Sep 19, 2014
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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.

Giving Credit To Plain Ol' Shops

Sep 18, 2014

 I'm guilty of getting giddy over "super shops" that some farmers have. It's hard not to be impressed with cavernous shops with polished concrete floors, enough lights for surgery, metal-topped tool benches, welders, plasma cutters, and more tools than a Snap-on tool truck.

But I've been keeping track, and most of the shops I've been in during recent service calls are plain ol' machine sheds with a slab of concrete at one end, a couple plank-topped workbenches and some storage bins. The deluxe version of a Plain Ol' Shop has a welder, a torch, a chop saw, a big air compressor and an actual mechanic's toolbox--though the most of the tools are scattered around the work benches and rarely actually in the toolbox.

The cool thing is that most of the farmers with Plain Ol' Shops get along just fine. Sure, they talk about putting concrete in the rest of the shed, installing heat and getting decent lights installed, but they never quite get around to it. But they get the necessary maintenance and repairs done on their equipment even though they're "roughing it."

Some farmers are shop rats who love working on equipment and spend all their spare time in their shop. Or they have a couple hired men or family members and can justify having a mega-shop to keep everybody busy and save money on maintenance and repairs. Other farmers work on equipment as needed but don't view spending time in their shop as a form of recreation. I'm still in awe of farmers with mega-shops, but the more I think about it, the more respect I have for the guys who get along just fine with Plain Ol' Shops.

As one proud owner of a Plain Ol' Shop told me, "If I had a fancy heated shop with all the bells and whistles, I'd have to be out there every day doing something, just to justify what it cost. With my ol' shop, if it's rainy or windy or cold and I don't feel like working on things, it doesn't bother me a bit to go into the house and watch Dr. Phil."

Corn Reels and Concave Filler Plates

Sep 14, 2014

 Every year there are challenges during harvest that send farmers scurrying for aftermarket accessories to deal with those challenges. Lodged corn, soft ears, high-moisture corn, green-stemmed soybeans, green-pod soybeans and other conditions sometimes benefit from aftermarket "add-ons" to help combines deal with unusual harvest situations.

Cornhead reels definitely work when corn is blown over, goose-necked or standing less than good. For those unfamiliar with corn head reels (you lucky devils…), a cornhead reel is a shaft that stretches across the front of a corn head, centered above the front ends of the snapping rolls. Slender arms, call them fingers, extend over each row almost to the snapping rolls. The cross shaft is turned slowly by a geared-down hydraulic motor so that the arms slowly lift and guide downed stalks into the rolls and gathering chains. 

Some corn head reels are big and bulky, some are smaller and less obtrusive, but the darn things really help no matter what their size. They aren't foolproof, and won't help when cornfields are literally flattened, but they definitely reduce plugging in fields that are moderately lodged.

If you've had a cornhead reel for several years, be sure to check it over. The spindly nature of the gathering arms makes them prone to cracks. It's a very good idea to look over all aspects of a cornhead reel pre-season (and regularly during the season) to make sure there are no cracks that will lead to an arm or other piece of metal getting fed into the combine. It happens frequently, especially the first day or two after a "used" corn head reel goes to the field and any long-rusted cracks weaken and break under stress.

Green-stem and green-pod soybeans are another common problem that sell a lot of aftermarket accessories to combines. Some guys renovate their entire combine, putting in custom concaves and threshing components to reduce problems with "green beans." In many cases the combine manufacturer offers special concave filler plates, concave covers, smooth rasp bars, extra-corrugated rasp bars or other components that are designed for food-grade crops or hard-to-harvest crops. Before overhauling the entire machine, be sure the combine manufacturer doesn't offer a cheaper, simpler-to-install remedy for harvesting problem.

Frustration-Reducers For Bean Platforms

Sep 11, 2014

 As soybean platforms stretch all the way out to 45 feet in width, changing all the plastic skid shoes, knife guards or sickle sections becomes a major chore simply because there are so many skid shoes, knife guards or sickle sections to change. A couple tools make those repetitive chores faster and easier.

I've written before about using an air hammer to remove and install plastic skid shoes. Use a chisel bit to shear off the heads of the old hammer rivets, then pull off the old poly. Use a rivet-setting bit to install the new rivets. Tom, an old friend from high school, said he bought an air hammer after reading that suggestion, and said it almost made installing new plastic skids shoes "fun."

Many of you already have battery-powered impact wrenches. My go-to tool for replacing knife guards is a 1/2-inch drive battery-powered impact wrench with a impact-style "wobble socket" on it. My preferred weapon for replacing sickle sections is a 3/8-drive battery-powered impact wrench with an appropriate-size wobble socket. I need the power of the 1/2 drive unit for the larger bolts that hold the knife guards, but the lighter weight of the 3/8 is preferred for the smaller sickle section nuts. Plus, having two impacts eliminates the need to keep switching sockets.

The reason I prefer impact-type wobble sockets is because they don't have to be perfectly aligned perpendicular to the nuts/bolts. They're a little tricky to use until you get used to them, but once you get the knack you'll find you reach for wobble sockets every time you use your battery-powered impact.

Don't cheap out and try to use a standard socket with a "flex" adapter. That combination flings sockets all over the machine shed. Spend a few bucks, go online or find a good tool store, and buy a "flex impact socket" in the sizes to fit your average knife guard bolts and sickle section nuts. They'll cost $10 to $30 each, depending on size, but I predict they'll become a favorite tool once you get used to them.

You Might Be An Old Farmer...

Sep 08, 2014

You Might Be An Old Farmer… 

-if you know what a "rattle chain" is.

-if you know what a "burr nut" is.

-if you know what a combine "canvas" is.

-if you know what a "bubble up auger" is.

-if you’ve ever worn goggles while driving a combine.

-if you’ve ever pulled an entire sickle in order to change one section.

-if you know what Corsoy is.

-if you’ve ever used Amiben.

-if you ever used a wrench to adjust concave clearance.

-if you know what a "husking bed" is.

-if you know the difference between a corn rake and a silage fork.

-if you’ve ever used a pocket knife to cut foxtail off a snapping roll.

-if you’ve ever harvested only two rows of corn at a time.


If I Could Do It All Over Again

Sep 06, 2014

 I've got young relatives who are entering their senior year of high school. They're trying to decide what to do with the rest of their lives, what college to attend, what career to choose. None of them asked me my opinions on how to plan the rest of their lives; none of them should. Part of the challenge of growing up is learning to make decisions, and learning to deal with the mistakes that often result from those decisions.

But if they DID ask my opinion, I'd make several comments:

-If you're going to college, know WHY you're going to college. You can go to college to get training for a career (engineering, teaching, etc.) or you can go to college for the experience of going to college (liberal arts degree, history degree, etc.). Either one is a good reason to go to college, but don't mistake one for the other.

-Not everyone should go to college, but everyone needs training after high school. High school doesn't prepare you for a job or career. The training may be an on-the-job apprenticeship, or the training may be a tech school certificate. Whatever the case, don't think you're done learning just because you've got a high school diploma.

-"If you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life." That's a wonderful quote and a great goal, but most people end up working in a job they can barely tolerate on some days. Other days, they can't believe they get paid to do their job. If you can on a daily basis go to sleep at night feeling good about what you did all day, that's not a bad job.

-Never underestimate yourself. You have skills, talents and gifts that you haven't yet discovered. Try everything. You'll never know what your gift is, what secret talent you have, until you try it. Every person has one thing that "clicks" for them. You may have a gift for music, or a talent for understanding gear ratios in transmissions, or the ability to work with livestock. But you may not discover that gift until later in life. Never stop looking, searching and trying new things.

-Finally, if you determine what you want to do with your life within six months after you graduate high school, congratulations. But if you aren't sure what you want to "be," and have to move through several jobs, education changes or other life events before you find your niche in life--enjoy the search. My wife spent her early years in a series of jobs that drove her crazy--bookkeeper, babysitter, salesman, etc.  Only after she got her teaching degree and excelled as an elementary school teacher did she realize that all those early jobs were God's way of preparing her for the job she was meant to have. 

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