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July 2012 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.

More On Soybean Platform Maintenance

Jul 29, 2012

 My last blog talked about how to optimize the flexibility of soybean platform cutterbars to help those units shave soybeans as close as possible. Here are some other factors that influence how well soybean platforms perform.

Ground speed. Some of my customers are tired of me suggesting they slow their ground speed while harvesting beans, but going too fast dramatically influences the quality of cut. There is no specific ground speed that is right for all combines under all conditions. I once had a 30-foot wide platform that refused to do a good job cutting beans if the operator exceeded 3 mph. We switched to a different field, with a different variety of soybean, and the platform happily shaved those beans at 4 1/2 mph. Maybe it was soil types, maybe it was the variety of bean, maybe it was simply that it was 2 hours later on a bright, sunny day and the beans had dried and harvested better. The right speed to harvest soybeans (if all mechanical components and adjustments are optimized) is the speed that leaves the shortest stubble, with the stubs cut off parallel to the ground and not leaned over. Too slow is better than too fast, in the majority of soybean harvesting situations.

Cutterbar angle. Most soybean platform cutterbars provide optimum performance if the bar is tilted downward at the front about 3 degrees. If you raise the platform so the cutterbar is just barely above the ground, and lay on your gut and look sideways under the platform, the cutterbar should be slightly tipped forward. Tipping it further forward can encourage it to scoop up rocks, and can actually increase the stubble height. Tipping so the skid shoes ride on their heels tends to make the cutterbar leave taller stubble, and can make the reaction of the automatic header height control system sluggish.

Direction of cut. I'm a fan of cutting soybeans at an angle to their rows. Drilled beans feed into platforms great; 15-inch row beans feed okay with the row; 30-inch row beans definitely feed better when harvested at an angle to the row. It doesn't take much of an angle to improve feeding. Too much of an angle can make the combine wallow over rows or sprayer wheel tracks and cause the auto header height control to over-react. Experiment to find the best angle to cut by slowly turning off the row and increasing the angle of cut---things will suddenly start flowing better when the angle is best. The downside is that if you unload on the go into a grain cart, your cart driver can't follow a row to space himself away from the end of the header--and, ironically, there's something hypnotic about watching the end of that platform that makes cart drivers creep toward the header if they aren't paying attention.

Autosteer. If you have opportunity to operate a combine harvesting soybeans that has autosteer, try it. Being able to watch for rocks without worrying about staying on the "mark" reduces stress immensely. And, you'll be surprised what you'll learn about ground speed, dull sickle sections, reel speed and other mechanical aspects of the bean platform if you have time to study how they all work together--or not. 

Make Your Soybean Platform Smile

Jul 22, 2012

 Everybody wants their soybean fields to look like pool tables after they finish harvesting them. There are two components to leaving soybean fields looking like pool tables

The sickle has to be near-new condition. Most folks do a good job replacing sickle sections as needed. Don't forget to check the wear surfaces of the knife guards. Even a brand new sickle can't do its best job if the knife guards have rounded edges. 

The second factor controlling "quality of cut" from bean platforms is the ability of the cutterbar to follow the ground. With a platform raised, a flex-type cutterbar should "smile" when observed from the front--the center should droop several inches below the ends. A cutterbar that is straight, or that has a crooked smile, won't accurately follow the ground and will leave beans in the field. If the cutterbar is smiling nicely, it's good to check for easy flexing of the entire cutterbar.  With the safety stop on the feederhouse lift cylinders in place, put your shoulder against a skid shoe under the middle of the cutterbar and give a sharp upward shove. The cutterbar should flex upward, and on 25- to 40-foot wide platforms, a small "wave" should move toward the ends of the cutterbar.

There are dozens of causes for an impaired "smile" or stiff cutterbars. It could be as simple as dirt and debris accumulated on top of the skid shoes, that prevents the cutterbar from flexing. Or it could be as complicated and expensive as bent support arms or push links that connect the cutterbar to the platform frame. Bent arms or links are annoying because a bend of as little as 1/4-inch can make a big difference in how well a cutterbar "floats." The only way to truly tell if an arm or link is the cause of a crooked smile is to replace it. Arms and links are expensive to buy, and replacing them from underneath a platform is a dirty, often annoying job, but if you're looking for a pool table finish in all your soybean fields this fall, it's going to take time and money this summer.

But...with soybean prices skyrocketing to the point where a 100 soybeans are worth a penny (180,000 soybeans per bushel, and soybeans worth $18/bushel), it doesn't take long for a bushel or two of loss at the platform to add up to serious money. Time spent prepping soybean harvesting platforms this summer will be well worth the effort this fall.

Annual Critter-In-The-Combine Alert

Jul 18, 2012

 Combines are starting to come out of storage in preparation for whatever harvest we manage to salvage this year. And as combines come out of storage, dealerships across the country are experiencing their annual bonus to their budgets as farmers pay for expensive repairs due to critters getting caught in the machinery.

I spent several days last week replacing the radiator, intercooler, cooling fan and other components in a combine. The bill gagged the farmer nearly as much as the dismembered raccoon did. The sad thing is, the farmer took the recommended steps before he got the machine out of the shed--he banged on the sidesheets, made as much noise as possible, and did everything possible to scare critters out of the machine before he started it up. 

But a yearling 'coon decided it was safer to hunker down in the radiator shroud, between the radiator and the cooling fan--until the engine started to crank over. Its futile attempt to dive through the blades of the fan was fatal not only to itself, but to a lot of expensive components in the engine compartment.

At the dealership our grizzled veteran mechanics always bang on a combine, honk the horn, "bump" over the engine once or twice, and do everything possible to chase critters out of combines that have been sitting overnight in our shed or on our lot. After we start the engine we are careful when engaging the separator to "bump" it into motion just a little bit, to encourage any passengers to exit before we fully engage the separator or feederhouse. And--once it's time to fully engage the machine, we go to "full throttle" as soon as possible, so that "clogs" get fully shredded and distributed rather than merely wound around shafts, gears and augers.

It's inevitable that some stubborn critter will stay in a machine somewhere in your county or region and create messy havoc. It's just part of farm life. The only question is whether it will be your machine or somebody else's.

An Impulse Buy Pays Off

Jul 14, 2012

 I enjoy the moments when a specialty tool, especially a low-cost speciality tool purchased on impulse, is exactly the right tool at the right time. I had one of those moments this week.

We've all wrestled with removing radiator hoses and heater hoses from their metal fittings. The inside of the hose sort of glues itself to the metal bung or fitting. In the past I've used my fingertips or a small screwdriver to break the bond so I could pry the hose off. It's a small part of removing an engine or working on a radiator, but it's an annoying part because those hoses always seem to be in places that require me to stand on my head to reach them.

This time the hoses came off easily because I had a hose removal tool. It looks like 8-inch-long screwdriver with a 2-inch, 90-degree bend at the tip. I easily stuck the angled, pointed end between the hose and the fitting, then worked that angled tip around the metal bung. I could hear and feel the rubber hose popping loose. Once I had broken the rubber-to-metal "glue," it was easy to wiggle the hose free.

I paid $15 for that hose removal tool. It's not a tool I use every day. When I use it, it saves me perhaps 3 minutes---a quick-poke-and-pry, compared to the old wiggle-and-pull-and-mutter-under-my-breath wrestling contest. But it makes easier an annoying part of engine and radiator disassembly.

It may sound dumb to spend money for a special tool just to remove radiator and heater hoses, but when you're standing on your head in an engine compartment, trying to pry loose a radiator hose on a steamy July day---dumb tools that make a job easier suddenly become "smart."

Your Parts Person Will Love You

Jul 08, 2012

 Does the person behind the parts counter at your local dealership smile when you walk through the door, or do they always seem to be mysteriously disappearing into the back room as you approach the counter? 

The best way to be greeted with a smile is to know exactly what part you need before you go to the dealership. Right down to the part number. The best way to know the exact part number is to have your own parts book for the machine under repair. Some parts books for simple machines are $30 to $50. A multi-volume parts book for a late-model combine or tractor could cost more than $500. But it can save lot of time and frustration to look up a part number and call a dealership to see if they have the part before making the drive. 

A "free" alternative to buying printed parts books is to look up parts on the internet. Most manufacturers have on their website some way for customers to access some sort of parts breakdown for many of the machines they support. I often use web-based parts "books" when working on shortline components on machines--planter seed meters, automatic header height control systems on combines, etc. Many shortline manufacturers actually RECOMMEND using online parts catalogs rather than messing with printed publications.

It can be frustrating to shuffle through the pages of a thousand-page parts book in search of a single little part. It can be annoying to click through fuzzy parts pages posted on the internet. But that's what your parts person does every working day, all day long, and why you become his or her best friend when you walk into the dealership with the part already looked up, with the correct part number in hand.

If you really want to see a happy parts person, call ahead and check to see if they have the part on hand. Nothing makes a parts person happier than to have a part sitting on the counter when the customer walks through the door. 

Random Thoughts from a Vacationing Mind

Jul 03, 2012

We just returned from a vacation across northeast Iowa, Wisconsin and a bit of southeast Minnesota. My mind wanders, sometimes to strange places, while I'm driving:

-If you doubt the existence of zombies, aka "the living dead," visit an interstate truck stop after midnight.

-Muscle shirts, as worn by 99.6 percent of the middle-aged men shuffling around tourist traps with their families, are grossly misnamed. 

-In motels, children whose parents have farmer's tans are better behaved than children of parents who glow with tanning bed tans.

-"Continental breakfast" means "breakfast of stale rolls."

-It's best to never see the people who stayed in your motel room the night before you.

-Old farmers drive slow and rarely signal when making left turns.   

-Most tourists who wear clothing designed to show off their tattoos shouldn't wear clothing that shows off their tattoos.

-The only thing more sad than a run-down, abandoned barn is a run-down, abandoned rural church.

Never make eye contact with street performers, panhandlers, or people sitting alone in motel lobbies.

-If you need to kill time in a small farming town, tell a local retired farmer that the crops "look good around here."

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