It Happens Every Summer...
Aug 08, 2010
I've done it, other mechanics have done it, and every summer at least one customer does it: wrap a 'coon, 'possum, cat or other critter around the innards of a combine.
For various reasons combines are popular spots for wildlife and small domestic animals to rest or nest. Maybe it's because combines have lots of crop debris that makes good nesting material. Maybe it's because they're parked in the back corners of machine sheds where nobody bothers them for months at a time. Maybe it's because farm dogs and other larger predators can't easily get inside combines. Whatever the reason, critters like to set up housekeeping deep inside those big machines.
And then a farmer or mechanic decides it's time to get the combine out and prep it for harvest. We start up the engine and ease it out of storage. Most of the time animals hiding inside the combine bolt for safety at the sound and vibrations of somebody climbing the ladder to the cab. But there's always one animal--or a nest of young animals--that "freezes" in fear and stays hidden deep within the machine.
So, when the mechanic or farmer engages the separator...much ugliness occurs. Last week a co-worker spent the better part of a day untangling a big raccoon from the horizontal unloading auger on a combine. Last year another co-worker spent two days removing a 'coon from the engine fan shroud of a combine and then replacing the shroud, fan blades, etc. etc. that were damaged.
I've learned to be very cautious when bringing combines out of storage. If possible I make lots of noise when approaching the machine. I'll bang on the sides of the separator if there are animal tracks in the dust on the machine. I start it and ease it out of doors without engaging the separator. If possible, I'll shut if off and let it sit for a half hour or more. When I finally have to engage the separator, I try to gently "bump" the separator into motion once or twice--just enough to make everything move, but not enough to actually rotate and trap any critters lurking within. After two or three "bumps" to give any animals time to escape, I grit my teeth, engage the separator and hit "full throttle." If there's anything still inside, I want it ripped, torn, shredded and expelled, rather than wrapped and clogged.
This isn't the most pleasant topic to discuss, but...discussing it is better than cleaning up the results of blithely running a combine fresh out of storage.