Conventional Equipment, Unconventional Use

Farmers can find unconventional uses for conventional equipment when a job has to get done.

They say that a truck is often a man’s office. The same could be said for a tractor. While my family’s tractors and other farm equipment did serve their intended purposes, we also used them in ways that were, to say the least, unconventional.

Dad remembers using a grain binder as a windrower for grain in three different years.

“Removing the bundle-tying head from the grain binder allowed the cut grain to exit the binder as a windrow to dry for the combine,” he said. “That way, the combine could run faster.”

Heres a young Bill Frankenhoff (my dad) and his dad, Kenneth, with the binder, sometime in the later 1940s.

Heres a young Bill Frankenhoff (my dad) and his dad, Kenneth, with the binder, sometime in the later 1940s.

In the days before we had a milking pipeline and acquired a generator, Dad remembers that they “put a stall cock fitting in one of the four cylinders of the tractor where compression comes to the manifold. We made it a stall cock so we could turn it on and off. Then, we connected two milking-unit air hoses from the stall cock to the vacuum line with a specially designed pipe—and used a sack to plug the line going into the reserve on the pump. We had to produce at least 10 inches of vacuum with the tractor to operate two milking units that were attached to their respective milking pails.”

He added, “You could also do the same setup with a truck engine.”

Beginning in the mid-1970s, whenever the power went out due to storms, we used a portable generator connected to our John Deere 3020’s power take-off to run our pipeline equipment and do the milking. (When we did, of course, we had to be careful not to overload it while milking; we didn’t turn on lights at either house or do anything else that consumed electricity.)

I’ve seen hay elevators pressed into service to place bundles of shingles on a house roof. There’s a clear difference between watching hay bales heading for their destination and observing neatly wrapped bundles of shingles on their way to the roof.

Our hay wagons often served a variety of roles, starting with spring-planting duties, hauling bags of fertilizer and seed to the fields. We later added a hydraulic-powered auger to one of our gravity boxes, turning it into a bulk-fertilizer hauler, eliminating the need to lug dozens and dozens of bags of heavy fertilizer to fill the corn planter.

When one of our hired hands and I painted our wooden corn crib one summer, we placed a couple of long planks across the side rails of a hay rack to make a scaffolding so that we didn’t have to climb ladders all the time. The existing orange-and-rusted-metal design of the back of the rack quickly took on a white-polka-dot theme. And, for the part of the job where we didn’t have to reach as high, I stood on the hood of the 3020. (I weighed little enough then that I made no dents in the metal.)

When we built or rebuilt a length of barbed-wire fence, we usually used a block and tackle to stretch each wire taut after unrolling it the length of the span. A few years ago, Dad and I worked together to replace one strand on a pasture fence and, when we couldn’t find that block and tackle, we simply wrapped the wire around the drawbar of our John Deere 6300 and slowly drove forward to take up the slack.

We also used a tractor when we were stretching woven wire—“hog wire,” as we called it—because the block and tackle wouldn’t work on that type of wire. We used a frame made of a pair of 2x4s that were bolted together in several places along their length at the end of the wire; then, we attached it to the tractor’s drawbar with chains from each end of the frame running through a clevis. Then, we slowly drove it forward to draw the wire tight.

Recycling played a part in sometimes-unsuccessful attempts to find unconventional uses of aging equipment and facilities. Dad said, “When the lining in our corn silage silo was eaten away by the acids in the corn, the silo began to leak, so we couldn’t use it for corn silage any more. But we could use it to store dry hay. We tried it a couple of different years but didn’t get the results we wanted, because we didn’t have all the equipment we needed to do the job right. Either the hay dried out too much (creating dust that your grandma complained about) or it was too wet and rotted (creating a stink that your grandma also complained about).”

I remember recycling an old livestock truck frame as a round-bale hauler, though we had a lot of trouble keeping the inner tire inflated on each side’s dual tire set.

Did you ever use equipment for jobs for which the manufacturer probably never intended it? Share examples with us in the comments below.

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