Combine puts the cart behind the horse

Indiana farmer seeks manufacturer for Tribine | 1,000 bushel hopper means no waiting and no tracking

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Tribine combine has a 1,000 bushel hopper and yet treads lightly in the field, even when fully loaded with wet grain.

It can also empty in two minutes.

Indiana farmer Ben Dillon believes his Tribine is what the future of threshing looks like.

“The first job I had when I came back to the farm was to run a grain cart at harvest,” said the former economist, who brought his 35 foot long combine and seed cart system to the Ag Connect farm technology show in Kansas City last week.

“I sat there and watched under-utilized assets track up a field.”

The big, orange machine attracted some of the largest crowds at the show. Farmers reacted positively to Dillon’s explanation that it could yield a four fold return on investment in the life of the machine.

The Tribine removes a Gleaner S77, Class 7 combine from its rear wheels and attaches a custom designed grain cart with a driven, steered rear axle that tracks in the same path as the threshing unit.

“Typically what happens on most farms is the cart races back and forth trying to keep the combines empty enough to keep going,” he said.

“Between that and straight trucks and semi-trailers being tracked through a field, there is no end of damage to the soil.… And it’s a waste of fuel and labour.”

Dillon said the combine can run for up to 45 minutes without unloading in a good crop of small cereals.

“In heavy corn, right now we only get about 15 minutes and we’re full and sitting,” he said.

“For the cost of a combine and a grain cart, you can eliminate the expense of a grain cart, tractor and driver. And the damage you do to your fields is harder to quantify, but every farmer knows what he sees out there when it comes to wheel tracks.”

Randy Raper, a soil scientist at Oklahoma State University, agreed.

“We’ve studied this and studied this. By the time you get through harvest, more than 80 percent of most farm fields have seen a set of tires. And the load on those tires wasn’t little,” Raper said.

“And harvest can do the most damage. Yield losses can be substantial.”

The machine Dillon brought to Ag Connect is his fourth prototype.

“We haven’t had a major change in the basic technology in harvesting equipment in 40 years,” he said.

“Not that the self propelled combine wasn’t a good idea, but it wasn’t the answer.”

Thomas Herlizius of Dresden University agreed the self propelled combine technology is due for a change.

“There is a life cycle for agricultural technologies. Major changes come in and revolutionize practices and equipment. Harvesting is due really soon. Combines at best operate at 50 percent efficiency — a big investment to have operate at a diminished capacity,” said the German engineer with 15 years of machinery design experience at John Deere.

“You have to evaluate what your goals are and make the processes match them.”

Dillon’s previous machines included versions that married a grain cart to a combine and put the cart and combine on tracks. That machine ran on his farm near Logansport, Indiana, for four seasons.

The articulated machine relies on four, four-inch hydraulic rams to make the Tribine track and turn. The unit pivots at the back of the combine and at the rear axle, allowing it to steer traditionally or crab over for extremely tight turns.

“We don’t change anything about the grain processing system. That technology wasn’t broken,” he said.

“We take the grain off at the clean grain and send it into the cart.”

The full-time four-wheel drive cart rests on a second Gleaner S77 front axle with beefier hubs to handle the extra weight of the grain. The drive is load sensing and shares the work symmetrically.

The 22 inch unload auger will empty the machine in two minutes. The auger, the rear axle, twin sets of steering cylinders, the four-speed hydrostatic transmission and straw spreaders are all driven hydraulically.

“I didn’t want to put all that onto the existing pump, so we added pumps for each major role,” Dillon said.

An additional oil cooler was also installed to ensure the machine’s hydraulics keep their cool.

The machine also features giant single terra tires.

“We reduced the pressure the machine puts on the soil compared to a conventional combine, and reduced the tracking in the field,” he said.

The big singles leave the machine 12 feet wide, narrower than many combines sporting duals.

Changes to the combine’s controls and cab were minimal. Four video cameras mean the operator can see from the end of the unload auger, into the grain tank and along each side of the Tribine.

An electronic unloading-assist unit measures the distance to the truck for unloading and reports it to the operator, ensuring the truck position is correct.

“If you don’t get the unloading right, you better have a bunch of folks armed with scoop shovels because it puts a lot of grain out the end of that auger pretty fast,” Dillon said.

The Class 7, transverse rotary combine remains powered by a 370 horsepower Agco Power 84 AWI engine, but it is moved to the front of combine, where the stock 390 bushel combine hopper was previously located.

“When we take it into production, I expect we might put a bigger engine in it, maybe about 500 h.p., but it really doesn’t need it except for maybe some tough conditions or hilly land where you might be unloading on the go,” he said.

One of the remaining issues for the Tribine is straw chopping and spreading.

The machine uses spreaders mounted more vertically than in a combine and are located between the cart and the threshing unit.

“In production, we can improve on that, but other than that, it is a highly effective system,” he said.

Dillon and his sons don’t plan to produce the machine. Instead, they hope to attract partners who will build the unit.

“I’m just a farmer. Building these for the market is the job of a machinery company,” he said.

Will Thomas, a custom harvester from Texas, was impressed with what he saw.

“With a few of these, we would still be using grain carts, but we’d use fewer and we could take all the grain at the ends of the fields. You don’t know how much that would save us in wear and tear, money and men,” he said.

“I like that they didn’t mess with the grain processor. When folks try to rethink these things, it’s often some part of that that gets changed and that is the part of a combine that works right. It’s grain handing once it’s combined that’s inefficient.”

For more information, visit or call Dillon at 574-859-3344.

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