Sep 14, 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.

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. 

Somebody Finally Invented Nile Swallow's Tool

Aug 29, 2014

 Nile Swallow was an old friend who helped with corn harvest when I was a young pup. Once, when I was trying to remove some large allen-head bolts that were frozen in place, Nile offered a trick he learned as a mechanic in the Navy back in WWII.

"Smack that Allen-head bolt hard with a hammer a few times," he said. "Don't mar the Allen-head opening, but don't be shy about hitting it. Then put your Allen wrench in and try it again."

By golly, Nile's trick worked. Since then I've refined and possibly improved his technique. I put an Allen-head socket on a breaker bar and try to turn out the frozen bolt with the breaker bar while I smack the head of the breaker bar with a hammer. The impact of the hammer, directed down into the Allen-head bolt while I'm trying to turn out the bolt with the breaker bar, often works magic on frozen bolts.

So I was really pleased to see in a recent tool catalog that some manufacturer has taken Nile's trick one step further. It's a special bit for an air hammer. You install a 3/8-inch drive impact-type socket or Allen-head socket on one end of the bit and put the other end in the air hammer. There's a special hex-shaped segment in the middle of the bit, so you can turn the bit with a wrench while you rattle a stubborn bolt with the air hammer.

It's tough to describe the tool, but it essentially allows you to use an air hammer to do the same thing Nile taught me years ago. 

If you're wondering, yes, I've got one ordered. For less than $20, I had to give it a try. If it works, Nile would be proud. 

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