Jul 22, 2014
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April 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.

Top Five Planting Errors--Thus Far

Apr 29, 2014

 My field of vision is somewhat narrow and confined to our dealership, but from what I've seen, here are the five most common planting errors thus far this spring:

1. Programming errors of seed monitors, guidance systems, mapping systems---if it's computerized and related to planting, I've seen it mis-programmed this spring. Everything from forgetting to tell the seed monitor it was planting corn (it thought it was still planting beans from last spring) to a planter that thought it was a sprayer due to incorrect programming.

2.Programming errors of seed monitors, guidance systems, mapping systems--did I mention the planter that looked like it was planting backwards on the mapping/guidance display in the cab? Or the tractor that would abruptly make a precise right turn in the middle of a pass...? Yup--programming errors.

3. Programming errors of seed monitors, guidance system, mapping systems...I used to tell customers that, "You can't hurt it," when it comes to pushing buttons on seed monitors and other on-board systems because I was confident that there were enough safety-interlocks, warnings and other built-in features designed to keep users from inadvertently losing programming or damaging the system. I no longer tell that to customers. I am now confident some of my customers could render an anvil inoperable.

4. Overconfidence in seed monitors. Seed monitors merely reflect the information that is fed into them. If ground speed, width of planter, and other variables are inaccurate, then the data displayed by the seed monitor is inaccurate. What matters is what's in the ground, not what the display SAYS is in the ground. Dig, dig, and then dig some more to confirm whether the monitor is telling the truth.

5. Junkyard avoidance. There's no other way to put it, so I apologize if I'm being rude, inconsiderate or insensitive, but...there are some planters out there that are just plain worn out. If you have seed units, marker arms, or entire wings literally falling off the planter as it's moving through the field---or if replacement parts are no longer available through the manufacturer--that's probably a sign it's time to upgrade to a more reliable machine.

 

 

More #@%&*! Screwdriver Tips To Deal WIth

Apr 27, 2014

 All I can figure out is that engineers who decide what type of fasteners to use in equipment are either sadists, or own stock in tool companies. Why else would they keep changing the heads on screws and bolts used to fasten together farm equipment?

I was comfortable with conventional slotted screws, Phillips head screws and Allen head screws. I accepted their downsides. Slotted screws were prone to stripping out the slot. The heads of Phillips-head screws and Allen head screws would take more torque, but once you stripped them out there was nothing left to do but drill and dig out the mangled screw.

Then they started using screws with "hexalobular socket heads," also known as "star drive heads," most commonly called "Torx head " screws. I fretted and mumbled, but eventually bought a set of Torx-head screwdrivers and a Torx-head sockets, and now reluctantly admit they tend to resist stripping-out better than the old-school screw head designs.

But darn it, this week I ran across yet another design in screw heads, a fiendish variation called the Pozidriv, a trademarked design very similar to the good old Phillips-head design. At first glance Pozidriv screws look like Phillips head screws, but on closer examination have tiny indentations, cuts or lines between the cross where you place the tip of the screwdriver. A Phillips head screwdriver will work--sorta--in a Pozidriv screw, but not as well as a Pozidriv-tipped screwdriver. A Pozidriv screwdriver in a Pozidriv screwhead is a pretty tight, precise fit that withstands a lot of torque. Using a Phillips head screwdriver in a Pozidriv screwhead may work, but will likely strip out just about the time you really lean into tightening it.

Bottom line: Yep, I bought a set of Pozidriv tools this week. It's a cheapie set, a screwdriver handle with interchangable tips. But this time I fooled the engineers--this set has screwdriver tips for every imaginable type of screw head. It's got slotted head, Phillips head, Pozidrive, Allen head, Torx head, Robertson, Security, Torq-set, Spanner Head, Double Square, PolyDrive and other screw head designs that I've never seen or heard of.

But just watch--next month all the trade magazines for mechanics will trumpet the introduction of a revolutionary new screw head that won't match up with any existing screwdriver.

Freakin' engineers...

Time To Think About Trading Planters

Apr 23, 2014

 It's hard to wrap your head around it, but if there's ANY chance you want to have a different planter NEXT spring, it's time now to make definite moves in that direction. And if you plan to pull a NEW planter behind your tractor next spring, it would be good to spend the next rainy day getting your name on the list at your local dealership for those apparently hard-to-get new machines.

I'm not a salesman and I don't know all the details on why planters have become such hot commodities that it's necessary to sign paperwork almost a year in advance of delivery. Maybe Machinery Pete will address the issue in a future blog.  But there is a lot of demand for both used and new planters. Production of new planters apparently won't meet demand, so it's not salesman's hype that next winter will be too late to order a new machine from the factory.

Used planters are a different yet similar story. There are a lot of used planters sitting in sheds and on dealership lots. But a fair percentage are high-acre machines that will take a lot of loving attention and cash to prep for planting any serious amount of acres. The others are a hodge-podge of varying row widths, toolbar designs, and other variations that may make them unsuitable for a particular farming operation. For example, if you specifically want a 16-row, 30-inch planter with central fill tanks but without a pneumatic down pressure system but with liquid fertilizer tanks and tubes, it make take some serious shopping to find those options on one machine.

Add in the complications of all the in-cab options that may or may not be on your gotta-have shopping list for your next planter, and it could be a challenge to find what you need if you wait and start looking after New Year's next winter. Yes, it's difficult to start thinking about next year's planting equipment when you're barely started with this year's seeding efforts, but according to those in the know, it's almost too late.

Technological Facts Of Life

Apr 21, 2014

 Here's the deal: when things are working correctly, modern farm machinery is a breeze to operate. Push the right buttons, engage the right systems, and tractors, combines and sprayers literally run themselves. 

But complicated farm machinery doesn't come from the factory that way. Autosteer systems have to be calibrated and coordinated with the machines they operate. Sprayers have to be calibrated and spray monitors have to be programmed. Modern planters have to be "told" what kind of drive system they're using, how many rows there are, when they should start planting and when they should stop planting, and a half dozen other things necessary for the machine's systems to be smart enough to do their jobs.

That sort of high technology has expanded exponentially this planting season. There are monitoring systems that measure and maintain down pressure on planter units, change seed varieties, raise and lower row cleaners--heck, there's probably a sub-program to get your tractor seat to give you a back massage. The downside to all that convenience is that the more complicated something is, the more chances there are that something will break, get out of calibration, work incorrectly or go haywire.

My experience is that if something looks complicated, if it's hard to understand how it works, if it has lots of wires and sensors, then it IS complicated. Complicated things can make farming easier, but complicated things by nature are more prone to problems than simple things. Complicated things take longer to learn to operate, are harder to diagnose, and will probably cost more to fix when they go haywire.

It's really not complicated: those are the simple technological facts of life. 

 

I Waited Too Long To Buy A Tool

Apr 14, 2014

 I have blogged several times about how I bought this or that tool on a whim, didn't use the tool for a year or more, then was glad when that tool saved the day during a difficult repair. The other side of that coin is to have mutlple opportunities to buy a tool without pulling the trigger to buy it, only to run into a situation where the un-purchased tool would have saved time and effort.

Today I was on a service call, trying to couple a roller chain that was just a shade too short to get the master link to fit between the two ends. I was confident that the oily chain would squeeze the grease from between links and become "looser" once it ran for a while, but just couldn't gain enough slack to get the master link to slip into position.

The situation was even more aggravating because I have on multiple occasions turned away from buying "chain link pliers" designed for exactly that situation. The pliers have narrow jaws with special notches that allow the user to grab the rollers on the chain ends and easily draw them together for installation of a master link or half link.

The more I pulled and tugged, the more annoyed I got, because I knew it would have been a done-deal if I had bought those pliers when I had a chance. At one point I muttered about wishing I had a pair of chain pliers, and the farmer who was watching me work on his machine got a funny blank look on his face.

"I think I've got a pair of those that I bought off a traveling bolt and tool salesman one time," he said. He disappeaered and banged around in his toolbox for a few minutes, and re-appeared with a pair of chain pliers. "I've never used them, and almost forgot I had them."

Twenty seconds later the master link was installed, the farmer was returning his now-prized chain pliers to his toolbox, and I was stuffing a note into my shirt pocket to, "BUY CHAIN PLIERS."

How Often To Lube Tined Row Cleaners

Apr 11, 2014

 Last spring I blogged that there were questions about how often to grease the zerks on the hubs of tined row cleaners on planters. The installation instructions that came with aftermarket row cleaners indicated that the person assembling and installing the row cleaners had to make a choice, because the row cleaners were shipped with sealed bearings to be installed in the hubs of the tined wheels. The installer could leave the sealed bearings "as is," and reduce the need for the hubs to be greased, or one of the seals could be flipped off the bearing with a small screwdriver so lubrication could reach the bearing when grease was pumped into the grease zerk of the hub.

The only way to know whether or not the tined row cleaners on a particular planter didn't need greasing or needed frequent greasing was to disassemble one of the hubs and see if the bearing's seal was in place.

This year the same question arose about factory-installed row cleaners. The design is the same as the aftermarket units, and a search of our manufacturer's parts catalog proved that the factory-installed bearings are sealed bearings. The owner's manual said to lube the zerks on the hubs every 50 hours, but...why lube a sealed bearing?

An email dialogue with a tech guy at the manufacturer indicates that the factory-installed sealed bearings don't need to be greased every 50 hours. The new recommendation that hasn't yet been included in the owner's manuals is to grease those hubs every 200 hours, adding just enough grease to each hub till slight resistance is felt. That keeps enough grease in the hub's dust cap to reduce the opportunity for moisture or dust to get past the seal and into the bearing.

I know, I know--that's a lot of concern about a small component on a planter. But I've learned that when two or three farmers ask me the same question in a short period of time, it means there are probably a lot of farmers wondering the same thing. 

I Miss Farm Trucks

Apr 06, 2014

 I grinned to myself last week when I heard a familiar "clunk-BOOM-rattle-rattle" from outside the shop door. It was a long-time customer slamming the door on his farm truck. The sounds were an unmistakable combination of the clunk of the sprung door banging up over the doorsill, the hollow boom of the old, hollow-sounding 1970's door hitting the doorstop, and the rattle-rattle of the fringe of rusted out metal that laces the lower edge of what's left of the door panel.

There aren't many "real" farm trucks left. Most farmers justifiably took advantage of several years of good grain prices and retired those old pickups they'd been nursing for a couple decades. I'd say the majority of farmers in this area now drive pickups less than five years old, with no visible rust, and a towel or blanket on the driver's seat to keep it "nice" for at least a couple years.

That's far different from the traditional farmer's truck that used to pull into our dealership. The driver's seats were upholstered with duct tape, the radio antennas were loops of baling wire, and their dashboards were memories somewhere under years of receipts, scale tickets, and QuarterPounder wrappers. The passenger side of those trucks came in two versions: one version had mud all over the seat from the farm dog that always rode there, and the floorboard was nearly level with the seat due to layers of feed bags, seed bags, extra coats and coveralls, and at least one or two leaky hydraulic hoses. The second version had a "clean" floorboard, but only because gaping holes in the flooring kept debris from accumulating, and provided a self-cleaning waste receptacle for donut wrappers and other wadded-up wrappers from the local convenience store.

I could go on and on about farm trucks---their exhaust systems, or lack there-of; their paint jobs; the wondrous clutter in their beds and toolboxes. I understand that there comes a time when safety and economy require that even the most beloved farm truck be retired, but farming lost something when everybody started driving XLT Deluxe Cab Premium Super Whiz-Bang pickup trucks. 

So I was glad that my customer--who owns a $60,000 pickup decked with every possible accessory the salesman could think of, plus a few the customer added after he got it home--kept "Bertha," his beloved farm truck. Bertha has a special place in his shed, and still helps him check cows on occasion, or make a trip to town, just for old times sake. In his words, "The new truck is nice, but Bertha has personality."

And you know exactly what he means.

Another "Glad I Had It" Tool

Apr 02, 2014

 It's a leftover from the days when I used to race dirt bikes, and had to loosen steel Phillips-head screws from aluminum transmission cases. I only use it maybe twice or three times a year now, but when I need it, I'm glad I've got it.

I'm talking about an impact screwdriver. It''s a sturdy steel cylinder with a cam device inside. You put a screwdriver bit in one end and press the screwdriver bit against a stubborn Phillips-type or slotted screw head, and smack the other end with a hammer. The cam inside the metal handle translates the downward movement of the hammer stroke into circular motion. The downward impact forcing the screwdriver bit into the screw head, combined with the simultaneous rotation of the bit, can magically loosen stubborn, frozen screws.

Impact screwdrivers worked great on motorcycle case screws because they were usually frozen by galvanic corrosion. Once they were broken loose, they usually turned out easily. Impact screwdrivers can remove rusted screws that resist removal until the final thread clears the hole, but it takes patience and a lot of pounding.

A replacement impact screwdriver with a set of Phillips- and slotted-head screwdriver bits would cost me between $25 and $90, depending on how fancy and sturdy of a kit I buy. If I break or lose this tool that I only use once, maybe twice a year, could I justify spending the money to buy another one...?

Yep. I'd probably grumble about it, but those few times I've used my impact screwdriver in recent years have been lifesavers. It's one of those tools that you rarely use, but really need when you need it.

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