Stories from the Field

English: Center Pivot on the dessert

English: Center Pivot on the dessert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back 15 years ago or so, I spent something over 4 years working with center pivots, those ¼ to ½ mile long sprinklers that make this part of the country look like green circles when you folks fly over. They’re pretty interesting machines technically, in how we make then run straight and not wrap them up around themselves, not wash out the road, and stuff like that.

By the time I was working on them, many were controlled by computers in those pretty blue and red panels, and after I learned what I was doing, that’s mostly what I worked on, of course you know I’m technical like that, and I’m also old enough to know that carrying a 142 lb. gear box and a jack and this and that a half-mile through a 12 foot high cornfield in 100° heat is not gonna be a whole lot of fun. So, I managed to avoid having a helper and mostly did controls.

Don’t want to lose three rows of corn to having a road (trail really) to the pivot point? I can make that happen. Want to just start and stop it? Want to control the speed? Want to turn the pump on and off? Those are easy. Want it to call you at home if it stops? How about call you on the radio? Those are easy too, although a bit more expensive. In fact, I was on the development team for some of those, testing beta models for the manufacturer. Now let’s have some fun, want to control everything about all your pivots? I’ve been able to set that up for you since your computer ran DOS 3.4

Want to run your pivots from your iPhone? There’s an app for that too. Thing is I’m one of the people who can make this stuff work on nearly any machine, some of them I can also adapt to run your bin site. You know, the one we set up last year so that you could drive up and dump your semi and the system will put 14% moisture corn in the bin (or bins).

That the kind of stuff I did. But like everybody else in the spring, I did almost nothing but new pivots, I could wire each tower in about 10 minutes (when things were going right, anyway) plus about half a day for tying in the power feed and making the pump control work and miscellany, including teaching you how to use it. And telling it how many seconds out of a minute the last tower had to run to put an inch of water on the field, setting the end gun and such.

Those days would run 12 -18 hours Monday through Friday and about six on Saturday, if you were lucky. So you tend to be tired at the end of the day. And we covered a radius of about a hundred miles. Officially that is, I started one machine darned near in South Dakota, another in Kansas, and a third in Colorado. I can remember one night when I was starting three machines we had built in another dealers territory when I nearly ran head on into a competitors truck about 9 at night on a S curve in a gravel road- he was starting a machine they had sold in our territory. Why? Who knows, maybe they didn’t like the dealer.

Strangely, and coincidentally, that same night as I got into town hoping I’d be in time to get some dinner, the lug nuts sheared on one of my wheels as I was turning into the bar/cafe (it also had some of the best food in the county, and the coffee wasn’t bad either). I said, well you can imagine what I said, the truck was out of the way so I went in to eat. I figured I’d call my wife to come get me and deal with it in the morning. So happened that a tech I knew from a competitor was having dinner and offered me a ride home, which saved my wife about 100 miles on her car. He dropped me off at our dealership, and I got in my car and went home.

One of the strange things at this company was that you could drive your truck home if you lived in town otherwise you were supposed to leave the truck at the shop. I had long since told them that if it was the same distance home as to the shop, I was going home, and the service manager agreed readily enough.

So I get in about 7 the next morning and tell my story and he says OK, the underground crew is out that way on a two day job so they can load it up and bring it in tonight. I had had enough sense to bring some of my tools so I didn’t need anything off it so I got my jobs planned and loaded a truck that wasn’t scheduled.

Instead of my Dodge/Cummins, this silly thing was one of those 90 or so Ford diesel/5speed combinations that needed to be going downhill  to get started, and in addition it could only fuel at one pump in the county because whoever designed the fuel system on it’s flatbed screwed up and you needed to be 10º nose down to fuel it, nice part was that it filled both tanks. So off I go.

That day was fine, actually fairly easy. The next day was a bear though, I finished up about 10 that night (by my headlights) and started the 80 mile drive home. I can either turn right and go to the shop or go straight ahead and go home. It wasn’t a hard decision.

So, I’m crossing the Union Pacific main line which is the busiest railroad in the world, and I decide to upshift, with this truck you did a lot of shifting, and it was sloppy as well. so I’m shifting from first to second in the middle of the crossing when the fool truck decides it would be a good time to be in both second and reverse at the same time. That didn’t work out well, I stopped, rather abruptly. So, I’m sitting there trying to get it into one or the other, when I look down the tracks and about a mile away is a train. Well that was a bit of a motivator, so I push jerk harder on the gearshift, and finally get it into second (only). Ever see a 8500 pound pickup play drag racer? You would have that night. I quickly grab the transfer case and shove it into low lock because I know I’ll kill the engine if I try to start in second. Off we go, the breeze from the locomotive wasn’t too bad, must have missed by a couple of feet.

So, I drive around the section, because the transmission is still stuck, but at least in only one gear now. While I’m doing this I decide I’ll take it to the shop so I don’t have to deal with it in the morning, which I do.

I go in the next morning slightly angry still, and tell the service manager about the damned transmission and where it happened. he says OK, doesn’t matter, yours is fixed. So about a half hour later, he stops me on my way out of the parking lot to ask me how I got it home last night. I’m very pleased and surprised to tell you he is still alive because when I told him that I shifted in 4 low to start and then back to two wheel drive and drove slow, he couldn’t understand that with the hubs out it was only in 2 wheel drive, nor did he understand just how slow I drove (about 20 mph was redline on that truck). Wow that made it a 19 hour day plus commute.

He didn’t understand why I looked at him and told him to go ask the mechanic how it worked and get the [censored] out of my way either.

Good thing they needed me that year.

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