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'Chimney' Ends Harvest Fires

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
filed under: Equipment

Necessity is the mother of invention.

This quote attributed to Plato could just as well have originated on a farm somewhere in Middle America. Growers are often building or inventing something to meet their needs.

Chester Schantz, who farms near Hebron, N.D., says he was so frustrated by frequent combine fires that he was close to giving up on sunflower. After spending several days in the field a few years ago fending off countless fires (despite blowing the dust off of his combine every round or two), he thought there had to be a way to solve the issue. Schantz isn’t the type to give up, so instead he dreamed up an idea for an air intake device.

That night, when his mind was able to rest, Schantz envisioned the device: a chimney-sort of apparatus that would be attached to the combine’s air intake screen, with an opening at the top to draw in clean air. The next morning, he bought some wood and went to work constructing.

The unit that is attached to the back of his Case IH 2188 is built with 5/8” thick plywood, is about 2-1/2’ square and stands 8’ tall. The boards are held together with screws and reinforced on the inside corners. This simple box has meant the end of combine fires during the sunflower harvest for Schantz.

Each combine make and model may require some extra ingenuity to custom fit the device, but it can be done. Schantz built one to fit his John Deere 9870, which he notes was a bit trickier because the air intake on this model has a curve. But once again, determination won out. It was a must, because Schantz won’t run the combine through sunflower without it. In fact, in the combine’s first season he temporarily parked the John Deere, finishing his ’flowers with the Case IH, until he had the time to build the chimney system. That box is only 32” high since the air intake is situated much higher on the Deere.

“We had to find a way to get clean air through the radiator and keep the engine clean,” Schantz explains. “Sunflower dust gets near the engine, and those sparks coming from the manifold are a sure place for fires to start.”

It’s 16’ from the ground to the top of the box on the Case IH, which is the maximum height to fit under electrical wires and inside most machine shop overhead doors. The chimney may appear a little odd, but all Schantz really cares about is whether it works. Some of his neighbors have made comments, but he laughs about it. “I know the chimney looks sort of comical; but if it wouldn’t be for this I wouldn’t plant sunflower,” he adds. “With this, we haven’t had a fire yet.”

While some neighbors might scoff at the sight, a few have embraced Schantz’s idea and fitted their own combines with the same apparatus. Terry Meuchel, who farms in the same area, has built chimneys for his two Case IH 2588 combines and hasn’t had an issue with fires since. He built his plywood box about 3’ wide and 8’ tall, fitted around the air intake screen on the side of the machine. He has used various methods to attach the chimney to the brackets on the combine with screws, wires or ratchet straps — whatever works. Once mounted, the top of the chimney reaches about 16-1/2’ from the ground up.

“With the high horsepower of today’s machines,” Meuchel explains, “you get that combine going and the turbo looks like a sparkler. Dust comes in across the radiator and onto the turbo and basically explodes.”

Meuchel, who will harvest 3,000 acres of sunflower this fall, planted more ’flowers this season due to the wet conditions and late planting window. He says in past years he was becoming frustrated with repeated fires, but since he fitted the combine’s air intake screen with the chimney, the problem has ceased.

“It’s all about getting fresh air from the top,” says Meuchel, who farms in a traditionally dry area of North Dakota. “Some days there’s nothing but a cloud of dust in the fields — so much so that you can’t even see the combine. But you can usually see about a foot of the chimney sticking out the top of that dust cloud, doing its job drawing in clean air.”

Schantz and Meuchel know that this simple idea isn’t foolproof; but it has made a world of difference. Meuchel also has grounded the rotors and the spinners on his machines as extra precautions to avoid fires started by static electricity.

Both say they no longer have to take the time to blow the combine of dust every round or two. In fact, Schantz says he only blows the engine compartment off twice daily — once during the day and then before parking the machine for the night.

Schantz estimates he spent approximately $60 to build the chimney that is attached to his Case IH machine. But the peace of mind he now has protecting his costly equipment investment is priceless.

— Sonia Mullally

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