I genuinely haven’t a clue how much of my life has been spent working with, and on, these drum muck spreaders. The idea is simple; a long drive shaft spins, powered by the tractor. Fastened to the shaft are flails, steel chains with a solid block on the far end. So when you’ve filled the spreader, you just drive out into the field and start the central shaft rotating. The flails spin round and smash up the muck in the drum and throw it out in a reasonably even covering.
Over the years I’ve changed the bearings at either end of the shaft. I’ve changed bearings and tightened drive chains in the system which connects the tractor power take off to the central shaft, and I’ve shortened the flail chains.
What people who’ve never used these don’t realise is spinning them round as quickly as we do, the chains slowly stretch, and this means that eventually the steel blocks on the end of the flails start hitting the drum. The drum can only take so much of this so basically you’ve got to shorten the chains.
Now there’s a proper way to do it. The central shaft has a series of brackets welded to it, and a bolt goes through the bracket and also through the last link of the flail chain. So you unfasten the bolt, remove the chain, cut off the last link, and rebolt the shorter chain back into place.
Life being what it is, the process isn’t quite as simple as that. Firstly the whole thing has been marinated in muck for a year or so. It’s probable that the bolts are rusted solid. Not only that but when you get them out you discover that some of them have worn a bit with the flails pulling on them, so while you’ve got them out it might be time to replace them with a new bolt because you’ll probably never get them back in. This time, grease your new bolt well before you fasten the nut in the vague hope that next time you’ll be able to undo it. (You won’t but greasing it will give you the warm smug glow of somebody who’s thinking ahead.)
So rather than this being a job you can do with two spanners, what you really need is an angle grinder for cutting the nuts off, a hammer and punch for getting the bolts out. Then you can use the angle grinder to cut the bottom link off. Then open your pack of new bolts and put one of them in.
Unless of course, you’re just way too busy. You see, you’re on your own, (Lone working is my life) and you’ve got perhaps an hour at most to work on this job before you have to start afternoon milking. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be using the spreader again, so that hour is all you have. Under these circumstances you might be tempted to try a different method.
With the angle grinder cut through the chain link that is bolted to the shaft. Don’t worry, it’s so jammed with muck and rust it’s not going to move. Remove the rest of the chain, shorten it, and then put the end back through the cut you just made. With a hammer, bring the ends of the cut link closer together and just weld the gap shut so the flail chain is now in place.
Now do the next one.
I remember one time wondering how much of my life has been taken up with keeping knackered machinery working using techniques that aren’t in the manual, and whether, one day, I might ever be able to afford a piece of new kit that wasn’t held together by muck, rust, string and hasty welding jobs.
But here at the scruffy end of agriculture, worrying about how to cope with too much newness has never been an issue to be honest.
Once you’ve dealt with a water leak in a galvanised metal pipe by covering the leak with weld, whilst water is still running at low pressure through the pipe, very little upsets you any more.
I did produce a collection of anecdotes about farming, but frankly, in the interests of safety I left out the engineering tips
Go on, treat yourself