One of the best tools we have added to our operation in the past few years has been the Agri-Speed Hitch. It enables us to automatically hook up wagons without getting out of the tractor. We also put one on the self-propelled chopper.
Now let’s add another element of coolness to the equation. I tested an AgCam surveillance camera  system last fall for Farm Industry News and found it to be AWESOME. I liked it so much I bought one this fall. It allows me to place one camera directly over the drawbar on the chopper so I can see exactly where my chopper is as I back up to wagons, regardless of whether I have a speed hitch on the wagon or not. It also allows me to place another camera on the cab roof to watch the gooseneck as I’m making my way around corners in the field when I chop silage for various farmers. It’s like having several extra sets of eyes without all that hassle of constantly looking over your shoulder as you work.
One Friday afternoon I was in the machine shed at home when my phone rang. It was one of my customers who lives nearby. He had his chopper ready to go and wondered how soon I could get there to chop his end rows and make a pass through the middle of his field to get it opened up for his tractor and chopper to get through. I told him I’d be over as soon as we switched heads on the chopper and greased everything. That was fine with him, because he was going to eat dinner in the meantime and then would be ready to roll at full steam when I got there. If he wasn't back yet, I could simply hook onto his wagons (with speed hitches, I might add!) parked in the yard and start chopping in the field next to his house.
I headed down the road for what looked like a very easy job. I saw two wagons with speed hitches on them sitting on a large area of lawn. I put my chopper in reverse to hook onto one and decided not to use the Ag Cam. The wagons were out in the open and the tongues were facing straight ahead. That’s the easiest hookup in the world — hardly worthy of AgCam technology.
I backed up to a point I thought was far enough and then drove ahead to the field. Oddly enough, there was no wagon behind me. I must’ve missed it somehow. I backed up again and felt the automatic hitch connect with the wagon, so I headed for the field.
I was no more than a few feet out of the yard when my phone rang again. Without looking at the screen, I answered. It was the neighbor next door, just a few yards away. He is, how shall I put this? He is informative.
“You have water dripping out of the back of your chopper,” the neighbor said. “It started right as you took off after missing the wagon the first time.”
Geez! I never saw him anywhere! He must have been sitting on his front porch or right at the front window to see all the details from that distance.
I thought maybe the water was coming from the wagon and not the chopper. I was nearly at the field by then, so I pulled into the pasture instead of the cornfield and climbed out to have a look. The caller was halfway correct. There was water dripping out of the chopper, but it wasn’t entirely water. It was a 50:50 blend of water and antifreeze! I knew that wasn’t good.
A quick look underneath the chopper revealed a deeply, deeply troubling scene. I didn’t miss the wagon the first time. Missing it implies that I drove right by it. Nope. I made incredibly solid contact with it. In fact, I managed to put the long rod of the speed hitch right through the bottom of my radiator!
I quickly unhooked and headed for home, knowing this wasn’t going to be a good conversation when Guy No. 1 and The Chairman Emeritus saw what I had done. Doing it was one thing. Doing it while not using the AgCam was entirely different. Simply hitting the button on the remote to switch from the spout cam to the drawbar cam would have saved me. But I didn’t do that. It was a simple hookup. Why use a fancy camera for that? Yeah, well, why buy the camera at all if you’re not going to use it?!
Sure enough, my superiors had a cow when I got home. (Guy No. 1 gets really hyper and really ornery in situations like this.) We immediately began tearing everything apart to remove the radiator and take it somewhere for major surgery.
It took forever to get the damaged radiator out. We ended up having to call the service guy from Deere in Decorah to come out and help us. It was now 5:20. That meant nothing would happen until Monday morning. I went into the house somewhat dejected, but a little bit relieved at the idea of having the weekend almost entirely free now that I couldn’t chop silage.
The first thing I did was to start calling all of my customers to let them know I’d be out of commission for a few days. The first call went to a guy who needed three days’ advance notice if it wasn’t going to be a weekend chopping event. I told him I’d be laid up for a few days and he said he already knew what happened, even though it had only happened a couple hours ago.
The next caller was perfectly satisfied. His corn wasn’t ready to chop anyway, so the delay didn’t bother him. He also told me about an actual radiator repairman in Cresco. I knew this guy used to work on radiators, but I thought he had quit that when he got a job at the local air filter manufacturing plant. I went back home and made another call. Not only did the radiator guy still work on radiators, he would be done at the factory by noon on Saturday and would get to work on my project immediately!
I dropped off the radiator the next morning. Lo and behold, my phone rang at 2:49 that afternoon. “Jeff, this is Pat. Your radiator’s done. I gotta go, so I’ll just leave it outside the shop. You can pick it up whenever and I’ll just send you the bill."
Thinking about the giant crater I had created in the radiator, I thought it was too good to be true that it could be ready in less than three hours and still be functional. A quick trip to town revealed my skepticism was unfounded. It didn’t look factory-fresh, but it looked fully functional!
Guy No. 1 and the rest of the crew helped put the whole jigsaw puzzle back together when I got home. At about 8:20, I put the last of the tools back in the cabinets and called it a night. Humpty Dumpty, as we now referred to the chopper, was ready to start gobbling acres the next day, which it did for a couple days straight until I had finished my own corn and all my customers’ fields.
Even though it was after dark on Saturday night, I kind of wanted to go back to the neighbor’s place and hook up to the wagon just to prove to the guy on the other side that it was a minor problem and I was back in action. And the way news travels around here, all the rest of Winneshiek County would know it by morning.
Guy No. 2