NO ONE KNOWS more about shop tools than the people who use them for a living. So we found seven of the Midwest's best dealer service technicians and asked them to name the one shop tool they can't live without. Our one condition was that the tool had to be something farmers could buy for their own shops.
Randy Bobolz, a service technician with Johnson Tractor in Janesville, WI, specializes in older Case equipment, Steigers, STX 4-wds and Quadtrac tractors. Topping his list of favorite tools is his service truck.
“The service truck I use is a big help because I do a lot of on-the-road calls in spring and fall,” Bobolz says. “So I basically carry my shop with me.”
His truck is a 2000 Chevy 3500HD, which Johnson Tractor ordered through a Chevy dealer. The service box was installed by Monroe Trucks in Monroe, WI.
The one-ton dually is equipped with all the essential items that Bobolz uses in the shop. “It has a welder generator I can use for power out in the field or for charging air conditioning and running electric tools and lights,” he explains.
The truck also has an electrical and hydraulic crane to lift heavy objects without the need for a second person. An air compressor is used to fill tires, blow off machinery and power air tools.
Bobolz also keeps a full line of service tools and a supply of nuts, bolts and other hardware in the truck. It also has a torch for cutting and heating rusted and broken bolts.
“I also keep with me all types of oils, including hydraulic oils and engine oils, depending on the application,” he says.
Service manuals on CD
Although farmers can't buy diagnostic software, they can get simplified parts or service books on CD that cover their particular machine, according to service technician Dirk Adair, who specializes in engines and electrical components at Valley Implement, a New Holland dealership in Preston, ID.
“The CD doesn't give them full access or diagnostic capabilities, but it does give them a broad listing of parts and operating instructions for one single machine,” says Adair, who cites it as his favorite tool for farmers.
Each disk contains a parts lookup program along with troubleshooting areas and an operator's manual. The CDs also have pictures of various components of a machine and how the parts are put together.
“In the service shop, we use the disks because they are small, and we can take a fairly large library with us in the field and look up the parts on our laptop computer,” Adair explains.
According to Adair, more farmers are buying parts books, and the CDs are just another way of publishing them. The CDs for New Holland equipment can be purchased through the service departments of all New Holland dealers. Price is about $100/disk.
Dave Macke, a Case IH service technician with Finney Implement in Lancaster, WI, says his top tool pick is a good-quality power washer. “It is a must in our shop,” Macke says. “Cleanliness is next to godliness when it comes to working on hydraulic systems and engines.” Macke uses his washer every time he works on a piece of machinery. He says getting dirt and grease off equipment makes it easier for him to work on it. And when the equipment is clean, he is less likely to contaminate any internal components.
Cleaner equipment also is safer to operate, he adds. The engine will run cooler and there will be less risk of a fire. “If bean or corn chaff on a combine, for instance, mixes with oil somewhere, it can ignite pretty easily and cause a fire,” he says.
Macke recommends buying a hot-water power washer with a pressure rating of at least 2,000 psi. Macke uses a Cam Spray model 3000 with a rating of 3,000 psi. He says that because most parts on farm equipment are weather sealed, the water should not damage the internal electronics.
The dual-wheel dolly made by Owatonna Tool Company is the favorite tool of John Deere technicians at Calhoun County Implement in Manson, IA. Equipped with a hydraulic jack, the dolly allows one person to remove, transport and replace dual-wheel and tire assemblies.
“We just jack up the wheel, loosen it off the tractor or combine, set the wheel in the cradle and roll it out of the way,” says service manager Andy Peterson.
Swivel casters on the dolly provide for maneuverability, and a 6-ft. support chain helps hold the load in place.
Peterson says without the tire remover it would take two technicians to manually remove the tire. “It's a back saver,” he says. “And it saves time, too.” He says using the dolly saves them about half an hour per tire.
Cordless impact gun
“My favorite tool is quite honestly a cordless impact gun,” says Joe Callan, a John Deere service technician with Sloan Implement in Assumption, IL. The tool is similar to the corded guns mechanics use to change wheels fast at NASCAR races. But the one Callan uses around the shop is battery operated.
“It's just like a cordless drill, but it's an impact,” he says. Because it is cordless and doesn't require an air hose, it is mobile and makes it easier for a technician to get around equipment. It also speeds up work time and reduces physical labor by eliminating the need to pull on a wrench or ratchet.
Callan uses the impact gun on everything from plow sheers and cultivator sweeps to wheel bolts. “Replacing cultivator sweeps is probably the best example for the simple reason that you need something very mobile and user friendly,” he says. Each cultivator sweep has up to 100 sweeps and as many as two bolts per sweep that need to be removed and replaced. He says he can replace more sweeps faster with a cordless impact than with a wrench or ratchet.
There is a wide variety of brands and sizes on the market. Callan says the ⅜- and ½-in. drives are the most common and would fit most sockets. His favorite brand is the John Deere impact, which is available at any John Deere dealer. Price is around $250 to $300.
Dan Hurtt, AGCO service manager for Hurtt Equipment Inc., Hoople, ND, says his favorite shop tool is an electrical multimeter made by Fluke. The instrument measures electrical flow (amps), electrical pressure (voltage) and resistance to flow (ohms).
“Today's high-tech machines are voltage sensitive, and many components require the correct amount,” Hurtt says. “A multimeter eliminates having to carry a separate voltmeter, amp meter and ohmmeter because it can be easily switched to test for volts, amps or ohms.”
Hurtt uses the tool to test the electrical components on tractors, combines, and all sorts of implements. Such components include solenoids, coils, sending units, speed sensors and switches.
Unlike a simple “test light,” which shows only if there is voltage available, the multimeter tells how much voltage is available, Hurtt explains. Plus, he says, it is safer to use than a test light and is easy to carry along. “It is the first thing I'll ask a farmer if he has when he is attempting to troubleshoot a problem on his own,” he says.
Hurtt explains that to check electrical “pressure,” the operator hooks one end of the multimeter to a good ground and the other to the supply line. To check electrical “flow,” the user hooks one end of the multimeter to the supply line and the other to the component feed terminal. Finally, to check “resistance,” the operator hooks one end of the multimeter to both ends of the wire or component being tested.
Multimeters are sold at most auto supply and electrical stores. “About $100 will buy a good one that isn't too fancy,” Hurtt says.
Mike Hoffman, service manager at Tjosvold Implement, a New Holland dealership in Granite Falls, MN, says an indispensable tool for a farm shop is a flowmeter to measure hydraulic flow and pressure. “With a flowmeter you can see what your tractor is putting out for flow and set it accordingly,” Hoffman says. “If you didn't have that, you would have to guess.”
Hoffman says a flowmeter can be used to troubleshoot problems in the hydraulic line. It also can be used as an aid in buying equipment or motors requiring so many gallons per minute of hydraulic pressure. “So it can be used as a troubleshooting tool or an information tool,” he says.
The price can range from $300 to $2,500. Hoffman has two flowmeters: one made by New Holland rated at 60 to 70 gal./min., and a less expensive one rated at 30 gal./min. made by Hedland in Racine, WI.