Sep 21, 2014
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June 2014 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.

Bearing Removal Without A Torch

Jun 26, 2014

 Most of the time it seems when I need to remove a frozen bearing from a shaft, it's in a tight spot or buried in the machine. So an acetylene torch is often the fastest way to get things apart. A torch is messy, potentially dangerous, and inelegant, but effective. The same has been said about me, so I guess I'm a good match for a torch.

But there are times when a bearing is out in the open and accessible, and I'm glad to use a die grinder with a cut-off wheel to quickly and surgically remove the bearing. Today I was in a situation where the bearing was on the end of a shaft and there was plenty of room around it, so I grabbed my die grinder. I made two cuts 180 degrees apart to split the outer race, then carefully cut through the inner race without marring the shaft. It took a total of 5 minutes, and avoided the flames, sparks, soot and heat that would have been part of torching the bearing.

It's not always possible to use an air-powered die grinder and cut-off wheel to dissect bearings, but when circumstances permit, it's a quick, clean way to get the job done. 

A Third Hand When You Need It

Jun 20, 2014

 Cable winches and motorcycle tie-down straps are probably more correctly accessories, but they're indispensible tools for me.

I have several cable winches, commonly called "come-alongs" in our neighborhood, that I use almost weekly for a variety of tasks. The one I use most often has only a 2000 pound lift capacity, but it's light enough and small enough to get into tight places where I can use it to lift a gear case into place, hoist a countershaft assembly, or pull a subframe into alignment. It took awhile for me to wrap my head around what I can do with a cable winch, but now I immediately think "come-along" whenever something heavy or awkward needs lifted or pulled.

I'm even more fond of the half-dozen motorcycle tie-downs left over from my motorcycling days. They're one-inch wide nylon straps, maybe 6 feet long, with a sturdy hook on each end and an adjusting mechanism that locks in place with a gnurled cam. Their length is infinitely adjustable, making them handy when I need to precisely suspend a shaft or hold some component in place. Motorcycle tie-downs aren't a "simple machine" like we learned about in physics, so if I want to suspend a 50-pound gearcase with a tie-down, I have to physically lift the 50 pounds while taking the slack out of the tie-down. 

There are times when it's nice to have the mechanical advantage of the cable winch to lift really heavy objects. But there are times when it's more convenient to have the flexibility of the nylon straps and smaller size/weight of the tie-downs.

Most farmers have a dusty, often rusty cable winch hanging on a wall somewhere. Many farmers have tie-downs to secure their ATV or 4-wheeler during transport in a pickup or on a trailer. If they use the cable winch only once a year, and the tie-downs only as tie-dpwns, they're missing the advantages of a having a third hand when lifting or positioning heavy or clumsy components during repairs.

Yes, I"m Guilty Of Up-Selling

Jun 12, 2014

 A customer good-naturedly recently accused me of up-selling equipment. He had asked my opinion as a mechanic on options and accessories for a new planter he was thinking about buying. After we discussed his goals and concerns, I suggested that maybe he needed to get a bigger planter than he was thinking about. He smiled and asked if I was going to get a commission from the sales department if he bought a bigger planter. 

Nope, there's no monetary gain in it for me if he buys a bigger planter. The only gain is if he gets done sooner with his planting and is a happier customer. That's my goal---customers who are pleased with the results they get from the machinery they purchase.

It's tough to write a check for any piece of equipment. It's even tougher to write a bigger check for a bigger piece of equipment. But the past few years have emphasized the benefits of being able to cover ground quickly and accurately when planting. The window of opportunity to get in and "get 'er done" seems to be getting smaller smaller each spring. I've never had a customer regret jumping from an 8- to a 12-row, a 12- to a 16-row, or a 16- to a 24-row planter. They were always glad that the bigger planters let them cover acres faster.

Yes, there are farmers who wring every bit of value out of their equipment, guys who farm 2000 acres with an 8-row planter. If they're happy, I'm happy. But on the other end of the spectrum, I know farmers who planted their entire corn crop in five days this spring. Not necessarily five consecutive days, but five days there were "right" for planting. They were able to wait till the ground was actually ready to plant, and didn't have to start planting in cold mud in order to cover all their ground.

So, if you ask me the best options you can put on a planter, I might suggest extra rows. There are lots of gee-whiz electronic bells and whistles that can be added to modern planters, but in my mind, extra row-units pay a nice return on investment. 

The Season of Desperation

Jun 07, 2014

 The post-emerge spraying season is a time of desperation. Whether it's a commercial sprayer or a farmer with his own machine, there's a limited window of opportunity to get all the fast-growing crops sprayed before they get too big. Add the frequent, unpredicatable rains of June, and the stage is set for frustrated customers and mechanics.

Let's say Joe Blow from 150 miles away shopped the internet last winter, and found the sweet deal he wanted on a sprayer at your dealership. Now, six months later, Joe can't figure out why his spray rate keeps fluctuating. He's not technically-oriented, has little patience for asking/answering questions over the phone, and wants a mechanic to come fix the sprayer right now as part of the one-year warranty he got when he purchased the machine. Does the dealership immediately send a mechanic for the all-day-or-longer trip, or take care of loyal local customers first, and schedule a service call to the foreign customer once the locals are taken care of?

Or, how about if a mechanic's cell phone rings and it's a call from a farmer from across the state who got the number from his cousin who is a loyal local customer of the dealership. The cross-state farmer is having trouble with his sprayer. His nearby dealership can't or won't help him, and his cousin recommended he call the mechanic because the mechanic is an ace at fixing things. How much time does the mechanic spend on the phone trying to help the stranger who will never buy anything from the dealership? 

Then there's the situation where a mechanic is desperately pulling wrenches in the shop on a customer's sprayer, trying to get it back in the field before the heavy rains forecasted for the next day. Another customer strides into the shop and demands answers to why his sprayer isn't working. With luck, the mechanic can keep working on the sprayer at hand while answering the walk-in questions, but if the walk-in requires technical advice found only in tech books, how much time does the mechanic spend away from the machine he's supposed to be working on? And does he charge the walk-in for the 15 to 20 minutes he spent away from his assigned work?

In most cases service managers deal with such questions and decide who gets helped and who doesn't. But sometimes customers want to deal with hands-on mechanics rather than managers, and either call the mechanic directly or walk into the shop with questions.

It almost makes a mechanic yearn for the 8 weeks of fixing combines during harvest, when things are intense, but not quite so desperate.

Another Impulse Buy of Tools

Jun 03, 2014

 I'm usually pretty frugal when it comes to buying tools. I used to beat myself up whenever I gave into temptation and bought a tool just because it looked cool, or because it was, "On Sale This Week Only!" It bothered me to waste money on tools that I rarely used.

I'm still a tightwad, but I no longer get angry at myself when I buy tools without good reasons. Four years ago, on impluse, I bought a radiator hose puller. It's like a sturdy screwdriver with a right angle bend to the shaft that allows the user to hook, free-up, and pull radiator hoses off thermostat housings or radiator fittings. That puller laid in my toolbox and taunted me for two years, until one hot July day when the puller was the perfect tool for a unique situation. That $15 puller was worth $500 to me that day, and even if I never use it again, I'll never regret having it in my toolbox.

An older mechanic once told me, "You can't use tools that you don't have," and encouraged me to buy as many tools as I could afford. I now see the wisdom of his advice. I can't afford to own every possible tool. I don't WANT to own every possible tool. But I no longer feel guilty when I buy a tool that could someday make my job easier.

At least that's what I'm telling myself tonight, after I spent $50 on a full set of radiator hose pullers to complement the single, save-the-day puller I bought those years ago. This set has long and short-shafted pullers, with hooked ends, right-angle ends, and several other interesting variations on the theme. 

Someday, I'll be glad I spent the money. Just not tonight.


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