Saturday, June 28, 2008

No Harvest for You Today

Once again the pictures my phone takes are of such high quality. My real camera is in the truck. It rained early this morning, and it rained enough and stayed cool long enough to stop harvest in it's tracks. You can see the water standing in the summer fallow in front of the machines. If it got hot and windy enough, the moisture in the grain would drop enough to cut even with the fields being a bit sticky.

That is a John Deere combine with a blue header - you are not seeing things. It's a stripper header, made by Shelbourne Reynolds.

The average small grain header consists of the platform, the auger, the cutting bar, and the reel. The reel (the windmill looking deallie) brings the grain to the cutting bar and forces it against the auger. After the stalks are clipped by the cutter bar, the auger takes the head and stalk to the center of the platform, where the feeder housing takes the grain inside the combine for threshing. I'm not gonna get into the differences between rotary and conventional machines. The operator sets the cutter bar to clip the greatest amount of heads without making the machine eat a bunch of straw, so adjustments are made as the combine moves through the field. If the crop is heavy, the combine operator slows the machine's ground speed, and if the crop is light, they speed it up. Combines work best when they are under a load.

The advantage of a stripper header is that the heads of wheat are stripped from the stalk without grain loss or shattering, plus not running so much material through the combine. Ground speeds can be increased. Some farmers bale their straw behind a stripper header. The straw has no feed value, but it can be used as bedding and when fed with grains give some roughage in winter feeding operations.

I've always enjoyed running a combine - there are so many things to keep after. Doing the job correctly always gave me great satisfaction. Yep, I'm a gearhead fer sure. I haven't run one with GPS and accurate grain monitors. Back in my day, the grain monitors worked but only after fiddling with them endlessly. Grain monitors tell you how much the machine is "throwing over." The traditional way to test is to get behind the machine after it makes a cutting pass, mark out a square foot, and count the grains on the ground. You should also get behind just the header before the straw is thrown out the rear to check the header loss as well - if the reel is too fast or too slow, it might be beating the grain out of the head before it can fall into the header. Plus, you should check the ground before the combine goes over because there is loss from the weather as well. That is how a savvy operator can determine exactly how much grain the combine is actually losing. Then adjustments can be made - speed up or slow down the threshing cylinder, open or close the concaves a bit, open or close the sieves, and speed up or slow the fan. Believe me, the factory operator's manual comes in dern handy, because they recommend a structured approach to solving the problem, and give the starting settings based on crop conditions.

Then, you have to have the combine running at the right ground speed. Go too fast, and it will plug up, or "slug" it. Go too slow, and it will throw grain over big time. The header must be set at the best height - low enough to get the greatest percentage of grain, but not too high to miss some. Wheat always has some "sucker heads" that are stunted plants with heads that have little grain in them. It's ok to cut over them - it's not worth the load on the combine to eat that much more straw to get a few grains that might be so light they'll blow out the rear of the machine.

The reel has to be set for speed and height as well. Taller wheat requires a higher setting. I always set the reel bats just a tad below the heads, so that when they were cut, the straw and heads flipped into the auger. I always told kids running a combine for the first time to set the reel speed by imagining if the reel would come off the combine and keep on going, it would slightly walk away from the combine. The reel has to run a tiny bit faster than the ground speed. One good thing is that the reel speed automatically speeds up when the operator increases ground speed. If the reel speed is too slow, the cutter bar won't cut cleanly and the stubble is "shagged" and heads will be missed and grain knocked out of the head.

Most of these settings change as the field is traversed. The crop gets thinner and shorter, so the header is dropped and the speed is increased. As the crop gets taller and thicker, well, ya do the opposite.

Then, you also have to dump your load when the bin fills up, which usually means dumping "on the go." A tractor pulling a grain cart, or even a truck will pull up beside you as you cut, varying your ground speed and header height as always, and you have to unfold the auger and dump into the truck or cart. Tractors with dual drive wheels just about hit the header when it's close enough to keep from dumping grain on the ground. So, a sharp eye has to be kept on the cart. Two way radios are very useful in this situation. A grain cart is "worth" as much or more than another combine in the field, because the combine doesn't have to quit cutting, "road" over to the trucks, dump, and "road" back to the uncut crop. The grain cart is used to haul the grain to the trucks.

Now before y'all begin to think this is right up there with rocket science or brain surgery, I'll say that thousands of high school kids do this all summer long each year without (much) incident. Once yer in the groove, it can be done with one eye closed. I should know, I've cut many an acre about half asleep.

Plus, today's machines are a far cry from what I learned on. Dad had a Model 55 John Deere - fourteen foot header and all. It had a cab with no A/C or water cooler, but it had a blower. That was a luxury - the custom harvesters who cut Dad's wheat (he helped with his machine) had Gleaner CIIs with no cabs. The kids who ran them looked like reverse raccoons. They all wore goggles to protect their eyes, and they were sunburned to a crisp every where else. Those old machines didn't have cab controlled reels, or hydrostatic drive. They had variable speeds, which meant you chose a gear that had a minimum speed and a max speed, rather than reverse to full speed ahead available with a hydrostat. No radios, no GPS, no two way communications, no grain monitors, no built in refrigerators and some without power steering.

That little 55 couldn't even cut out the wheel tracks of today's combines, nor was it's unloading auger high enough for the trucks and grain carts we use now. But, in it's day, it was high tech. I always preferred to run Gleaners - their ergonomics and controls were way ahead of everyone else. However, I'd prefer to work on CaseIH combines - their simplicity has kicked all the other's butts for years. To replace a belt or chain on a John Deere generally meant removing other belts and chains to get to the one you wanted, after removing several panels. For years, they had chains and belts running the header - a chain going to a shaft that would transmit it's motion to the end of the header to run the cutter bar and the reel, while CaseIH had hydraulic lines that ran out there to a hydraulic motor that ran the operations. No bearings, chains, belts or pulleys, just metal lines and flex hoses.

But, I haven't really kept up lately, John Deere has a brand new line out that is supposed to be the bee's knees. They may well be. I'd figure I could climb in one and still make it cut wheat at any rate. If I get time this weekend, I may have to go fill in for someone while they eat lunch or supper and run one for a while.

1 comment:

ptg said...

Now that was a really good read.