Prairie Belle serves well – even off the Prairies

Nick Parsons has already logged 330 hours on his combine for the 2000-2001 crop year.

The 52-year-old farmer from Farmington, B.C., recently made a 49-day odyssey in his 1980 Massey Ferguson model 860 nicknamed Prairie Belle.

The only modification he made to the machine before his farm aid awareness trek to Ottawa was to remove the cross auger from the grain tank. The tank was then filled within a foot from the top with two tonnes of oats for ballast on slippery roads.

He laid plywood sheets over the oats, on which he placed a 100-gallon slip-tank of diesel, a compressor, a generator, a space heater and his workshop tools.

“You name it, I had it up there.”

Parson’s journey was relatively problem free – not one mechanical breakdown, although he had to replace the tubes in both of his drive tires and put on a spare rear tire.

He didn’t even change oil during the 5,000 kilometre journey, which began at Dawson Creek, B.C., on Feb. 1 and concluded March 20 in Ottawa with a drink and a brief meeting with prime minister Jean ChrŽtien.

“I used three litres of oil during that trip and the engine was running full-bore.”

He used top gear the whole way, dropping down to third on rare occasions when stuck on an incline at a stoplight.

The two variable speed belts held up for the trip. They are the same ones he used for a previous protest trip he took to Victoria and for two harvests in between. The belts are a little worn on the edges, but they’re not slipping.

“Massey dealers say it’s just out of this world that they should still do that.”

Parsons’ top speed for the trip was 27 kilometres an hour, but that was flat out. The average speed was 18 km-h.

Parsons said he wouldn’t want to drive any other combine on a road trip.

“On a John Deere (of the same era) the steering wheel is a foot higher and you’d have been looking through the steering wheel all the time. I couldn’t have put up with that.”

The cab of the combine is set off to the side, so Parsons had a clear view of the header clearance on narrow bridges and curves.

“I wouldn’t have wished to have sat on any other seat. I didn’t get backache once.”

His only complaint was the engine noise that drowned out his radio and the add-on heater that didn’t do much to take the chill off the Ð30 C Saskatchewan nights.

Parsons said farmers provided him with the bulk of the 1,000 gallons of fuel Prairie Belle consumed and he didn’t dip into his reserve diesel until he hit the Canadian Shield where farmers are few and far between.

“I would even have two farmers arguing about who was going to fill the tank.”

He said the 20-year-old combine is no worse for wear after the odyssey. It was trucked back to Grand Prairie, Alta., with freight paid by an association of farm equipment dealers, and then driven to his farm near Dawson Creek.

The only visible sign of the journey is that some couplings on the drive train are slightly worn. But Parsons said Prairie Belle will be ready for action come harvest.

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