Friday, June 12, 2009


Harvest means machinery. Yours truly is a gearhead. The main machines of harvest are the combines. The first machine I ever ran was a John Deere model 55. It had a cab like this one, and a fourteen foot header. Harvest technology has run away from these old relics - the trucks and grain carts of today have sideboards and hoppers much taller than the unloading auger can clear. It can't even dump it's grain unless it is accompanied by an appropriately aged truck. I can remember a farmer hiring my old boss, a custom harvester, to help him finish his quarter of wheat. He had an old A model Gleaner, and we had four Gleaner N7s. His poor little combine was just in the way.

This is a Gleaner L2. I spent a lot of time in the L series. They were light years beyond the older combines. Older machines had a transmission with a variable speed that allowed the combine to speed up and slow down in a range. It was controlled with a long lever. The header height was controlled with a long lever. There was a lever for kicking the unloading auger into gear. There were also levers for kicking the separator and the header into gear. That was pretty much it.

The Ls had a hydrostat with a transmission. You could vary the speed from full speed forward to stop to reverse without clutching. The lever was a T handle on a panel at the end of the seat's arm rest. The side of the T held the rocker switch to control the header height. The panel held a host of rocker switches that controlled all the functions that used to require levers. The unloading auger would fold and unfold. The header reel height could be changed, and the reel speed could be altered. The ergonomics were great. The cab was sealed well, and it was quiet compared to the bare steel of the older machines. The A/C actually worked well. A radio could actually be heard over the noise that the cab didn't damp out. Since your butt was directly over the separator cylinder, every change in the load (like feeding a weed through the header) could be felt and heard, so isolation wasn't the greatest. Ls were hell for fast in road gear, often approaching 25mph or so. That is fast and almost dangerous for a large machine. That has been a characteristic of Silver Seeders for some time, though. Most L series cutting wheat had headers ranging from twenty to twenty four feet wide.


Then, "rotary" combines started to become all the rage. "Conventional" combines had the separator cylinder placed in the feeder housing holding the header - so the cut wheat plant was forced into the cylinder after it was gathered in the header and forced through the feeder. The material only was processed once. A rotary combine has a much larger cylinder in the body of the combine underneath the grain bin, and the material is "swirled" around the cylinder several times before going on to be processed by the raddles. It's a more efficient and effective design. I spent some time in the seat of Gleaner's N7 model, but this clip shows the smaller N6 at speed. They could really roll through the grain - cutting at two to three mph faster than a conventional with a larger header - usually thirty feet wide. Running an N series was the combine world's equivalent to driving a sports car. The cab was lower. The thing just ran fast. The short wheelbase made it handle very quickly - no ponderous turns in these babies! The controls were the same as the Ls - very handy and comfortable. The cylinder, while larger, was quieter. It was a mere distant rumble compared to the immediacy of the conventional machines.


Just to show this post isn't an ad for Gleaners - check out the John Deere machines shown here. Heh. Typical - the first combine peels off to dump and unloads in the grain cart dumping on a truck. Most crews don't have enough grain carts to keep up with their combines - normally the combines dump "on the go." The grain cart pulled by a tractor goes into the field and pulls beside the combine as it's cutting, and the combine unloads on the cart without interruption. Then, when the cart is filled, the operator unloads on a truck. This keeps the combines in the field cutting rather than pulling out and dumping. As a rule, three combines and a grain cart can cut what four combines by themselves can in a day.

You'll notice the headers are longer on one side than the other. They are asymmetrical because the headers have gotten wider than the unloading augers can reach without breaking. They are using "draper" headers, which are slightly different than a regular small grain header.

Here you can see a draper header - they are slightly flexible and require a support wheel. Instead of an auger with flighting, a belt brings the wheat from the outer edges to the feeder housing. This one and the ones in the video are probably 36' wide - but you can get them to over forty feet depending on the manufacturer.


Here are some R72s with "stripper" headers. Instead of cutting the wheat stalk and forcing all that material through the combine, these babies strip the wheat head from the stalk, making the load on the combines processing abilities much easier. In a way, it's similar to a corn head - which strip the cob from the corn plant without cutting the stalk. Using a stripper head has the advantage of leaving the wheat stalk mostly unmolested for baling later. In this clip, they are actually cutting barley. Unlike draper headers, which have many manufacturers, stripper headers are made by Shelborne Reynolds. I've never run a draper or stripper equipped combine - yet.


Just a quick clip of a fast combine! It's equipped with a draper header as well. Just as a quick note, combines can and do "slug" - where they basically choke on too much material. Driving fast and looking serious doesn't give the operator much time to slow things down if things go south. Most machines have reverse drives on the feeder housing so some of the material can be kicked out the front. Some have a lower gear setting on the cylinder, so it can clear the clog. Others can open up the concaves to help relieve the load. Sometimes, none of these things work, and the material has to be dug out by hand. Hand meaning pry bars, drills and whatever else works. In a hot machine on a hot day. You really don't want to slug a combine.


This shows the proper way to get everything started and rolling on a combine. The throttle is bumped up off idle just a bit - starting the separator first. Generally the separator will kill the motor at idle. There is a switch that engages an electric clutch. The header is kicked in next. It has to be done in two operations because starting the whole machine would be pretty hard on clutches otherwise.


This one's for tb - my old custom harvesting and trucking buddy. This video is impossible. Combines don't get stuck, much less in Oklahoma. Snork! tb's Dad pulled the axle off a stuck machine in the past. There is no place in the front to pull or be pulled, so the combines have to be put rear to rear for this operation. Tow ropes are a real plus, because they absorb a lot of shock. The pulling combine generally has to take a run to dislodge the pulled machine, and chains usually can't take the strain. I happen to know tb still has his custom made tow rope - they are made from twisted strands of smaller ropes and protected by a custom sewn canvas cover.


Finally, the last video. This one illustrates a pet peeve of mine. I'm not sure exactly what this machine is - I'm pretty sure it's a smaller variant of the L. Probably an F or M model. At any rate, remember when I talked about how the reel speed could be changed? This is a great illustration of failure. The operator has the reel speed set far too slow. I used to train kids by telling them to imagine the reel being able to unhook from the header and keep going. It should just be able to walk away from the combine while cutting. The reel bats have to shove the wheat over the cutting bar and into the header auger. This isn't happening here. The bats are shoving the wheat away from the cutter. One indicator is "shagging." See how the cut wheat stalks look so shaggy? The cutting bar was unable to make a clean cut. It makes the job look sloppy and wheat grains are knocked from the heads to the ground rather than into the header. This guy has been running around the whole field with his reel speed set way too low. On the bright side, he'll have a hell of a "volunteer" wheat crop next fall! That is the term for the wheat that sprouts from the grain missed by the combines.

I hope I haven't bored you all to tears with all the videos. I thought they were all kinda cool, but I'm kinda funny that way, farm geek and gearhead that I am.


Frank W. James said...

Of course I have to be a smartass and ask how many of the 'green' ones catch fire out your way?

We lose 1 or 2 every fall back here.

As for the Gleaners, they are a fun machine to run. I see they now have an 'axiel' A66. Wonder how that one will work?

All The Best,
Frank W. James

threecollie said...

We have an old Gleaner K, which as it happens once had a fire...which they put out before it did any harm.

drjim said...

Not boring at all! Some of us "city folk" really appreciate what you guys do for us, but then I'm a transplant from the corn fields of Illinois. Most people don't have a clue where their food comes from, or how much hard work it takes to bring it to them. Some of us do, and we thank you.
Hope your harvest is bountiful!

Lisa Paul said...

Fabulous post. To gearheads, like my husband, there's nothing better than big machines. We're currently buying used equipment for our little farm. First by economic necessity, but quickly discovered the joy of the old stuff. It's as fun to tune, tweak and fix as an old hot rod. Now maybe we should customize it with flames...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Even when we disagree, I always enjoy and appreciate the sharp intelligence and quick wit you bring to all your comments.

jed said...

Well, being descended from farmers, I can appreciate posts such as this. Especially the ingenuity and engineering that go into these machines. Way better than throwing your harvest on the ground and threshing it with a stick (BTW, this is the origin of the nunchaku.)

Didn't spend much time on the farm, but did learn to drive the Ford tractor -- couldn't tell you whether it was an 8N, 861, or what. Wasn't a big machine. Drove it bit, I don't know remember doing what, probably just pulling a wagon (hopper?), during one harvest. That farm was my uncle's, inherited from Grandpa. Mostly dairy, and he leased part of the fields out, so harvest wasn't a big operation.

Anyways, per my usual, I followed a few "related" links on YouTube -- no chicks in the bathtub this time. I'm sure somebody makes 'em bigger, but I'm guessing the Case 9120 with tracks is getting into the Tim Taylor realm of combine harvesters.

jed said...

Followup: Combine Harvester -- musical number.

Uh, sorry for any resulting ear worms.

Told'ja you're just inspiring!

Jeffro said...

Frank: they all catch on fire - I've seen green, red and silver as burned out hulks all over the place. I think we've discussed my old boss's problems with the Deutz equipped Silver Seeders...

threecollie: I'd bet I could jump right in that hot rod and make 'er go!

drjim: Now you've done it, I'm blushing.

Lisa: Thanks for stopping by. Your strategy for equipment is what I grew up around. The other day, we hauled some tanks to a farm that leased everything on a yearly contract. So every year, they got new equipment. I'd like to try that out. ;)

jed: I didn't know about the nun chucks' origin. I get a charge out of how my You Tube posts send you on a tangent, because you report back. The tracks on the Case-IH are available as a kit for all kinds of farm equipment that doesn't normally have tracks. I've even seen some rodded out four wheel drive pickups equipped with them. Lifted, of course. Heh.

And just as an aside, I spent quite a bit of time in the old 1480 and 1680 Cases and actually came to prefer them over the Silver Seeders. Not because they were more fun to run - but when it came time to work on one it was such a simple design. John Deeres used to be the worst - have a chain break and have to pull three belts, two chains and five guards off to get to it. All the brands have improved greatly in that arena in the past thirty or forty years.

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