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July 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.

A Very Slow Learner

Jul 26, 2009
 There are two types of farmers: those who wear gloves anytime they pick up a tool, and those who don't even own a pair of work gloves. I grew up around no-glove farmers. Scabs and scars on your knuckles were badges of honor. At New Year's Eve parties, family members would actually congratulate each other if they had gone all year without need for a trip to the doctor for stitches.

At the other extreme were neighbors who never left the house without leather work gloves in their back hip pocket, and they never touched a wrench without first stopping to wriggle their un-calloused fingers into their gloves. Being a rebellious teenager, I experimented with wearing gloves while working on equipment just to annoy my father, but disliked the loss of dexterity and sense of touch and eventually returned to bare-handed repairs.

So I spent a lot of years with grease and dirt ingrained into the pores of the skin on my hands, and added yearly to my collection of scars. I kept my hands below the table at restaurants because I was never able to get all the grease out of the cracks in the skin on my fingers, and was reluctant to shake hands with people at church because of the nasty texture of my battered digits.

A couple years ago, our dealership passed a rule that all mechanics had to wear gloves as much as possible. Tearing apart a hydraulic system pretty well soaks and destroys a pair of work gloves, so there are exceptions, but for the most part, I had to start wearing gloves. I disliked them intensely for the first week. Now I find myself delaying the start of jobs if I can't find a pair of gloves to put on before I touch a tool.

They're just simple stretch nylon gloves with rubberized palms and fingers for improved grip, but they've saved square inches of skin, several ounces of blood and probably at least one trip to the doc for stitches. My wife is no longer embarrassed in public by my "dirty" hands. Beyond the reduction in major and minor injuries, I've found psychological advantages to using gloves. A guy can spend a few minutes thinking and sizing up a repair job while he pulls on a pair of work gloves and stands there working the material tight between his fingers. It makes me appear thoughtful, when I'm actually thinking to myself, "How the heck am I going to fix THAT?"

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? I once swore I couldn't work on equipment if I was wearing gloves, and now I won't work on equipment unless I'm wearing gloves. Maybe with age comes wisdom--or an increased dislike of scabs, scars and painful scrapes. 

What Would You Do WIthout?

Jul 18, 2009
 Customers sometimes complain about the cost of modern farm equipment. I've had customers state, "If somebody would build a 200-horsepower 4020 (or 806, or 190XT) without all the bells and whistles, just a plain ol' tractor, they'd sell a million of them."

Would they? Which of the "bells and whistles" would YOU do without? Do you want to go without a cab? That would save more than $10,000. Maybe you want a cab, but don't care if it's quiet. You could save a couple thousand dollars by having a bare metal cab with mechanical linkages for gearshifts, hydraulic controls and steering--but you wouldn't be able to hear the radio because of all the mechanical noise transmitted into the cab by all those 'hard-wired' controls.

Speaking of the radio, would you give up the AM/FM/CD player with weather band radio? A simple AM radio would only cost $50, compared to the cost of the acoustic marvels in the headliners of most modern farm equipment cabs. While we're considering cab accessories, it would save several thousand dollars to use a simple coil-spring-and-shock-absorber seat suspension instead of the electro-hydraulic or air seat suspension used in many cabs today. Vinyl seat covers would be cheaper than stain-resistant cloth or leather seats, too.

Think how much money could be saved by not including GPS guidance/autosteer in farm equipment. No satellite subscriptions, no RTK guidance fees. No GPS receiver globes to replace due to getting smashed by tree limbs or low-clearance machine shed doorways. In combines, it would save $10,000 or more to do without a yield monitor, especially if the system is set up to do yield mapping.

So, if a manufacturer offered an open-station 2WD tractor with 200 hp, or an open-station 4WD with 300 hp, would you buy it? Nothing but tires, heavy duty transmission and an engine, with a steering wheel to guide it. No extra bells and whistles. How 'bout a bare-bones combine, something that would handle a 30-foot small grain platform or 8-row cornhead, but without cab, without AM/FM, without yield monitor, without all the electronic gizmos like automatic header height control, feed-rate sensing, automatic sieve adjusting, etc., etc.?

How much would you be willing to do without to save a few dollars on your next tractor, combine or self-propelled machine? 

Do-It-Yourself Tools Revisited

Jul 13, 2009
 Several months ago I put up a blog about cutting, welding and grinding tools and wrenches to customize them for unique repair jobs. Someone asked if there is a market for customized or one-of-a-kind tools.

Aside from going through the process and paying the price to self-patent, produce and market a tool, there are companies that buy ideas for specialized tools. Many tool magazines that target mechanics frequently have advertisements for companies that will, "Turn your tool idea into money!" If a mechanic sees a need for a new type or design of tool, he can submit the idea to that company for them to produce and market. In return, the mechanic gets a fee for the idea, and possibly residual payments for future sales of the tool.

The Lisle Corporation in Clarinda, Iowa ( is one target for mechanics or do-it-yourselfers who think they have ideas for new or improved tools. Snap On Tools, Mac Tools, Matco Tools and other major tool marketers are also interested in new ideas for tools, and accept ideas through their websites. 

If you have ever invented a tool to meet a need on your farm, and found neighbors clamoring to borrow it or have you build them a similar tool, it might be worth talking to Lisle, Snap On, or another tool manufacturer. As long as you keep careful documentation of the genesis and design of the tool, you shouldn't have to worry about anybody "stealing" your idea. If the idea is good, actually goes into production, and makes it to the market, your home-grown idea might put a few dollars in your pocket.

Sprayer Storage Tips

Jul 06, 2009
 Some of you are nearly finished spraying crops for the year; some of you are still in the heat of battle. When it's finally time to put your sprayer away for the year, take time to prepare it for storage. Be sure to:

-Wash off all chemical and adjuvant residues from the entire machine. Use a power washer with soap then rinse with clean water. Keep high pressure water away from the electric ball valves/solenoids that control boom shutoff valves. Use discretion when pressure washing boom hinge pivot points to avoid forcing water into those areas. After washing and rinsing, grease all pivot points and raise/lower and unfold/fold booms to force out water and distribute grease.

-Spray all non-greaseable pivot points and electrical connectors lightly with WD-40 or any good water-driving penetrating lubricant. Such water-driving lubricants will not only force water out of places it shouldn't be, but create a thin film that will resist corrosion during storage.

-Clean all spray system filters. Some chemical residues harden to near-concrete if left in filters.

-Flush the spray system (spray pump, filters, valves, hoses and nozzles) with clean water, then add to the spray tank RV (Recreational Vehicle) antifreeze formulated to withstand winter temperatures in your area. Flush the system until colored RV fluid sprays from all nozzles. RV antifreeze is a little pricey compared to conventional engine antifreeze, but it is environmentally safe to spray RV antifreeze onto the ground next spring when you clean out the system. Leave some RV antifreeze in the spray tank and store the system "wet." Spray pumps stored "dry" can corrode and cause problems next year. Some sprayer owners mistakenly believe they can remove bleed plugs from spray pumps and trickle engine oil or transmission fluid into spray pumps for storage; spray pump manufacturers discourage that practice because petroleum products can attack, swell and damage rubber seals used in spray pumps.

-Change the engine oil and filter in self-propelled sprayers. Consider changing the oil in all final drive/wheel hubs. If you use activated charcoal filters for cab ventilation systems, wait till next spring to replace those air filters. Activated charcoal filters "activate" when removed from their plastic shipping wrappers. They won't "wear out", but some degree of their filtering ability will degrade while the machine is sitting in storage. It's best to install fresh new filters just before going to the field next spring to ensure you get full use of the filter's element.

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