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November 2010 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.

in The Shop: Why You Wear What You Wear

Nov 28, 2010

 Much has been written about the practicality of cowboy garb, "back in the day." Elements of what is now "western style" clothing were born of the need for broad-brimmed hats to shade from sun and rain and pointed, high-heeled boots that slid easily into stirrups and stayed there. Cowboys didn't wear those clothes to be stylish--they wore them because they helped them do their job.

I've noticed there is a certain functionality to the wardrobes favored by farmers. You can tell a lot about what a farmer has been doing by the clothes he's wearing and how he has accessorized those clothes. 

Bibbed overalls still find favor with a lot of farmers, especially those who find leather belts "restricting." Bibs have all sorts of nifty pockets for pens, seed corn notebooks, and more lately, cell phones. In the summer, bibs offer flow-through ventilation if the side buttons are left unbuttoned. Rural etiquette suggests those side-buttons be buttoned during trips to town for fencing supplies, livestock feed or morning coffee, though some rebels insist that comfort on hot summer days trumps social manners.

Leather plier pouches accessorize the waistlines of many farmers who choose to wear denim jeans held in place with leather belts. Current styles favor bedraggled, oil-stained pouches with the stitching torn out. Duct-taped pouches make the statement, "I'm too busy to buy a new plier pouch, and my wife didn't see me come to town wearing this."

Footwear is more individualized. It used to be farmers often wore lace-up boots with the shoe strings wrapped once or twice around the top to keep grain from getting inside their boot when shoveling corn, beans or wheat in a bin. Pull-on, round-toe boots were favored by many midwestern cattlemen because they and associated odors were easily left on the back porch. 

I doubt historians will ever chronicle and analyze the wardrobes of farmers as much as they have chronicled and analyzed western wear. I doubt there will ever be "farmer bars" where city folks dress up like farmers and stomp around in clodhopper boots, plier pouches and seed corn hats in hopes of impressing girls. I doubt it never worked for me.


In The Shop: Reading Customer's Minds

Nov 23, 2010

 It's that time of year when customers bring equipment to the shop for annual maintenance and repairs. The time of year when mechanics hear daily, "What would you do if it was your machine?"

A more accurate way to phrase that question is, "What would you do if you were me?" It doesn't matter what I--the mechanic--would do if it was mine. Because I'm a mechanic I'm going to definitely fix some things, cobble some others, and tinker and play with aspects of the machine that I like to tinker and play with.

"What would you do if you were me" allows quick-thinking mechanics to role play and give the customer useful answers based on the CUSTOMER'S needs and personality. The mechanic can combine his knowledge of the customer's personality (short-tempered, patient, tight-fisted, good-natured, etc.) with the condition of the machine (like-new, worn-out, "seasoned,", etc.) to come up with suggestions on what repairs NEED to be made and what repairs COULD be made. 

I've got customers who, "if I was them..." would get suggestions for replacing every loose nut and every worn cotter key. I know they don't have any patience for breakdowns, dislike working on equipment, and are willing to pay extra bucks to never have to leave their machine's cab until they quit for the day. If I put myself in those customers' shoes, I list every possible trouble-point, check every nut and bolt and try to make the machine showroom perfect knowing it will cost beaucoup bucks trying to attain perfection. But that's the only way to give those customers what they want.

Other customers like getting every dollar out of their machines, accept that machines break down occasionally, and don't mind a little rust or faded paint. If I was that sort of customer, I'd fix the obvious stuff, cobble the small stuff, and not waste their time pointing out every small potential problem. It only makes me look like I'm trying to gouge them for more than they want.

So if a mechanic cringes when asked, "What would you do if it was yours?", rephrase the question as, "What would you do if you were me?" Just be prepared for bad news if his first response is, "I'd start drinking heavily..."

In The Shop: A Rural Business Opportunity?

Nov 17, 2010

 A lot of folks are excited by the prospects of $6 corn and "beans in the teens." My friend Kevin, the cattleman/sage of Guthrie County, says if grain prices stay high, he's thinking about opening a new business and franchising it across rural areas.

"If grain prices stay high," says Kevin, "farmers are going to be stepping on their own mothers to get more ground to farm. Land prices are going to go out of sight, cash rents will get even stupider than they already are, and we'll see brother fighting brother for the chance to pick up a 160 that lays good.

"What I'm thinking," he continued,  "is that I'm gonna start a company that rents out pallbearers for funerals. If grain prices stay high, there's gonna be a bunch of cut-throat farmers who will have to hire somebody to carry their casket."

You heard it here, first. 

In The Shop: Most Expensive "Gotta-Have" Tool?

Nov 14, 2010

 There are expensive tools I use only one or two times a year, but when I need them their cost is offset by their value. Tap and die sets are good examples.

A good general purpose tap and die set costs well above $100. A large-size set that will handle bolts above 1-inch or 18 millimeters will carve a $300 hole in your wallet. Total the cost of owning general-purpose standard and metric sets as well as large-size standard and metric sets, and you're easily looking at $1000 of tools that sit idle in your toolbox most of the time.

But when you need them, they're golden. The alternative is to drive to town for replacement parts, and those replacement parts are often very pricey, considering all you really need is to have the threads in ONE little hole cleaned up. I can't advocate that every farmer has a full set of large and small, metric and standard  taps and dies. Heck, mechanics in our shop carefully compare with other mechanics so we don't have duplicate sets, and share among ourselves. But if you have standard taps and dies and your neighbor has metric taps and dies, you've got most of the bases covered.

The alternative is to buy only the most common sized taps and dies. In standard measurements, that would be 5/16, 3/8, 1/2, 5/8 and 3/4-inch taps and dies in "coarse" threads. In metric measurements it's more of a gamble because manufacturers use more incremental-sized nuts and bolts, but 8. 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 22-millimeter taps and dies in coarse threads will handle most thread-cleaning chores. But from my experience, from what you pay for individual taps and dies, you could probably buy a complete set.

This has been a boring post about mundane tools that are expensive and rarely used. But someday you're going to need a certain tap or die in order to avoid a long drive to town or to save the cost of replacing an entire housing. Some will get in the truck and order the part and accept the hassle and cost. Others will rummage in their toolbox and find a rarely-used tap and die set they had to buy behind their wife's back because it was so expensive.

My wife is in for a surprise someday, when after my funeral they inventory my toolbox... 

In The Shop: Soap or Grease?

Nov 10, 2010

 When installing rubber o-rings, gaskets or seals and the situation calls for pre-lubricating the o-ring , gasket or seal, think twice before use engine oil, penetrating oil or standard gun-grease. Petroleum products can attack or degrade some rubber products.

There are special non-petroleum lubricants on the market, but I've had good luck with plain old Go-Jo-type waterless hand soap. I keep a small tub of that jelly-like hand washing product in my toolbox. It works great for lubing o-rings and gaskets on self-propelled sprayer fittings, and is invaluable when installing rubber sprayer hoses or rubber radiator hoses over fittings or pipe nipples. It's also great for sliding reinforced rubber hoses (seed delivery tubing on air planters, or suction/vacuum hoses on sprayers) into place.

I obviously avoid waterless hand soap with pumice or grit in it, since lubrication is my goal. I've tried liquid dish soap, thinking the squeeze bottle might make it easier to dispense, but found that the jellied hand soap stays in place after application better than liquid dish soap. And...the tub of waterless hand cleaner is a little more "manly" than a bottle of liquid dish soap borrowed from under the kitchen sink.

In The Shop: Ear Protection Optional, But Recommended

Nov 07, 2010

 Tightening disk gang bolts isn't difficult if you have two people, the correct tools and good ear protection. Gang bolt nuts tightened to anything less than "unbelievably tight" can allow disk blades and bearings to subtly work and move on the gang bolt, and no good comes from ANY movement by blades and bearings.

In the shop we use two techs and serious tools to tighten gang nut bolts. One guy uses a special mega-wrench to hold the stationary end of the gang bolt. The other guy uses a 3/4-inch or 1-inch-drive air wrench to torque the gang bolt nut. Both guys wear ear protection, because as the guy with the air wrench torques the nut, the guy on the other end sledgehammers the end of the gang bolt. The impacts of the sledge travel through the gangbolt, remove incremental slack between the blades, spools and bearings, and help reach the necessary torque on the gang bolt nut.

In the field, if a single tech has to tighten a gang bolt alone, possibly without an air wrench, it's a lot of physical labor, and a slow process. It requires rigging blocks and gear to hold the bolt wrench while using mega-cheater bars to slowly wrench tight the gang nut. Beating on the end of the gang bolt gains an eighth to a quarter turn per effort, so there's a lot of walking from end to end of the disk gang. The one-man approach is quieter than two guys using an air wrench and sledge hammer, but is a lot more time consuming and sweaty.

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