In a perfect world, all farm equipment would be back at the farm shop before it needed even routine scheduled maintenance. In the real world, things will have issues far from the shop. My son Ryan, working for a hay grower in southwest Idaho, had occasion to repair one of a number of balers. He found one area of the bale chamber to be wearing out in a place where a failure would have been a huge mess.
He examined the other balers and found the same wear patterns. As it was his responsibility to keep the machinery operating, he lined up the balers between cuttings, cleaned them out and called the appropriate mobile welder to come out and reinforce the wearing area.
When the owner asked what was going on, he explained the abnormal wear and his repair directive to the welder. The owner’s reply was along the lines of usually waiting until things blew up in the middle of the farthest field from the shop. It was a compliment.
In the best of times, something will always break away from the farm shop. If it’s roadable, then it’s a simple decision to drive it home for repair. If it’s not, then some form of the farm shop needs to go to the site of the breakdown.
Now we are talking about a shop truck. A 40-acre operation all in one piece that’s next to the shop will need less of a shop truck than an operation that custom farms over three or more counties.
The shop truck may be no more than the owner’s pickup with a small toolbox aboard. In this age of universal cellphones, it is easy to describe (and even send pictures) of the issue at hand. Depending on the size and logistics of your operation, anything from calling for the proper repair person and materials down to walking back to the shop will be at hand.
Starting with an operation that has decided a dedicated shop truck is needed, let’s start small. Whatever vehicle is chosen, remember that there’s nothing so maddening as getting in the shop truck to go to a time-consuming, expensive and unscheduled breakdown only to have the shop truck refuse to start. So number one would be reliable.
Next, who would be bringing the service truck to the site of the breakage? If it’s gonna be the lady of the home front who is already dealing with three kids not yet in school, then …
It should be something the lady can drive and should have a safe riding place for the toddlers. This shouldn’t be an issue since it is hard to find a used pickup that is not a four-door.
Outfitting the shop truck should include some basic hand tools protected from the weather. Heavy-gauge battery jumper cables and a means of inflating tires will be necessary. With the almost universal use of battery-powered hand tools, a big air compressor may not be needed to operate impact tools. A good sturdy vise will be a life-saver. A vise that mounts via a 2-inch receiver hitch works for smaller pickup-based units. A heavier service truck will warrant a heavier vise.
Some means of transporting fluids will be a must. Coolant, motor oil and transmission fluid, hydraulic fluid and drinking water are all nice to have at the scene rather than after another trip back to the shop. Need and experience will tell you what to add.
There will be times when the ability to weld on-site is a life-saver. A gasoline-powered welder/generator/air compressor unit is available. There are numerous small acetylene torch units available that are small enough to be carried from the compartment on the service truck to wherever something needs to be heated or cut.
Yes, these bigger items can be costly, so the question to ask is which costs more, the tools to fix something the day it breaks, or the expense and time of having someone else come fix it when they can.
Every service truck should have a means of warning traffic on the highway of slow or stopped equipment. Front, rear and overhead flashing lights work well. As well as aimable work lights. Breakdowns and the resulting repairs don’t care whether it’s daylight or dark. There’s nothing as trying as reassembling something that was taken apart in the dark by helpers who were late to a hot date.
The spare parts that should be on board include hose fittings, hose clamps, a selection of nuts and bolts, and whatever wear pieces your equipment will need. My rule of thumb was that if I had to go to town to pick up or order some oddball part, I was to always get an extra.
What’s your weather like? If you’ll be loading hay trucks in zero-degree weather, there are more items to have on board. A 5-gallon propane tank with a weed burner hose and tip can be a life-saver. Frozen air brake lines on trucks and loaders, fuel lines with an ice crystal or just an engine too cold to start are possible. I once had occasion to blast dry ground for a couple of minutes for a kid to stand on when he thought his feet were about to be frostbitten.
Summer heat and bright sunlight can be as dangerous. That air-conditioned tractor cab won’t help when the issue is grenaded knotters on the top of the baler and it’s 110ºF outside. A tarp and some poles and cord may fit the bill here.
Again, type and spread of the farm will dictate how much service truck is needed. If it’s tinkering and servicing in the field, that’s one thing. If your equipment is spread out so it needs to be fixed where it is, then more of a mobile shop on wheels will be warranted.
So the questions are: What’s needed? What can we afford? What can we not afford to be without?
There will always be some things we wish we had on the shop truck, and probably some things we wonder why we haul around. My friend has commented a few times, “If I’d have had my pickup here, I could have fixed that!”