According to somebody who knows, farmers and Royal Marines have at least one thing in common, an utter disregard for doing things by the book. (A blithe disregard of health and safety may be one of the other things they have in common.) So over the years, my occasional ventures into agricultural engineering are such as to give proper engineers palpitations. Were any to stop to watch what I’m doing, they’d probably have to go and have a lie down.
Over the years I’ve had to do a lot of percussive maintenance with tractor mounted slurry scrapers. The problem is that these take a lot of hammer. They’re used at least twice a day whilst cows are housed, they’re marinated in muck (which does nobody any good) and they’re often used in the dark or semi-dark. So yes they get well used.
Now scrapers don’t have all that many wearing parts. There’s the rubber that makes contact with the concrete that does wear out. There are also the pins the scraper pivots on. Because for those who’ve never used one, a scraper is meant to be able to pull muck as well as to push it. Indeed when you stop and think about it, you want to be able to pull muck out of the building (so the scraper can get close to the back wall, the last thing you want is to have to shovel a tractor length of muck by hand.) and similarly you want to be able push the muck into the slurry pit. After all, pulling it into the slurry pit means that the tractor has to go first. This is generally something you try to avoid.
Actually in the picture at the top of the page, the pit cannot be all that deep, you can still see the tractor.
But back to the pins the scraper pivots on. In the picture, the red arrow points to one of them. The pin connects A to B. Obviously they’re pretty hard steel. The last thing you want is them bending and buckling so the scraper no longer pivots.
But when you have a piece of steel (like B) swinging on a hard steel pin, if B isn’t as hard as the pin then B is going to wear. So B should be pretty hard steel as well, but in fact you’re running to expense. At what point do we call a halt.
I’d love to discuss the design of these scrapers with somebody who actually understands it all, but as far as I can see, you want everything to fail simultaneously. After all, they aren’t going to last forever. In theory the rubbers can be replaced but by the time the rubber has worn out, the bolts holding it on are so rotted they have to be cut off and the ‘wings’ have taken so many knocks they are only half connected to the rest of the scraper. So using high quality expensive steel just makes the tackle even more expensive and won’t increase life all that much.
In theory if you wash the scraper off after each use it would extend its life. But frankly if you’ve got time to do that, you’re either employing too many staff or you’re not milking enough cows.
Anyway back to the scraper. B wears. In fact what happens is that, in slow motion, the pin cuts its way through the metal of B until the hole in B is actually a slot.
Now doing the job properly and thinking about it, when buying another second hand scraper, I’d weld a couple of hard steel washers to B, one each side of the hole. This I would do when things were dry and clean, in the workshop where I could lift and twist things so that I could get to weld it properly. That way it would take the pin so much longer to cut its way through. Yes, because life is so slow and relaxed round here I have always had time to do sensible stuff like that. Oh look, a unicorn.
Instead, this is agriculture and everything is done in a rush. One morning you discover that the pins have escaped, B has a slot rather than a hole, so you hammer the steel back into place (because once the pin has broken through, it stops wearing as much and starts bending the softer metal out of its way) and then weld a bit of steel across the top of the slot to hold the bits into place.
But remember that you’re welding steel that has been marinated in muck for some years. So things spark and splutter a bit. Also there’s the frantic looking round for a piece of steel to weld across. Obviously in the fabulously appointed workshop there’ll be all sorts of handy bits. I’ve patched scrapers up with all sorts of odds and sods over the years. On one occasion I ended up with what I suspect was an old clog iron from the sole of somebody’s clog. For reasons I never understood it had been tacked to a beam, perhaps they’d hung something from it? If they did it was at least a century ago and I’d got fed up of trying to avoid knocking my head on it and had taken it down.
But it was just the right size and thickness to weld as a band over the top of the metal I’d hammered back into place. So I cut it into lengths and held it in place with mole grips and welded it up. It is was barely drizzling, it wasn’t raining properly.
I think the technical term is ‘clagged it on.’
So a piece of blacksmith iron that came out of the forge perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago was used to cobble together something a little more modern. Not only that but whatever the analysis and temper it had had before I got to play with it, by the time the welder had heated it up, and the molten weld had soaked up the muck around it, I shudder to think what its properties changed to.
But any job that gets you ‘back on the road’ for the cost of two welding rods is a good job.
Always remember, if some other part of the scraper gives up the ghost before bit you repaired breaks again, it was a successful repair. If you want pretty, I suggest you follow the YouTube channel of one of the more fashionable ‘influencers.’
There again what do I know, ask one of the experts featured below!
A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.
As a reviewer commented, “
This is in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.
Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”