Lessons learned from recent equipment hiccups

The maple pea harvest was going nicely with a couple combines rumbling along. Then I spotted a smoke trail from charred chaff on the ground across the field. The other combine must have a fire issue. Fortunately, the slight wind was blowing away from the unharvested crop and the smouldering was quickly ended with a fire extinguisher. But what about the combine?

Of course, this was a field with limited cellphone coverage, but eventually the combine operator was alerted. There was fire in chaff on top of the chopper that was easily extinguished, but burning chaff on top of the batteries along the side of the combine had damaged one badly.

Even more frightening, a few embers had managed to get inside the combine, leading to smouldering dust inside the machine. Opening the side panels allowed us to paw dust out and quench the problem.

Amazingly, the burned batteries still had power and we were able to continue combining. However, we couldn’t explain the source of the fire until a couple days later when the turbocharger started smoking. It was packed with fine pea dust. That’s what probably caused the multiple fire spots a couple days earlier.

The lesson: stay vigilant to fire threats and keep your combines as clean as possible. Pea dust is particularly prone to fires, and days with very little wind allow the dust to collect. Always have fire extinguishers that are charged.

About a week later, more problems ensued while combining barley in very hilly ground.

Easing down a particularly steep knoll, the combine header dislodged from the front of the machine. Before addressing that problem, the grain truck was dispatched to dump the combine.

The grain truck navigated the steep slope and parked under the unloading auger. Unfortunately, the steep angle starved the engine of fuel and it stalled and wouldn’t start.

The header issue was relatively easy to address. One hold-down clamp had to be repaired. As this is being written, the grain truck is still stranded in the field. The driver did manage to let it roll down the hill to a more level spot before the air pressure dropped and the air brakes kicked in.

However, attempts to bleed the fuel system and restart the engine have so far been unsuccessful. It doesn’t help that the batteries are weak and need to be boosted to provide any amount of cranking power. We need a new set of batteries and then more attempts at getting the diesel flow properly primed.

The lesson: be careful that one problem doesn’t lead to others.

Anyone driving past my farm in the last couple of days will have noticed one combine going back and forth in the field with its unloading auger extended. It’s an electrical problem and I hate electrical issues.

Interestingly, if I reverse the wires on the solenoids that control the hydraulic flow, the auger will retract when you press the extend switch. I presume it’s a problem either in the switch or somewhere along the long wire to the solenoids.

Solving this sort of problem is not my forte, so I’ll be calling in some help. Hopefully, we can solve the grain truck fuel issue ourselves, and that we’ll have a relatively trouble-free run of harvest for a while.

The lesson: it isn’t a question of whether something will malfunction; it’s only a question of when.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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