Running older equipment requires patience

Look beyond the paint. Ugly looking equipment can sometimes be a good buy.

That was one of my conclusions while cleaning up and putting away equipment for the winter after a harvest that seemed to go on forever.

I have some long-serving pieces of equipment with amazing reliability, and others that have been money pits.

Don’t get me wrong. My mechanical skills are limited, but I do have quite a bit of experience in trying to keep older, and in some cases antiquated, equipment running.

As for the general appearance observation, it’s no secret that some makes and models of equipment had poor paint jobs coming out of the factory.

Different panels may have matched in colour when new, but they faded at different rates over time. This is magnified on any piece of equipment that has spent its life sitting outside.

Major equipment that has been “shedded” will almost always sell for more money, but it can be instructive to look beyond the paint at the wear part.

Repairs are inevitable when running older equipment. I’ve learned the hard way that what appears to be a major problem can sometimes have a simple solution.

Take for example a mid-sized front-wheel assist tractor from the late 1990s. It had a perpetual heating problem that baffled many mechanics for years.

Fan belts were kept snapping tight and replaced with alarming regularity. The fan belt pulleys were replaced at considerable expense. It wasn’t the thermostat. The radiator was eventually re-placed and that didn’t solve the problem either.

Finally one day, we made little clips and hooked the fan solid to the drive pulley. Problem solved. The fan is supposed to stop free-wheeling as the motor gets warm, but apparently that wasn’t happening.

A 30-minute fix that cost virtually nothing solved a problem that had vexed the machine for years at considerable cost.

However, I wasn’t so lucky on another much older utility tractor. It stuck in gear and eventually something between the transmission and rear end seemed to jam and the back wheels wouldn’t move.

The dealership for this off-breed didn’t have any mechanics as old as the tractor, and they weren’t excited about tackling the problem.

Local mechanics took a look and advised that the tractor would have to be split and the cost of repairs would likely rival the tractor’s purchase price.

So I sold it to someone who has run that make of tractor for many years. Shortly after winching it onto his flat deck and hauling it home, he called to tell me that tinkering with some shifting fingers had solved the problem. Needless to say, he got the tractor at a bargain price.

Sometimes it’s more feasible with older equipment to treat the symptom than address the root cause.

When the panel display failed to go out on the combine when the key was turned to off, the choices were to spend a lot of money figuring out the electronic problem or just installing a kill switch on the side of the combine near the batteries.

The kill switch solved the issue and provided added safety when the combine was in storage. It’s a good solution for any electrical issue that seems to drain the battery over time.

Whenever I’m frustrated by mechanical problems on my assorted machines, I remind myself that new equipment can also have issues, and those problems are much more likely to require professional help.

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

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