In The Shop: The Puzzle Of Well-Used Machinery
Oct 16, 2011
I've seen brand-new machines that were plagued by endless breakdowns, and I've seen machines long overdue for the junkyard that never seem to stop running. I can explain the new machines that break down frequently, but am endlessly puzzled by the old machines that just keep running, and running, and running...
Brand new combines, tractors, planters and other farm equipment are subject to design flaws, assembly flaws, and flaws in components. Most people accept that there will be a few problems in a brand new machine, but that's what warranties are for, right?
The ones that baffle me are what we in our shop call "blinder" combines. When you go to the country to fix one of them, you put on mental "blinders" so you see only the single specific thing your were sent to fix. On those combines, if you let your gaze wander you see pieces of plastic buckets wired to the bottom on auger troughs to cover holes; you see more oil pooled below the engine than there probably is INSIDE the engine; and you see belts and chains that were worn out four years ago. When you test run the machine after making those specific repairs, you hear clanks, bangs, thumps and screeches that you've never heard a combine make before. And yet, once you're finished, the machine plunges back into the field and somehow the farmer finishes harvesting his crop.
Does that prove we as mechanics tend to over-repair and over-maintain machines in an effort to keep them as close as possible to factory specifications? Does it mean machinery doesn't need to be in tip-top shape to do its job? My response, based on decades of operating and working on farm equipment, is that my preference is to over-maintain and over-repair simply because I dislike any sort of breakdowns or delays in the field.
But I can't help wondering how the heck some farmers seem to get along year after year with battered, rust-riddled, oil-oozing machinery. Do those farmers have a special knack for nursing maximum performance from machines well past their prime? Do they have a higher tolerance for breakdowns or less-than-optimum performance compared to the cost of buying newer equipment or repairing the machinery they have? I'm not criticizing--I'm frankly in awe of the mysterious magic that keeps those high-hour, low investment mechanical miracles running... and running, and running. To those of you harvesting in cabs without functional air conditioners, looking through cracked windshields, nursing engines that burn oil and fuel on a one-to-one ratio---I salute you!