Monday, December 16, 2013

Stuck Pivots, Flats, Ruts….Help! | by John Kastl

I get a lot of questions from growers about what they can do minimize wheel ruts, or at least keep the machine from getting stuck. It’s a simple question, but the answer is complicated!

So, let’s consider some of the factors that affect wheel tracking. These include soil type, crop, how many hours you irrigate per year, amount of water per pass, and your level of tolerance for wheel tracks. Because of all these variables, Valley® offers a range of flotation solutions that cover nearly all situations, including everything from 14.9-24 and 11.2-38 Non-Directional and 18.4-26 Radial Tires, to 3-Wheel Basebeams, Track Drives, and Articulating Drives. There are also independent suppliers offering plastic wheels, steel wheels, you name it!

With all these options, how do you choose? Start by talking with your local Valley dealer, visit with your neighbors to learn what works in your area, and consider the following examples to determine what is best for your particular situation.

Let’s say you can live with deep wheel tacks, but don’t want your machine to get stuck and don’t want a wide wheel track that could damage your harvesting equipment. In that case, an 11.2-38 tire is an excellent option. It keeps the basebeam higher off the ground, giving you more rounds until the wheel track deepens. It also provides a few more inches of crop clearance.

Maybe you just need to reduce the wheel track depth, so you don’t get stuck later in the season. In this instance, the Valley-exclusive Champion Hydro ND tire from Firestone is a great option. Unlike regular tractor tires, the Champion Hydro ND tires have a non-directional tread that provides excellent traction and keeps the mud in the wheel track, minimizing rut depth throughout the season. In addition, these tires use a special rubber compound to delay dry rot, so they last longer in the field.
Champion Hydro ND tires

If you need some additional traction to power your way through a tough spot in the field, a Valley 3-Wheel Basebeam is a great solution. The third center tire provides additional traction when you need it. It’s compatible with all of Valley’s tires and can be used on Standard and High Profile drive units. If you’re not sure you’ll need it, order your machine with the basebeam-only option. Then, if you need it later in the season, it’s simple to add the third gearbox and tire.

If your corner steerable drive units have problems with deep ruts, Valley recommends the 18.4R26 Radial tire. This tire can be inflated to only 10 psi, giving it a very large footprint and a low, 11 psi ground pressure that really helps eliminate ruts.

Perhaps you have a really difficult field where you need maximum flotation and traction. In those situations, Valley suggests the Track Drive for most fields and the Articulating or Articulating Track Drive for rough ground (such as when you have to cross a ditch).

“OK, but I’m tired of fixing flat tires, what about those steel and plastic wheels?”

Valley started with steel wheels on the old water drive machines and understands the problems associated with hard wheels, especially the lack of “give.” We’re constantly evaluating various “airless tire” options, but to date we haven’t found a product that doesn’t cause deep wheel tracks or cause wheel gearboxes to fail. One grower told me he’d rather fix an occasional flat than break gearboxes or get the pivot unstuck every time it goes around.

Remember, the most important thing you can do to minimize ruts is to ensure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure. Too much pressure can cause deep ruts and shorten the life of the tire. Also, take a look at your tires at the end of the season, especially on machines that are 8 to 10 years old. If there are deep cracks in the tire and you can see the white fabric plies at the bottom, it’s time to consider replacement. It will pay off next year with fewer flats and problems with your machine. Likewise, proper maintenance of the wheel track in the off season and packing the track at the start of the season are important to minimizing problems throughout the year.

John Kastl
Product Manager - Equipment

John joined the Valley Irrigation Engineering Department in 2000 after having spent 11 years at General Electric Aircraft Engines. Today, he manages the equipment products for Valley (center pivots, corners, and gearbox, to name a few), helping develop the next generation of Valley Irrigation machines. John enjoys photography, home renovation, and travel. On his third birthday, John watched the first moon landing!