DON'T CALL it a tractor. The machine that Ned Meier and his farming partner Don Medbery spent nearly four years building is a tool carrier. Not one of those old-fashioned machines that totes farm implements behind the rear axle.
The problem, in Meier's eyes, is that lateral forces shove rear-mounted equipment side to side as it trails a tractor.
“I've got a tree line that's full of stuff we tried but didn't work to make a planter or a cultivator track exactly with the tractor,” says the Grand Island, NE, farmer. “There's all kinds of coulters and weights for guidance systems out there that didn't solve the problem.”
Meier ridge-tills corn and soybeans, so accuracy is critical every time he makes a field pass. Otherwise rows aren't straight, and cultivator blight becomes a problem.
“We've got GPS technology that gives us the ability to position equipment with ±1-in. accuracy. But we don't have a vehicle that puts that technology to the ground,” Meier says.
Meier decided it was time to dust off his engineering degree and put it to work. He had used it just four years, right after college, as a research engineer for Caterpillar, before returning to the family farm in 1974.
The result is a 225-hp, 20,000-lb., all-hydraulic, all-wheel-drive tool carrier that locks implements rigidly into position between the front and rear axles so the “tool carrier and the implement are one,” Meier explains. “I want to maintain ±1-in. accuracy at 6 mph.
“With the implements mounted between the axles, you can use the entire weight of the tool carrier to control them,” he continues. “With a tractor, the rear axle is just a pivot point and all your control has to come from the front wheels.”
Meier's machine is built to carry two toolbar-mounted implements between the front and rear axle, which gives two advantages. The center mounts give greater accuracy by eliminating implement drift. And with the ability to use two toolbars, Meier can space out attachments for more operating room.
The John Deere, rear-mounted, 225-hp diesel engine's sole purpose on Meier's mechanical marvel is to drive the unit's three in-line hydraulic pumps. One pump powers the front wheels, one powers the back wheels and the third pump provides power to everything else.
With a hydraulic drive unit at each corner powering a custom-built rim mounted with 18.4R38 tires, the machine features 4-wd and an ability to go just about anywhere.
Two-way hydraulic cylinders at each wheel give Meier the ability to steer the unit with just the two front wheels or with all four wheels. He can set the back wheels to angle opposite the front for a tight turning radius, or he can set the rear wheels for crab steering and fight drift on side slopes.
Two, two-way cylinders lift and lower the two 3-pt. quick-tach hitches that are set 80 in. apart on the tool carrier frame. For added stability, Meier welded two stabilizing brackets onto the frame that mimic the lower attachment points of the quick-tach hitch. As an implement lowers into field position, brackets with a mounting pin (bolted to the implement toolbar) set onto the attachment points and lock the toolbar solidly in place.
Meier chose a Parker IQAN electronic system to control and monitor the hydraulic systems. The unit controls all machine functions from a cab-mounted monitor. Meier steered the machine manually when he used it for the first time last year. This year he plans to add a GPS real-time kinematic (RTK) guidance system that will plug into the IQAN system.
“Your steering has to be very precise. If the angle of the wheels is off 1 degree, you move off the row at the rate of 0.3 in./sec./mph,” Meier says. “So the response of the system has to be very fine.”
With the ability to carry two toolbars, Meier spreads out his planting equipment to make the process less congested and allow for better residue flow.
Right now, Meier is just happy to have built one tool carrier. He admits, however, that he hopes it isn't the only one he builds. “If it never goes anywhere, I'm satisfied,” he says. “But I think it has considerable market potential.”
For more information, contact Ned Meier, Dept. FIN, 720 Third Rd., Grand Island, NE 68801, 308/382-3572, [email protected].