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post #96 of (permalink) Old 03-22-2010, 11:45 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The push button Combine [ & Tractor ]

A lot of what I have posted here is personal reminiscences, ideas and thoughts I have picked up in my three score and ten plus years so a few more reminiscences probably won't make much difference.

We all go along to various farm machinery field days and exhibitions and there are very few farmers around who can resist the urge to have a look over the latest and greatest bits of gear whether it's the make we are supposedly loyal to or the opposition's offerings.
I suspect there there is often a deep down and slightly unsettling suspicion that we may not have made the best choice of a particular make of machine and we need that comforting feeling of being right by finding supposedly substantial faults as we run our eye over the opposition's offerings.

We also get more cynical as we see supposed improvements and innovations dressed up as new but which as an old hand at farm machinery, we know has been around for a long time.

But every now and then there is a significant change and perhaps once in a decade in farm machinery a real shift and change in a particular sector of agriculture as some completely new technological advance appears almost out of nowhere.
The most recent and quite spectacular jump in technology was the very rapid appearance and development of the satellite based, Auto Guidance technology and the even more staggering speed at which the agricultural industries have adopted and adapted to the technology and how these same supposedly conservative industries are rapidly changing even their long established systems and methods to fit around the auto guidance systems.
The strange thing here is that there does not seem to be an overwhelming financial case to justify the heavy financial cost of installing a full on auto guidance system.
We have to look at the social and personal psychological benefits for any justification for the purchase of the auto guidance systems, not that you will get many farmers to admit this as they will invariably point out how you can inter row sow and etc and etc and then perhaps will add how much more work they can do because they don't get as tired at the end of the day.
Two decades ago to suggest that by say the year 2000 tractors would be quite capable of steering themselves across a field would have been regarded as fantasy and more in line with some science fiction story dreamt up by some reporter to keep your attention.
Little did we dream of the speed that this satellite based Auto Steering technology would be adopted by farming of every persuasion.

Some day there will be a doctorate or two earned by looking at the factors that have driven the adoption of some technologies that few would have ever expected to be adopted so quickly whereas other supposedly advanced technologies that appeared to have every thing in their favour were tried and then quietly disappeared again.

Interesting looking back in my working life and seeing an almost identical personal response when my new MIL bought me a set of ear muffs as my new wife use to complain how grumpy I was when I got home off the tractor at night.
After some pressure from my wife who insisted I wear those ear muffs I finally succumbed and put them on for a round of the paddock on the open to the weather, no cabin tractor.
I went to take those earmuffs off and was totally shocked at the sheer volume and painfulness of the noise.
I always wore those earmuffs every time I worked the tractor after that and then rapidly found that even in the workshop in the most noisy jobs it was far more comfortable using those muffs as well.
A very small advance which we would never consider as significant to our comfort and health but one that could not be made until suitable advances had been made in materials and design that made those earmuffs a viable and comfortable noise suppression method.
Yet those earmuffs made a big difference to our relationship and I believe saved my hearing.

Well I think it did but my wife and kids differ!
And there is a strong suspicion in the family that I can turn on the domestic deafness quite rapidly when required.

And a small anecdote on this from an old guy who predates me by at least a decade.

I was leaning over a tire of the latest, greatest, shiniest, most expensive and etc combine at the local machinery field days a few weeks back when an 84 year old acquaintance drifted up to lean on the tire with me.
Together we surveyed the mass of extremely complicated and shiny metal, plastic, belts, pulleys and etc that passed for a combine.
We shook our heads and pursed our lips at the complication and the cost but then perhaps a bit of reality about the God Old Days comparisons appeared.
You know, he said, when I started driving a Vickers Aussie tractor way back in the late 1930's there was this bloody great 6 inch diameter straight out exhaust pipe popping, banging and bellowing away only a couple of feet in front of me.
And you know, he said, that exhaust would have made me stone deaf if I could have heard it over the noise from the gearbox!
And with that and keeping a perfectly straight face, he wandered off!

When I look at those new ideas and advances I often ask myself, I wonder where or how the designers picked that idea up and being somewhat cynical I also wonder who in the heck had his bright idea swiped by some corporation which will never ever admit that they pinched it from some individual who with very limited resources has no hope of ever getting his quite valid claim ever considered by the corporation or even the courts.
I know from my reading of history and a couple of long ago personal anecdotes of a couple of major advances made by large corporations that were based on original ideas and even machines built by innovative individuals who got no recognition and were denied any recognition by the corporation.

A couple of personal anecdotes on just how some of these advances in agricultural machinery have been picked up by the designers.
I have no doubt at all that there are many, many farmers who can tell similar stories to the following about ideas that they have had which have been picked up by some manufacturer so we are not unique in these stories.

A half dozen years back Rolf and I were looking at the R62 when Rolf said , you know if they put that bin unloading auger straight through the side of the bin across to the right hand bottom of the bin and used the bottom auger to move the grain to the right to the unloading auger, you could have a straight unloader auger which would run through the bin and when it was folded out would be straight with no gearboxes, universals or anything else and it would have a lot better capacity when unloading.
And the fold would be equally as simple.

Well I wrote that idea up on the other combine forum a few weeks later.
Interestingly we can't find that post at all now although we have looked carefully for it.
And isn't it strange that MF have come out with that identical system of bin unloader auger in their latest offering, a system that I have never heard of previously to Rolf's suggestion.

My brother, Brian, a very innovative guy who owns the R75 with the 45 foot Honeybee draper in Rolf's R62 photos and who I was in partnership for many years, and I imported the second or third rubber tracked Cat Challenger 65 into Australia in January 1989.
Cat refused to supply us as they did not have the trained techs in Australia to service it so we brought it in privately.
Needless to say we had excellent service from the local Cat agency as soon as it arrived.
A consequence of this a year or two later after Cat had a lot of publicity about this tractor was that following the local machinery field days we had dinner with a small group of Cats then Ag division reps.
One of these guys, who will be called Bill for this yarn, was the American head of Cat's new Ag machinery research section when Cat was seriously looking at getting back into the farm equipment industry in it's own right.
Sitting along side of Bill, I asked him, not expecting a straight answer, what was the next step the Cats were going to make with the tracked machines after the introduction of the 65 series.
Well he said, we can't really do anything in new models until we figure out how to make the tracks adjustable for row crop work and we haven't figured out how to do that yet.
Well thats not very difficult I replied, a comment that in retrospect deservedly collected a fairly cold glance from Bill.

I asked Bill if he had a pen and paper which he duly produced and on that piece of paper I drew a rough sketch with an engine in front, the main gearbox at the rear and the big central cross beam of the Challenger 65's that supports the track system as an axle and differential.
The tracks were modular and slid in and out on the central beam / axle with a gearbox or chain drive back to the rear track drive wheel.
Bill looked at the rough sketch for a few moments and looked straight at me; You realise we don't pay for ideas like this, he said and then he repeated it.
No I did not expect payment as there really was not much I could do with the idea.
There were also some other short questions and discussions and my opinion sought on the various aspects of my idea and it was shown to my brother who took one look and said, well if you put air bags here and here you will have a fully sprung track system.
There were open mouths around the table.

You first saw this different in detail but fundamental in principle modular and adjustable in width track system in the small Genesis based Cats that followed the Challenger 65 series.
The Genesis series were a very expensive exercise for Cats and it was found that rather than modifying an existing machine it was much cheaper to build a new design from scratch.

There is a lot more to this story including how JD pinched the principle directly off Cat's design through a local custom 4 WD tractor builder [ who had built a very good 4WD for us to our specs ] who went to JD with his copy of Cat's track system.
All of which led to an international court case, a very interesting and educational episode, until Cats and JD came to an agreement when Cat decided to again get out of it's direct involvement in Agricultural machinery production.

And yes, in a way we did get paid.
We finished up with one of the most updated A series Challenger 65's around .

There are also a couple of other not that dissimilar personal episodes I could also post about but just one more and it has nothing to do with machinery.

Medic plants, a nitrogen fixing pasture legume which originates from the Mediterranean and North Africa have been one of the greatest influences on the fertility of Australian soils ever.
By the end of WW2, Australia's already poor soils were very depleted by the run down in nutrients over the previous half to century long history of cropping and yields were dropping steadily and wind caused soil erosion was a serious problem.
Following WW2 there was a tremendous program put in place by the farmers using medics to rebuild our cropping soils.
The result was rapidly rising fertility for crops and with very high prices for wool at the time, very substantial returns from sheep running on the medic pastures.

In the 1970's and 80's we had a heavy investment in the medic seed industry with the building of a large medic seed harvester and a seed cleaning plant and were exporting to South Africa and many North African and Middle East nations.
So when my brother took over the business in the 1990's, he became instrumental in getting a significant medic and clover breeding and research program off the ground in the USA initially using Australian varieties and medic and clover plant breeding technology.
He was on a first name basis with some of the most senior people and plant breeders in the pasture division of the USDA.
Unfortunately this natural soil nitrogen fixing and fertility increasing plant technology has gone nowhere as the American farmer is firmly wedded to the use of artificial nitrogen.
And in Australia in the last decade and a half we have also gone down the artificial nitrogen fertilizer track.
But the natural plant soil nitrogen fixing technology is all there ready for use with aerial seeding type clovers and medics having been selected and researched by American pasture plant breeders initially using Australian developed plant technology.

One day we will in all likely hood, for reasons that are not yet clear, need that plant soil fertility increasing technology again.

All of the above are just a very few and very small examples on how the messy, chaotic and unforecastable changes and advancements in our agricultural technologies slowly and in fits and starts advances into the future.

To be continued

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