Maintaining your most important machines

If the operator isn’t feeling up to snuff, reaction time and judgement is impaired

It’s important to stay alert when working on machinery that could eat you up and spit you out in a fraction of a second.

I was standing beside a combine once and saw the operator’s manual slowly slide off the header and into the feederhouse. I turned my head as quick as I could but the manual was already flying out the back end, in pieces.

Many people who had to quit farming because of an accident are still muttering to themselves, “now why did I do that, I knew better.”

And then there are those who never got the opportunity to do any muttering.

So let’s talk systems maintenance.

First of all, take time to eat.

A farmer told me once that he had a rule that said everyone got an hour for both dinner and supper. He said his workers made fewer mistakes, made better judgment calls and were more productive, even with the machines being off for two hours a day.

The food has to be nourishing. Quick trips to the fast food place for take-out burgers or chicken don’t count. It’s like putting bad fuel into the machine. And if it can’t be nourishing, consider taking food supplements. If you have a big crew, it might be good to have a nutritionist plan the meals for you.

Despite all of the wonderful robotics these days, the best machinery is only as productive as the operator, especially at harvest time.

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You can spend a lot of money to get those last 15 minutes of capacity and efficiency out of your machinery. Ask any dealer who is selling you on it.

To take advantage of your investment, you need to keep those rigs running at their best, and that starts with well trained, well supplied operators. Stock a few healthy snacks in the cab.

It’s also important to get enough sleep.

You might take a certain pride in being able to celebrate all night and still be able to run that big machine the next day. However, you would be surprised how much slower your reactions are the next day.

When sitting on a machine where the difference between life and death is a fraction of a second, you can’t think fast enough to be safe when you haven’t had your sleep. Save the beer for a rainy day.

There are companies in Japan that feed their farm staff breakfasts and have them do a half an hour of stretching exercises. They claim that their productivity goes up so much that it is well worth the extra time.

Maybe it would be a good idea if you started that on your farm. Sound crazy? No crazier than the price of those new machines you are working hard to pay for.

Now that you have run your machines for 10 days straight and you’ve received a little rain, what do you do?

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After doing any machinery maintenance that is necessary, I suggest you take your family and go on a little trip to the park, just to relax for the day. That’s maintenance too.

Let’s also think about safe cooling.

When the body is either too hot or too cold, it can think of little else and is distracted from its other tasks. Heat and cold slow reactions. Some split second decisions become three and a half second decisions.

You can dress for the cool weather in the fall when combining canola. And that new combine you bought has a heated seat, doesn’t it? But what about peas and wheat in August and early September?

It’s hard to dress for hot weather and be safe. You shouldn’t be wearing clothes that are too loose because they get caught in machinery. You need to cover skin to avoid abrasions, and we all wear safe footwear when working, don’t we?

So to keep cool, you start by setting the air conditioning to match the 10 a.m. morning air. By lunch at 1 p.m., the outside temperature has risen to 30 C or more. The cab is pushing ice cold air at your head to keep the space at 20 C.

I know of two men who were sent to the hospital because of the shock of rapidly moving from their ice cold cabs, with their frozen heads, into the noon time heat. One of them didn’t come back.

Divert the air to the sides of the cab and roof. The machinery engineers designed it to cool the whole space. If it isn’t keeping up, see if the system is full of dust. Blow out the system and your cab air filter and if that doesn’t fix it, call the dealer or shop and get it checked.

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So stay cool to be safe, but not cold. Keep coolers well stocked with water.

INSIDE MACHINES

Maintaining your most important machines