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June 2011 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: What Farmers Say

Jun 25, 2011

I enjoy eavesdropping when farmers passing through our shop discuss farming, life, the economy and politics. Here are some of the comments I've heard. Some are interesting because I've heard them over and over, hinting they are common ground for many farmers. Others were only voiced once, but earned my attention because they were "deep," humorous, or both. 

-"My equipment is 25 years old, rusty and out-of-date, but I get paid the same per bushel as the guys with the shiny new machinery."

-"I'll quit farming before I get too lazy to steer my own tractor."

-"Auto-steer was the best thing I ever bought."

-"A lot of things are going to change around our farm, once Dad is gone."

-"I'd give anything to have Dad nagging me."

-"Six dollar corn and fourteen dollar soybeans are the worst thing that has happened to agriculture in the past 50 years."

-"The most tense time of year for me isn't planting or harvesting, it's the month before rent contracts are finalized."

-"At the rate things are going, with farmers getting so cutthroat over cash rent, I know a couple guys who are going to have to hire pallbearers to carry their casket at their funeral."

-"This is the most fun farming has ever been--why would I ever want to retire?"

-"The fun has gone out of farming."

-"I lose money farming any field that's smaller than 40 acres."

-"I told my wife I could either raise cattle, or hang out at the local bar and chase women. I think she's having second thoughts about choosing cattle."

-"I suppose this is going to show up in that thing you write on the internet..."

In The Shop: A Better Way To Splice Wires?

Jun 15, 2011

 A while back I blogged about using heat-shrink butt connectors to make weatherproof, durable splices when repairing electrical wires on farm equipment. I mentioned that a customer had shared with me a new type of splice connector that looked promising. I've done some more research and will pass on what I've learned. This is not an advertisement or recommendation---just one shop rat sharing a new gadget with another shop rat.

Posi-Lock connectors are interesting. They are three-piece splices--two threaded sleeves that screw into a midsection with a metal insert that's tapered on both ends. The user slides the threaded sleeves onto the ends of each wire to be spliced before stripping 1/4-inch of insulation from the end of each wire. When the sleeves are screwed into the center housing, the bared ends of the wires are forced over the conical metal insert, creating a tight electrical connection extremely resistant to mechanical separation. No need to use special crimping pliers; no problems with a weak or "missed" crimp allowing the connection to pull apart. Plus--because the connection is made by the threaded sleeves, it can be easily disconnected and re-assembled multiple times.

The standard Posi-Lock connector is semi-weatherproof. Their Posi-Seal connectors come with rubber gaskets that make the splice weatherproof. Posi-Tite connectors are WATERproof, and designed for immersion. 

Price-wise: a plain ol' crimp-on butt connector from the local auto parts store sells for around 50 cents a piece. New style crimp-on butt connectors with heat shrink insulation--the ones I mentioned in the earlier blog--cost around 75 cents to $1.00 each. The basic Posi-Lock connector, if bought in volume, retails for 77 cents; the Posi-Seal connector goes for $1.75 a piece, and the Posi-Tite connector sells for $2.33 per unit. Contact them at

Again--I'm not advocating one way or the other. All I ask is that you use SOME form of splice connector when you have to join two wires on a piece of farm equipment. I'm on a campaign to bring an end to "twist and tape" electrical splices on farm equipment.

What you do in your house when you're fixing lamps and light fixtures is your own business that I really don't want to know about...

In The Shop: Patience Is The Expensive Part Of Repairs

Jun 12, 2011

 I use as many shortcuts as possible to save my customers money and make my job easier. Rather than disassemble a dozen shields, remove wheels, or unbolt additional parts, I'm never shy about jacking, prying or winching things to access pieces on machines to save time. And I re-use parts whenever possible. New is nice, but as long as the old part is within tolerances, I'll use it.

The trick is to know when to shortcut and when to take the long, laborious route. Last week I had to replace the shoe auger cross shaft and all the bevel gears in a combine. It's quite a process to remove the bearings and bevel gears before removing one set of dual wheels so you can pull the shaft out the side of the combine--at least that's what the tech manual recommended. I knew the shaft needed replaced; I knew I wouldn't re-use the bearings; I didn't want to spend the time and effort to remove the dual wheels. So I torched the shaft into three pieces, burned out the bearings, and the shaft and associated gears literally fell onto the floor. 

I saved the cost of additional disassembly time, but probably used that bonus up when I reassembled and installed the new shaft with new bearings and new bevel gears. Could I have re-used some of the parts? Yes. But that shaft and associated bearings and gears are buried deep in the combine. My policy is, if a part is easy to access, I'll consider re-using that "old" part if it's within tolerances. But if I'm doing a job that is in a hard-to-reach spot that takes a lot of disassembly to get to the specific component---I'm replacing everything with "new." I don't want to do that time-consuming, expensive job more often than necessary.

I appreciate that my current customer understands and agrees. When I used a flashlight and mirror-on-a-stick to show him what buried parts I needed to replace on his combine, he didn't hesitate when I suggested replacing every part with new. "I don't want to be tearing all that apart in the middle of a cornfield this fall just because I was too cheap to let you put in a few new parts," he said. "I'll cheap-out on the easy stuff, but that looks like a deal where it will save money to spend money."

Now, THAT'S my kind of customer! Cheap (uh, let's call him "economical") whenever possible, but realistic when it comes to what it costs to keep machinery in good running condition.

In The Shop: Maintainance Now or Maintenance Later?

Jun 07, 2011

 Some guys do maintenance and prep-work on planters before they store them for the summer. Other guys park their planters in their sheds "as is" and do their maintenance and prep just before they head to the field in the spring.

I see advantages to both strategies. If you do the work before storage, all the big and little problems are still fresh in your mind, easy to remember and therefore easy to identify and fix. All the pieces and parts are shiny from use. Oiling chains and greasing components ensures they stay rust-free during storage. And some dealerships have special prices on parts and labor for those who bring their planters for service before they go into storage.

But. Waiting till next spring to make repairs and do maintenance has advantages, too. It gives the operator time to reacquaint himself with the machine and how it works before he heads to the field. All the pieces and parts will be "fresh" and the machine can go directly to the field as soon as the work is finished. Delaying maintenance till just before use also allows charging the costs against taxes in the same year the crop is grown, which may or may not be a significant factor. 

Personally, I favor doing maintenance and repairs before putting a machine away for the year. I like knowing a machine sitting in a shed is ready to go to the field. I like "locking in" the cost of repairs, especially the way the prices of parts has skyrocketed in recent years. But I also understand that post-planting is a busy time, with haying, spraying and summer work making it difficult to find time to work on a planter that is "done for the year."

And, there's always the consideration, as one farmer told me: "By the time I get done planting, or spraying, or combining, the last thing I want to do is spend any more time around that particular piece of equipment!"

Kind of like what my wife says about me, after we've been traveling in close proximity to each other during a week's vacation....

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