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Downside of using aged equipment

Jun 30, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

Mowing a field of hay brings its share of hiccups, and this season is no exception.

It's the season for one our area's most enticing aromas: the slightly metallic scent of freshly mown hay. The first cutting is taking place in earnest, in spite of the drought.

When you rely on older equipment to operate a small farm, another aroma arises in the summer months and much too often permeates your hands, clothes and shoes. This less-than-aromatic-scent comes from the numerous diesel spills you encounter as you try to keep aging equipment rolling.

These moments come often with my antiquated tractors, windrower and bale wagon.

Last week my son Brian and I began to tackle the first cutting of our hay field.

I knew something was bound to be amiss when every piece of equipment started on the first try after its annual winter hibernation.

The 1978 Hesston 6600 windrower started within seconds of reconnecting the battery. The 1966 International 706 is always a question mark and a dreaded piece of equipment for many of the mechanics in the area. This time it was different, she started right up with just a single shot of ether and a 10-second crank. The smoke that usually pours from her stack abated quickly as well, and even the hydraulics and PTO worked perfectly on the first try.

The old girl has had it rough since the incident in 2005 when a wayward drunk tried to steal her and instead started a neighboring 806, which proceeded to run over my baler and snap the PTO shaft off the 706 in the process.

It took four separate trips to various mechanics over the next three years to get the old tractor working normally again.

Last week the process of moving our equipment a couple of miles to the first of the hay fields began with me driving the Hesston 6600 behind our house to repair a few broken knives and a couple of guards. This too went smoothly -- not even a trip to the house for first aid after cutting a finger this time.

The left drive tire had a slow leak that required filling once a year for the last 10 (yes, it was a very slow leak). Inexplicably, the tire was fully inflated this time. It was yet another warning sign I should have noticed.

The transition from field to road gear was smooth and the two-mile trip looked to take only about 10 minutes. But assumptions are rarely accurate, and the sudden lurch to the left on the narrowest portion of Cooper Road indicated there was something wrong.

It felt like a rear tire had blown out or fallen off, but the culprit proved to be the left drive tire.

My dad replaced that tire soon after he purchased the Hesston from John Finch in 1983, and the tread was still in excellent shape after a quarter-century of sitting in the year-round sunshine.

The sidewalls always give out first in an agricultural tire, and the chunk I found flapping on the side of the tire proved the point. I forced the lame machine onto the narrow shoulder and called my wife to pick me up.

Sue arrived in a few minutes, and a quick gathering of jacks, wrenches and planks had me back at the side of the road in about 10 minutes.

You would think people would notice a multi-ton piece of bright red equipment that is 14 feet wide, 10 feet high and 20 feet long, but they don't. I feared the sudden increase in evening traffic that occurs on the west end of Cooper Road would prove disastrous so I quickly began the repair.

A handyman jack can lift a lot of weight if you put enough pressure on the handle. I bounced my 220 pounds on the end of the jack, and it didn't lift. A 3-foot extension or "cheater" pipe was the answer, and after that was in place, the machine grudgingly lifted off the ground. A bottle jack and a jack stand stabilized it, and I was able to start removing the tire.

The eight lug nuts came off easily. The tire didn't exactly roll because one side was flattened, but I was able to get it to the edge of the pickup bed.

These tires aren't light. With the tire and rim attached, it weighed just a bit under 300 pounds. I tried leaning the tire on the tailgate, lifting the opposite side, and then sliding it into to the bed, but the anti-slip bed liner worked to perfection, and all I did was drop the tire after each try.

With the temp a cool 95 degrees and no help in sight, it was a dilemma.

In the bed of the truck was my 7-foot tamping bar. I often refer to it as an "idiot stick" because that was what the foreman on one of my summer jobs called it each time he ordered me to dance with it to chip rock and dig holes.

I slipped the pointed end inside the opening of the rim, put it on the tailgate and lifted. The tire came up easily, slid down the bar and fell neatly into the truck.

I've always admired Archimedes.

For a mere $700, I had a new tire in about an hour and reversed the process. I drove the Hesston the final 400 yards to the field and cut 10 acres to make sure it worked. Brian finished the field the next afternoon.

Another summer's fun in God's Country.

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