Sep 22, 2014
Home| Tools| Events| Blogs| Discussions| Sign UpLogin

June 2009 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.

Nag, Nag, Nag

Jun 26, 2009
 I look up and pull a lot of my own parts at the dealership. Those experiences have given me new respect for the guys and gals behind the parts counter who wait on walk-in customers. When I pull parts, they're for a machine I just tore apart in the shop. Those battered souls behind the parts counter must often literally guess at what parts their customers need for machines miles away, and often taken apart by someone other than the person sent to pick up the parts.

I've heard tales of customers who knew only the color of the piece of equipment that needed parts (red, green, yellow...) and that it was "one of the big ones." Parts guys have told me of customers who described a belt as being located "on the north side of the combine." And there are many stories of frustrated, angry customers storming back into the dealership after the parts person guessed wrong and sent incorrect parts.

So, to minimize customer frustration and ease the lives of parts people across the country, here are the bare minimums a customer should provide if they want fast, accurate service when seeking parts at a dealership:

-The model number and size. For example, a "45-foot, model 980 field cultivator." The width of a tillage tool, small grain platform, corn head or other variable-size equipment can often made a difference in what parts are used. A 12-row cornhead uses a two-piece cross auger, while smaller cornheads use one-piece augers. It gives your parts person a head start in the battle if they know the size of the machine. 

-Complete serial number. Yes, it's a hassle to find that little serial number plate and copy down the long string of letters and numbers. But equipment manufacturers often change or update within model years. An early 1990 combine may have different parts than a late 1990 combine. Those changes/updates are keyed to the machine's serial number. An experienced parts person may be able to guess if that combine is an early or late model if you casually mention that, "Yeah, Dad bought that in January and we got it just before planting season," but having the serial number guarantees getting the correct parts.

-Two serial numbers. Tractors, combines and other powered machines usually have a machine serial number and a separate serial number for the engine. If you're getting parts even remotely associated with the engine--fuel filters, fuel lines, radiator components, etc., be sure to have the engine serial number as well as the machine serial number. This is critical with new machines with Tier III engines. There are dozens of fuel filters for the same basic engine block, depending on where and how the engine is used (combine vs. tractor vs. windrower vs. irrigation pump). The ONLY way to get the right part related to a Tier III fuel system is to have the engine serial number.

-The busted parts. It puts a parts person's mind at ease if they can lay a new part beside the damaged/worn out part and visually confirm that they match. Many metal parts have casting numbers. plastic parts have mold i.d. markings, and belts often have parts numbers embedded or embossed somewhere along their back edge to help ensure a perfect match. If the part is big and oily or ungainly, leave it in the back of your pickup--the parts guy will gladly walk out and take a look if it will help ensure you're getting the right part.

Even with model and serial numbers it's sometimes a challenge to get the right parts the first time. It's not uncommon for us mechanics to make a couple trips to the back parts counter before we get the right part, and we're supposed to be experts on the machines we work on.. So cut the parts person behind the counter some slack the next time you need parts for a piece of equipment. They'll do their best for you, if you've done your best to provide them accurate information.

It's like the sign that one grizzled parts man posted on the wall behind his counter: "If you'll do your best to guess at the model number and serial number of your machine, I'll do my best to guess at what part you need to fix it."

You Know More Than Most

Jun 17, 2009
You probably underestimate the invaluable knowledge and skills necessary to be farmer. Things you take for granted, knowledge that you consider "common knowledge" are beyond the grasp of the vast majority of non-farm folks. I say that because in the past year I've dealt with a series of non-farmers who were geniuses in their profession, but virtually clueless about anything outside their areas of expertise. They were absolutely brilliant as health care or financial professionals, but...

-had no clue that "left loosens and right tightens". It's a miracle they could get the cap off their toothpaste or bottle of mineral water.
-were shocked to discover that engine oil filters are not life-of-the-machine components. 
-assumed that positive and negative battery cables were interchangeable when connecting them to batteries.
-couldn't grasp that the blades on lawn mowers, rotary disk mowers and Bush Hog-type mowers have a front edge and a back edge, and that the front edge should be relatively sharp.
-thought that oiling a belt would make it quit squeaking and squealing. 
-wondered how they were supposed to add engine oil to the engine through "that skinny dipstick tube."

So the next time you're feeling inadequate while dealing with some know-it-all non-farmer, take comfort. Between fixing busted equipment, marketing crops, dealing with livestock, juggling triple-stack hybrids, and understanding herbicides and pesticides, the knowledge you use in a single day dwarfs the narrow areas of expertise that make many professionals "experts" in their chosen fields.

Then add in the unique knowledge that you--and only you--have related to your specific operation. Like how you have to jiggle the PTO lever on the chore tractor to get it to engage, or the way you have to push, lift, then turn the ignition key on the mowing tractor to get it started. You're the only one who knows how to get that old Stirrator in the south bin to work right, you're the only one who knows where the water lines run between the house and the well, and you're the only one who knows exactly how to smack the dashboard on your old pickup to turn on the radio.

Never underestimate the sheer genius it takes to simply do what you do, every day.

Save Your Breath

Jun 14, 2009
 With spraying season running full-bore it's very useful to have a can of compressed air in your toolbox to help clean plugged spray nozzles. We know it's a bad idea to put a spray tip to our lips to blow out obstructions...but we've all done it. It's better to spend a few bucks for a can of compressed air--like computer geeks use to clean keyboards and circuitry in computers--and use it to blow clean plugged nozzles. Cans of compressed air come with extension nozzles so you can get them into tight spots, so they're also good for any situation that needs a brief blast of compressed air. I've used them to clear dust from computer boards and switches on combines, clean hay chaff from the knotters on balers, and in dozens of other situations where I needed a brief blast of compressed air. In some cases, even though I have access to a high-pressure air supply, I still use the can of bottled air because it's more precise and less apt to blow dust and debris all over me and nearby equipment than the high-pressure air supply.

Cans of compressed air don't have high pressure--maybe only 10 to 30 psi. But that's better than using your mouth and lungs to blow clean spray nozzles or clear dust and chaff from knotters and other dusty components. The only complaint I have about buying canned, compressed air is with the idea that I'm paying for "air." Somehow that doesn't feel right...

Tooling Up for the Wheat Run

Jun 09, 2009
Won't be long before custom and private cutters begin the wheat harvest. With the necessity of in-the-field maintenance and the probability of in-the-field repairs, here are a couple tools that might be worth adding to your toolbox.

Battery-powered impact wrenches are standard equipment for most custom cutters. They offer speed and power to maintenance and repairs. If you haven't yet jumped on the battery-powered impact wrench bandwagon, be sure to get a name-brand unit that has nationwide distributors in case you need parts or repairs. One-half-inch-drive battery-powered impacts should offer at least 250 lb.-ft. of torque; many now offer up to 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Three-eighths-inch-drive battery-powered impacts are lighter and handier than their 1/2-inch drive brothers, but generally max out at 150 to 200 lb.-ft. of torque. They'll handle 98 percent of 5/16-inch or smaller nuts and bolts, but only half of the 3/8-inch nuts and bolts they encounter. Three-eighths-inch-drive battery-powered impact wrenches absolutely shine for doing maintenance and repairs to guards and knife sections on small grain platforms.

Deciding which size and type of battery to power battery-powered tools is complicated. Buyers can select anything from 9-volt up to 36-volt batteries. Many of those batteries come in Lithium, Ni-Cad or other designs. My recommendation? Go with 18-volt tools and batteries across the board so you have interchangeable batteries between 3/8- and 1/2-inch drive impact guns, as well as other battery-powered tools and grinders.

Some really nifty but pricey accessories to battery-powered impact wrenches are impact "wobble" or "flex" sockets. Imagine an impact socket with a built-in universal joint that enables the user to install or remove nuts and bolts without the impact gun being in alignment with the fasteners. Being able to hold the impact gun at an angle to the fastener is a big advantage when working in tight spaces or when it's a long awkward stretch to reach the fastener. It takes a little practice to get the hang of using wobble sockets, because they are prone to fling themselves off nuts and bolts if the correct technique isn't used. Now that I've developed the knack for using them, I generally grab a wobble socket most of the time rather than its straight, rigid cousin. The only problem with wobble sockets is that a complete set is extremely expensive---$300 to more than $500, depending on size and manufacturer. My tightwad solution was to identify the four sizes of metric fasteners used commonly on our brand of machinery, and then I bought only those four sizes of wobble sockets. Someday maybe I'll flip for a full set, but for now, I'm content.

I mentioned battery-powered grinders in an earlier paragraph. The latest generation of 4- or 4 1/2-inch angle-head, battery-powered grinders are pretty handy for field repairs. They aren't designed to do wholesale grinding similar to a bench grinder located in a shop, but if you simply need to smooth a weld, grind off a bolt head or sharpen a dulled shear bar, they work great. 

A final tip/suggestion for repairs and maintenance during the wheat harvest: Never forget the digital camera that's part of your cell phone. A cell phone picture of where a belt, shaft or bearing is located on a machine can save lots of time and explaining when you finally locate the nearest dealership that might have parts for your machine.

Log In or Sign Up to comment


Legacy Newsletter

Follow Us

Facebook Twitter You Tube

Hot Links & Cool Tools


facebook twitter youtube View More>>
The Home Page of Agriculture
© 2014 Farm Journal, Inc. All Rights Reserved|Web site design and development by|Site Map|Privacy Policy|Terms & Conditions