Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Getting the Combine Ready For Harvest

Even though it's only rained about 4 inches since I planted the wheat, it looks like there's actually going to be something to harvest in a few weeks, (wheat is an amazingly tough crop) so it's time to get the combine ready for harvest.

In the past, I've had epic battles trying to get the combine started after it's been sitting for a year, but I've learned the hard way that if I ever want to get it started again, one of the things I need to do is to fill it up with diesel right after harvest.  It still doesn't make sense to me, but if the tank isn't almost full, it can be a pain to get it started (it has something to do with the fuel pump getting enough fuel up to the engine, or because my combine is a worn-out temperamental cuss of a machine).

I've also learned that it's important to take the battery out after harvest and put it on a battery charger before I re-install it.  It doesn't matter if every meter I have says that the battery is still charged, if I don't put it on a battery charger the combine refuses to start, so I charge the battery to keep that temperamental cuss of a machine happy. 

The view from one of my business offices

Even when I fill up the fuel tank and have the battery charged it can be a lot of work to get it started, so I was surprised when it roared right to life without any trouble at all this year.  

It was purring like a big mean kitten when I idled it down, and roaring like a lion when I went to full throttle, and when I threw the lever to turn on the separator it didn't have any new vibrations, thumps, or rattles (it just had all the same old vibrations, thumps, and rattles).

I had avoided a long drawn out battle through proper preparation and everything was right with the world, then I was walking around the combine checking that everything was still as it should be (like a pilot walking around a clunky airplane with brick-like aerodynamics doing his pre-flight checks) and saw that something wasn't exactly right. 

Isn't that supposed to be level?  #$%@,  !$%#^*, and double #*$&%
The part (with the curved parts) at the top of the picture is supposed to be level across the combine and it wasn't.  So, I went away for awhile, then came back and looked at again to make sure it was still hanging lower on one side, and it still hadn't fixed itself.  One little bolt was missing, causing it to hang down out of place, and I was going to be forced to fix it.  

You would think that it would be relatively simple to replace that one bolt, for a good mechanic, it should take five minutes at the most.  

NOoooOO (is that the correct spelling for the word 'no'?), that bolt is installed in the bowels of that combine and I would need to crawl down in there to put that bolt back in.  But, before I could even think about crawling down in there,  I had to remove the chaffer (that riffled looking part at the bottom), and before I could remove the chaffer, I had to take off the straw chopper (otherwise known as the big heavy awkward strain-your-back-taking-it-off piece on the back of the combine).  

It takes a couple of people to get the straw chopper off, so after we got it off (luckily I only hurt my back a little bit), I then wrestled the chaffer out (only hitting my head three or four times inside the combine), and I was ready to take out the lower sieve (or whatever the heck they call it).  

Now that I had scattered these pieces of the combine along with all the nuts and bolts needed to put it all back together all over the place, it was going to be a piece of cake to get the only bolt that mattered put back in (it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes or so), since all I had to do was push the hanging-down piece (surprisingly, that's exactly what it's called in the schematic of this combine) back up into place and then put in the bolt.  

I didn't realize until I had crawled/drug myself in there that that hanging-down piece was packed full of old grain and dirt that didn't get augered out because of that broken bolt.  The only thing to do was to crawl back out and figure out a way to jack it back into place, and it turns out that an old 2x12 and a jack is what you need to jack something back into place (who'da thunk that??).

I was crammed upside down inside a combine taking this picture, so give me some slack if you can't tell what the heck you're looking at.
I was able to get that 2x12 and jack into place and carefully jacked the hanging-down piece back up without punching a hole in an impossible to replace part of the combine, then I was able to install that little bolt (only took a minute or so!!) and I made sure to tighten the Hell out of it so that I hopefully never have to crawl down in there again, and I only had to choke down and/or cough up a few pounds of old sorghum chaff, moldy grain, and dirt in the process.

After I had clawed my way up and out of the depths of the combine, had hosed myself off, and got finished coughing up one of my lungs, (sorghum chaff is some nasty stuff that always makes me itch and cough) it was a simple matter to reinstall everything, and I only dropped and lost three bolts in the whole process (a personal record, that probably won't be broken anytime soon).  

Now it looks right, nice and level (even though I didn't hold the camera nice and level)
Now, I'm finally ready to start combining wheat (unless I find something else that's broken or the gremlins that took out that bolt for me come back and start gremlinizing something else).
Wish me luck and give any gremlins you happen to come across a good chewing out for messing with my combine.


  1. I have fairly distinct memories of my father sending me into the back of the combine to fix things so that he didn't have to remove the straw chopper and other parts off to do it. Then as I got bigger and no longer fit, we had to hook the straw chopper up to the tractor with a scoop so that we could get it off. Either your straw chopper is much smaller or you are one moose of a man because that thing probably weighed several hundred pounds!

    1. My combine is an older John Deere 6600, and I'd guess that the straw chopper weighs somewhere close to 300 lbs. (give or take about 50 lb.), but it does take two strong people to slide it off (it even has two big handles on both sides for that very purpose). It's heavy, but it's not impossible heavy.

      It's funny that you mention using a loader to take off the chopper, my neighbor has a 6600 just like ours except it has a big gash in the sheetmetal on the back of the combine from a bale spike.

      He bought it 6 or 7 years ago and it was in perfect shape, shiny paint and all. Soon after he bought it, he managed to run the bale spike mounted on the front of his tractor through the back of it, tearing out a horrible gash in the metal and crumpling the rest. After that, it looked like someone crawled into the area above the straw walkers and beat out some of the crumpled part with a sledge hammer (I'll bet that was a pleasant job, swinging a sledge hammer inside a big metal box, trying to straighten the sheet metal that was unstaightenable).

      I've always wondered how he managed to run into his combine with the front end loader so high off the ground, now I'd be willing to bet that he was taking the straw chopper off using the bale spike and he misjudged his clearances just a little.

    2. The first combine I can remember my dad having was the 7700 but I think it had the same straw chopper with the large bars on the side as the 6600. My grandfather may have has a gas powered 6600 but it has been so many years ago and I was pretty young so I can't say for certain. I do know that looking at pictures of the 6600, it looks pretty close to the one he had. He smoked cigars so it always smelled like Swisher Sweets when I rode in it.

    3. A 7700 has a bigger engine and bigger tires than a 6600, but the cab and feeder house is the same size. The separator part of the combine on a 7700 is wider than a 6600, but I think the chopper is the same.

      Besides all that, a 6600 is pretty close to being the same as a 7700.

      There's a cigar lighter and an ash tray in the combine, and I've always thought that it would be a trick to smoke while you were operating a combine. I'm always adjusting the header as I'm cutting depending on the height of the wheat, and to compensate for the terraces so I usually have my hands full.

      Plus, you're surrounded by a bunch of dry straw that would be pretty easy to catch on fire, so I'm not so sure that smoking in a combine would be that a good idea.

      Of course, I also don't have a nicotine addiction, so maybe it's easier to juggle a cigar while operating the combine than I realize.

    4. As far as I know, the only action my grandfather's combine saw was during bean harvest when it isn't as dry as it is during wheat harvest. I'm sure though he probably smoked in it back when it was the only combine on the farm and during his fair share of wheat harvests. I've seen enough combines go up over the years to know that I never want to set one on fire. They burn a lot hotter than you would think for mostly being metal.

    5. When you think about it, a combine is mostly fan-driven air, flying dust, and chaff. It has a bin of grain, hot hydraulic fluid under pressure, a big fuel tank, and a bunch of hot bearings and belts. All the major components can either start a fire or make a fire burn for a long time.

      It's almost like it's designed to catch fire, so maybe smoking a few cigars in one isn't that big of a deal.

  2. That looks like a very unfortunate location for a bolt to come loose... darn gremlins...

    1. When you realize that everything in a combine moves back and forth while it's also going up and down, and think about the amount of material that's went through it over the years. I'm surprised every bolt on it isn't loose.

      For every pound of grain, about a pound of straw also goes through it, so in an average year on my small/medium farm almost 1,000,000 lbs. of very abrasive material might go through this combine.

      Maybe I was wrong to blame those gremlins without some sort of evidence.