For the "gearheads" on the Farm Journal staff, none of the magazine's ongoing projects is more enjoyable than our "I Built the Best" contest. That's when we get to see firsthand the creativity that farmers are famous for.
The 2008 contest included a double win for Greg Ruestman of Wenona, Ill. For the second straight year, Ruestman won the technology category, this time with his step-saving, safety-enhancing automated tractor and PTO control box. He won the sprayer category with a speedy, versatile ATV-mounted rig. John Thomas of Grand Ridge, Ill., won the planter category with an effective, economical twin-row corn planter.
You can read about Ruestman and Thomas in the following pages. In a future issue, we'll tell you about the winner of the shop category—a roomy, practical facility built by Pete and Julie Mertz of Ottosen, Iowa.
Each "I Built the Best" winner receives $500. See page 28 for details on the 2009 contest.
Climbing in and out of tractor cabs and racing around to turn augers on and off is not only tiring but it also can be dangerous, especially if there's ice and snow on the ground. An automated control box built by Greg
Ruestman of Wenona, Ill., eliminates that risk—and earns him $500 as the technology category winner.
Standing in one spot, Ruestman can start and stop the tractor that powers his grain auger, engage the PTO and adjust the auger speed. The control box is easily transportable from one bin site to the next.
Although it sounds complicated, Ruestman says the technology is fairly simple. "It uses common switches and relays to simulate what the controls in the tractor cab do," he says.
In essence, the control required wiring an extra set of switches in parallel with those in the tractor cab. Ruestman starts the tractor using a generic automobile ignition switch in the control box.
A toggle switch turns the PTO on and off. Because the PTO switch in the cab is a three-way, Ruestman used electrical relays to transmit the signal from the control box. That way, he needed just one conductor wire from the control box to the tractor instead of two.
That relay and others are contained in a controller that is located inside the tractor cab. "When the controller is turned off, the tractor functions normally," Ruestman says.
Throttle speed is regulated by a three-position switch that operates a linear actuator. The throttle control can be set for high or low speeds or in a hold position.
"In the fast position, the tractor accelerates to a preset top speed determined by the controller in the cab," he explains.
In the slow position, the tractor slows down to idle speed. The hold position stops the actuator to maintain any speed the operator desires. That lets Ruestman slow the auger to empty it after he fills a truck with grain.
"I've used this throttle-control system with three tractors, and every tractor is different," Ruestman adds. "For each tractor, you have to find a way to mimic the operation of the PTO switch in the cab."
A simple circuit. Two standard extension cords provide the conductor wires that transmit signals from the control box to the tractor. "I used extension cords because they are easy to replace if they get cut," Ruestman explains. "And it would be easy to extend them if I needed to."
As a safety feature, Ruestman can shut the entire system down by disconnecting either of the extension cords.
To tie the extension cords into the tractor's system, Ruestman made an adapter that lets him plug the cords into the trailer harness plug on the rear of the tractor frame.
Ruestman then mounted the control box on a portable stand, so it's easy to move where needed. The base of the stand is an old disk blade. Handles on the upright provide a place to store
the extension cords and protect the switches during transport.
Keeping broadleaf weeds and brush from getting started in fence rows, roadsides and waterways can save chain saw time later on. And there are often a few weedy spots in fields that need to be touched up. Those odd jobs are difficult or impossible with a full-sized field sprayer. But Greg Ruestman's fence-row sprayer handles them quickly and easily.
"I wanted a sprayer that could handle any scenario with the least amount of manual labor," explains Ruestman, who farms near Wenona, Ill. The rig he built can spray any of three different solutions through a boom, two fencerow nozzles, two standard hand wands or one high-pressure hand wand. It also carries three 25-gal. herbicide tanks.
The rig had to carry 75 gal. of herbicide, so Ruestman needed sufficient power. He chose a Polaris Ranger 700 all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with a 40-hp fuel-injected engine.
"Since the engine is liquid-cooled, it won't overheat, even with frequent stops and starts," Ruestman says. "It also has a rear differential—which is essential for carrying this much weight—independent suspension and plenty of ground clearance."
Two pumps with a capacity of 45 psi at 3.7 gal. per minute (gpm) supply the boom and two fence-row nozzles. A 2.2 gpm/60 psi pump supplies two hand wands (one for the driver and one for a passenger). A high-pressure piston pump, capable of 2 gpm at 250 psi, feeds the high-pressure hand wand, which Ruestman uses to burn back brushy undergrowth in hedgerows. He powers the pumps off fuses connected to the ATV's battery.
He mounted the boom on an angled tubular-steel bracket that slides into the ATV's 2" receiver hitch. The boom holds four Turbo TeeJet low-drift flat fan nozzles spaced 20" apart.
"Air-induction nozzles would provide even less drift," Ruestman says. "But they also would require higher pressure to operate."
A 20' pattern. Boomless "fence-row" nozzles are mounted on uprights at each end of the boom, high enough to let Ruestman spray over 3'-tall grass. The angle of the nozzles can be adjusted to propel spray across a road ditch or to align the pattern with that of the boom nozzles to spray a solid swath. Using both fence-row nozzles and the boom provides about a 20' spray pattern—ideal for spot-spraying patches of weeds in a field.
When spraying ditch banks, Ruestman can adjust the vehicle's center of gravity by using manifolds and valves to transfer solution from one tank to another (assuming both tanks have the same herbicide). The vehicle's tip-up bed, with draw tubes at the rear of the tanks, makes it easy to empty the spray tanks when solution runs low.
The valves that direct spray from the tank to the boom, fence-row nozzles or hand wands, or from tank to tank, are accessible from the driver's seat. Shutting off all the valves recirculates the solution for agitation. Mounting the master on/off switch on a cord lets Ruestman operate it with either hand, or he can turn the operation over to a passenger.
All those tanks and hoses in a small bed make for tight conditions if Ruestman needs to work on something. "You don't want any sharp edges," he says. "Everything is polished smooth and has rounded edges."
With any unenclosed sprayer, you need to think about safety. "The herbicides I use are pretty safe," he says. "But just in case, I spray only with the wind when using the fence-row nozzle. And I use drift retardant, even if the weather is calm."
Persuaded by on-farm trials conducted by Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie showing that 20" corn rows will outyield 30" rows, John Thomas, who farms near Grand Ridge, Ill., decided to push his rows closer together.
"But I thought twin rows, 7½" apart on 30" centers, would yield about as well as 20"," he says. "With twin rows, I could keep my 30" corn head, and I wouldn't have to install narrow tires on my sidedressing tractor."
After five years, Thomas can't think of anything he'd change on the twin-row planter he built for less than $10,000. "The yield increase from twin rows has ranged from 8 bu. to 35 bu. per acre," he says. "Overall, the twin rows probably average 10 bu. to 12 bu. per acre more."
To build his twin-row planter, Thomas started with a 12-row John Deere 7000 front-fold that he already owned. He purchased a well-worn John Deere 12-row 7100 vertical-fold planter, which he reconditioned. "Most of the cost was in rebuilding that planter," he says.
Thomas hitched the vertically folding planter behind the front-folding one. He offset the rear planter 7½" to the right. The planters are connected by pull arms made by Meteer Manufacturing Company (www.meteer.com), in Athens, Ill. Thomas built mounting brackets to attach the arms.
The two planters are placed about 3' apart. "That's as close as you can put them and still get in between to fill the boxes," Thomas says.
Meteer also made a new lift-assist wheel assembly. "The original wheels were a little light for the planter when it was filled with seed and insecticide," Thomas explains.
Unique modifications. Because he plants twice as many rows, Thomas needed to reduce planting rates for each seed meter by half. He did that by removing his 12-finger seed meters. "The manufacturer of the meters, Precision Planting [www.precisionplanting.com] of Tremont, Ill., now makes six-finger meters," he says.
Thomas installed Keeton seed firmers in the planting units and mounted trash whippers to clear away residue. Commercially manufactured trash whippers on the front toolbar threw residue onto the row in front of the rear units. So Thomas designed a set of single-wheel trash whippers with depth bands welded to a Yetter mounting bracket. "The front set of trash whippers throws residue to the left, and the rear set throws it to the right," he explains.
Equipped with heavy-duty down-pressure springs, the planter works well in no-till and conventional seedbeds. Thomas installed a Vanguard monitor from Agri Motive Products (www.ag-electronics.com) that is capable of handling 36 rows.
"I built a new wiring harness for the rear planter," he says. "It unhooks at the front of the rear planter, as do the hydraulic hoses for the lift-assist wheels and for folding.
"There's really no downside to the planter or to twin rows," he says. "I have increased yield, in return for just a little more seed and insecticide. Twin rows are easier to pick up if the corn goes down; the plants seem to support each other and they stay at least 10" or 12" off the ground, so I can get the combine snouts under them."
Thomas thinks the twin-row yield increase results from better water utilization. But yield response varies by hybrid and soil type. "It tends to be greater on lighter timber soil than on highly productive ground," he says.
"Because there's less air circulation, there is more disease pressure," Thomas notes. He selects hybrids that have gray leaf spot tolerance and perform well in higher populations.
You can e-mail Darrell Smith at email@example.com