Baling hay with the moody “Big Yellow Bear” always tricky

Baling hay with the moody “Big Yellow Bear” always tricky

With good equipment, hay season might be an enjoyable time. For me and my sister, hay season involves a rocky relationship with the weather and old equipment--one requiring patience, persistence, and expensive repair therapy -- more for my sister than for me. I’m just the rake woman.

All I have to do is go in circles and make sure one or both of the rake wheel assemblies don’t fly off. It happened earlier in the summer, but luckily we scavenged enough parts to replace it.

The most controversial relationship exists between the baler and my sister. The worn-out, 1980 Vermeer baler is affectionately called the “Big Yellow Bear.” It must be pulled with a tractor featuring an open-air cab (and yes, we also named the John Deere 4030--“The Pterodactyl”) because the noises it makes are vital clues as to how well it’s running that day. A finely-tuned ear knows the healthy ones from the ones that mean all heck is about to break loose. My father could identify these sounds and offer the correct diagnosis in his sleep—along with the obligatory cursing.

Thankfully, my sister has developed a decent working relationship with the Bear. She gives the Bear the attention it craves—grease in the right places and a thorough work-over for belts that are tight and rollers and teeth and bearings that are functioning as they should.

Despite the hard work on the front end, their relationship seems to be mostly dysfunctional when it comes time to hit the field. When the Bear is happy, the steady click-clack of the belts and rollers means all is going well. When the Bear is upset, a slap and then a grinding sound usually means a chain has slipped off a sprocket. When the Bear decides to go on strike, no sound at all means STOP immediately.

Bear sets fire to hay bales just for fun

Like other relationships, there are days when the Bear is working but still moody and easily offended. If the hay is too wet, it chokes. If it’s too dry, it chokes. Last year, the Bear set fire to one of the bales just for fun. Luckily my sis was able to drop it before the Bear and the Pterodactyl went up in flames. The Bear wanted to make sure she knew who was in charge.

Thankfully, my sister has been forced by circumstance to become a relationship expert when it comes to farm equipment. That means that each hay season she gets to hone her part-time mechanic skill set. The last learning experience occurred in early August. The baler wasn’t picking up hay because the big roller with the teeth was jammed. This happened right at dusk when my sister was tired and hungry and sweaty and itchy and 75 percent done baling the last field. The Bear didn’t care. It just sat there frowning as she made her diagnosis.

Her solution: take off each of the two exterior roller assemblies to determine if the problem is a worn-out bearing. At this point, the neighbors we rent the field from have arrived and are offering their tools and help. Using every wrench and wedge and ratchet tool we collectively own, we removed the right side assembly. Everything looked to be in order. To the left side we went. After rolling around in a fire ant bed trying to determine how to remove the button head allen cap in order to check the cam bearing, she determined that the cam bearing itself had come apart and was causing the jam. The problem was identified, but it was too late in the day to repair it. Not to mention it was Sunday.

She returned to the field the next day ready for battle and was successful in negotiating a peace treaty with the Bear. I suppose it was finished throwing a fit and therefore ready to work again, for the time being. She did manage to net something of value out of the ordeal. She salvaged a part of the destroyed bearing and is now proudly wearing it as a bracelet.

Her relationship advice: don’t get involved with a 1980 Vermeer Baler. The repair therapy costs too much time and money.

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