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October 2010 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.

In The Shop: Sometimes I Get Too Fancy

Oct 27, 2010

 Having a respectable assortment of tools is good, but sometimes I get carried away and forget that fancy tools aren't necessarily better than simple tools.

For example, today I was installing a bearing and seal. I was frustrated and talking to myself because I didn't have a bearing/seal driver the exact size I needed for the job. Then I asked myself, "What did you do before you had a set of fancy (expensive) bearing/seal drivers, dummy?" After a vigorous head-slap, I grabbed a small wooden block, tapped the bearing and seal into place, and vowed to not become so enamored about having the perfect tool that I can't figure out a simple way to get the job done.

With that in mind, here's a short list of "innovative" ways I've got around not having the perfect tool for certain jobs. I'm not bragging, and I'm a little ashamed at some of the crude things I've done, but...

-for small motorcycle and ATV wheel bearings and seals, I've used various half-inch drive sockets as bearing/seal drivers. My 3/4-inch drive socket set is kind of battered because I've used the 2-inch and larger sockets as drivers for larger bearings.

-when I didn't have an ammeter available to check for faulty circuits that were dead-shorting a battery, I systematically pulled all the fuses for the machine, then then installed them one by one to find the shorted circuit. Duh. 

-when I needed a big allen wrench but didn't have the correct size, I used a hex head bolt upside down to fit into the allen-headed bolt, then gripped the bolt's shank with a pair of Vise-Grips to turn my impromptu allen wrench. On occasions when I couldn't find a hex head bolt that had the right size hex head, I ground the flats on a larger hex head bolt until that bolt fit into the allen head I was trying to remove.

-and I, uh, "know" of a mechanic who was in the field, needed a sledge hammer to knock apart a stubborn assembly but didn't have one, so he used a large rock on the end of a fencepost he liberated from a nearby fence to bludgeon things apart. 

Isn't it amazing how creative a person can be when he's tired, hungry, miles from home, and nobody is looking...



In The Shop: Nag, Nag, Nag

Oct 24, 2010

 I don't mean to nag, but...clean your combine before you put it away for the year! I'm always frustrated by the number of combines I see that have faded paint, corroded wiring, cracked belts and other unnecessary damage because they were put away "dirty". A dirty combine can easily eat an extra $500 when it comes time to prep it for harvest next year, compared to a combine cleaned before storage.

At a minimum, open and clean rock traps. Do the same for unloading auger, clean grain elevator and tailing elevator sumps. Use compressed air to blow crop debris off the machine. Aside from "staining" the paint, crop debris attracts rodents, and gnawing rodents can wreak expensive havoc on wiring harnesses. I replace or repair dozens of expensive mouse-gnawed wiring harnesses on various machines before harvest each year. One customer had to replace the entire plastic fuel tank on his combine before this year's harvest because rats gnawed a hole through it.

If you choose to pressure wash a combine before storage, be sure to grease all the zerks and oil all the chains after you wash it. Then run the entire machine long enough to warm the bearings, belts and chains to drive out excess moisture and distribute lubrication. Once the machine is cleaned and tucked into the far corner of the machine shed, distribute moth balls, rat poison, "Mouse-Out" or whatever varmint deterrent you favor. 

And that bag of GummiBears or M & Ms in the armrest console? Take them out now before next summer's heat melts them all over the notebook where you kept notes on yields and crop performance.

In The Shop: Score Another Victory For An Air Hammer

Oct 17, 2010

 I've posted in the past about how air hammers are an often overlooked weapon in the battle to repair equipment quickly. Yesterday offered another example of how the right tool at the right place at the right time is worth its weight in gold.

A big grain cart had sheared the two 5/8-inch bolts that connect the driveshaft for the horizontal unloading auger to the auger itself. The auger had spun on the stub shaft, and I needed to turn the auger on the shaft to find and re-align the shear bolt holes. The fit between the auger and the shaft was far too tight to turn by hand, and I was working inside the auger housing, around, over and in-between the auger flighting. No room for a punch and hammer handle, let alone room to swing a hammer.

Long story short, I fired up the air compressor on my service truck, weaseled my air hammer inside the auger housing and gave the edge of the auger flighting a couple quick bursts. What would have taken an hour or more of two-handed hammering with a hammer and punch surrendered to a couple quick "brraaapps!" with the air hammer.

It all comes down to selecting the right tool for the job.  If you look at a job and think, "That needs one or two good, hard smacks with a sledge hammer," then reach for the sledge hammer. But if you think to yourself, "That's going to take a LOT of pounding," reach for an air hammer. Unless you LIKE tip-tapping for an hour or more in uncomfortable positions with a hammer and punch.


In The Shop: Flammable Raccoon Dung

Oct 08, 2010

 I picked up this bit of "interesting" info from an intranet forum hosted by our dealership's equipment manufacturer, where mechanics exchange tips on fixing equipment and discuss common problems.

According to one mechanic, his dealership has had two combines catch fire so far this fall. In both cases, the cause of the fire was traced to raccoon dung deposited on top of the combines' engines. According to the mechanic, dried raccoon dung behaves like charcoal briquets--slow to start, but hot and long-burning once ignited. 'Coons like to crawl around the engine compartments of combines stored in sheds, and for some reason like to defecate on top of engines. If the dried, flammable dung rests against the exhaust manifold or turbocharger...

So, if you can't keep 'coons out of your combine, at least clean off their deposits before heading to the field. And if you doubt the plausibility of raccoon dung starting combine fires, remember that Native Americans used to collect dried buffalo dung and used it as fuel for their fires.

Remember, you read it here first...

In The Shop: Avoiding Disappointment

Oct 03, 2010

 This blog post falls under the "Duh!" category, but...don't forget to check fire extinguishers on combines and harvest equipment before going to the field.

The "charges" in dry-charged fire extinguishers do not last forever. We have the dry-charged fire extinguishers in our shops checked semi-annually, and many of them need re-charged even though they've never been used. And any fire extinguisher that has been used--even if only a "spurt" or two to put out a small shop fire--must be recharged. 

Some equipment manufacturers offer or factory-install water-charged fire extinquishers on farm equipment, especially hay balers and combines. These large, chromed extinguishers are shipped empty from the manufacturer and must be filled with water then pressurized with air before they're ready to use. They are shipped empty because they will freeze once they're filled with water, if outside temperatures fall below freezing. Owners must either empty water-charged fire extinguishers exposed to freezing temperature, or add antifreeze.

DO NOT USE automotive antifreeze, RV antifreeze or windshield wiper fluid in water-charged fire extinguishers. Those products contain forms of alcohol or flammable fluids as their antifreeze, and could increase any fire to which they are applied.

There are products available through local fire departments or fire department supply retailers that can safely protect water-charged fire extinguishers from freezing. The products cost around $40 per 2 1/2-gallon fire extinguisher. That sounds pricey to fill a fire extinguisher, but is actually pretty cheap compared to the cost of a $200,000 combine.

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