release the spring tension so that once the nut is off, the disks slide easily off their spindles. If you've used a hand-wrench to remove disk openers and wrestled with getting the disks loose, buzzing off the nuts with an impact wrench is like magic, the way it loosens the disks so they slip off their spindle.

Just remember that while the right disk opener spindle and nut are normal thread (righty-tighty, lefty-loosey), the left disk opener spindle and nut are reverse-threaded on many planters.

Drooling Spray Tips

Jul 07, 2013

 I've run across occasional situations where farmers complain that their sprayer's booms drool and dribble spray when turning on headlands or crossing waterways. They've already equipped their spray nozzles with "no-drips," so they're puzzled why the no-drips don't prevent dripping and drooling.

There are numerous possibilities, but one I always check for is air in the spray lines. Imagine the hose or pipe to which the spray nozzles are attached. Imagine that that hose or pipe extends a foot beyond the farthest spray nozzle. When the sprayer is first turned on, any air in the supply hose or pipe gets forced out of the next nozzle in line--except for the pocket of air trapped between the last nozzle and the end of the spray line.

When the sprayer is turned on, that air is compressed to spray pressure--let's say 45 psi. When the sprayer is turned off, there is no longer 45 psi coming from the spray pump, but the air compressed in the end of the line is still at 45 psi. So the liquid trapped in the boom still "feels" 45 psi of pressure and sprays out of the nozzles until line pressure falls below the trigger pressure of the no-drip shut-offs.

Depending on circumstances, that small bubble of air stays in the end of the boom and gets re-compressed every time the spray pump is turned on. To eliminate the stored energy of an air pocket, with the spray tank full of un-treated water, lower the boom to below water level in the tank. Tilt the booms up, then loosen the pipe fitting or pipe plug on the end of each raised boom section. Air will bubble out, and when clear water flows, re-cap the line.

As mentioned, there are other potential causes for drooling, dripping spray booms. But it never hurts to check for air bubbles in spray lines before panicking and trying more expensive remedies.

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