Life in the “fast” lane. Fall harvest South Dakota Style

It’s been a while since I have had a chance to update this blog.  I have been out with my neighbor working the fall harvest.  I was operating a 4800 series John Deere Tractor pulling a very large Grain cart.  I’m not sure just why they call it a “cart”.  The thing is 12’ wide (0ver 14’ if you count the tires), 18’ long and about 12’ high.  It is designed to hold over 50,000 pounds of grain.  I guess it is a “cart” because it only has 2 tires, even though those tires are over 24” wide and taller than me.  Now my “job” was to get that cart under the auger (a 12’ long pipe containing an auger that is pivoted out from the top of the combine) so the combine operator can unload what he has harvested.  Not too difficult I would think.  Here’s the deal.  Attached to the front of the combine is a large head.  Think of this like an attachment.  The operator chooses the head he needs for each particular crop.  The one I had to deal with was 30 feet wide.  I am pulling the “cart” with a tractor that has dual wheels on the rear and to line everything up these wheels have to be even with this 30 foot wide head.  Still no big deal, right?  Well, that puts the outer tire of the tractor about 8 to 12 inches from the outside edge of the head.  Still no real challenge.  Anyone with a little driving experience and a reasonably good eye can do this, right?.  Oops, I forgot to mention that when I am sitting in the tractor I can’t see the outside of the outside tire or the bottom of the head.  I have to judge the distance as I approach the combine.  OK, a bit more challenging but still nothing to blog about.  Oh… did I mention we do this while the combine is moving?  NOW we have the challenge.  Add to this that the tractor/cart weighs upwards of 15,000 lbs empty and the combine is even heavier and it gets very interesting.  Another thing, the equipment would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace if it were damaged. The average head alone is over 80 grand.It is the Midwest version of a Talladega NASCAR race, only at 2.8 miles per hour. Come up from behind, gauge your distance and line up the front of the tractor with a row of cut material, hold that distance as you accelerate to approach the moving combine, get to the proper point abreast the beast and throttle down to match speeds.  Don’t forget to watch ahead to make sure you didn’t drift right or left…. Now check to see if the speed is still ok….. Here come a turn, if on the outside go faster, inside slower… WATCH THAT DISTANCE!!!  Too far away and all the profit misses the cart and lands on the ground, too far in and Bang Crunch — thousands of dollars in damage. Too far in front or too far back and the “good stuff” winds up on the ground. The window for best delivery is a little over one square yard.

People describe piloting a small airplane as hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. I call grain cart driving hours of waiting interrupted ninety second spurts of intense concentration.

I have two video’s I have found to show you what this is like. They are not mine. Frankly, there is no way I could keep one hand on the throttle, one on the wheel and take a video of what I see. I found them on Youtube. In my opinion the folks in these videos are using smaller heads or narrower tractors and have much more separation that I could afford. (Whimps!)

Here are the links:

Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 9:02 am  Comments (1)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Now you know what it is like to fly formation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: