Pictures of tractors and combines stuck in a muddy field seemed to be everywhere last year. Now with forecasters predicting wet conditions early in the 2011 growing season, there is a good chance we’ll see many more. If you were one of those struggling to keep your machines above ground and vowed to look at alternatives for this year, Soucy Track System has something you want you to see — track conversions. These traction upgrades are suitable for combines, grain carts and even air seeder commodity carts.
Representatives from Soucy have been hitting the North American farm show circuit this past year to show off their track designs. “The two we’re focusing on for Western Canada are the combine and trailer tracks,” says Kent Hanmer of Hanmer Seeds at Govan, Sask., a Soucy Track System dealer.
Soucy’s combine tracks are designed to simply bolt onto the existing wheel hubs of any late-model machine without any modification. “If you can jack up your combine and change tires, you can put the tracks on,” says Hanmer. “It’s super simple.” The assembly will even fit a few of the older machines built before the 2000 model year. “It fits the old (New Holland) TX66s,” says Hanmer. But he suggests measuring the bolt pattern on the hub of other older combines to ensure they are compatible with the track drive’s bolt pattern.
WEAR AND TEAR
But what kind of stresses do tracks put on a combine axle and hub? “There is slightly less stress than with duals,” says Hanmer. “It (the track) is not wider (and) that’s where the stress is on your hub. With an extra tire (using duals) you’re sending the stress point way out. It’s like a lever.” The centre line of a track’s driving force is much closer to the axle hub than when the combine is equipped with duals or triples, so that stress is actually reduced.
Les Hill, manager of business development and technical services at PAMI (Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute) agrees tracks could reduce the kind of stress wide tire assemblies exert on an axle. “I would suggest that the bending moment would be far less with tracks, as they don’t extend away from the drive hub in the manner that duals and triples do,” he says. But he adds that with the extra length tracks have, it’s possible that could have some effect. “There may be some additional stress added when the longer track has to turn (inside).” But, he says, he hasn’t seen any detailed test data indicating that is definitely the case.
“There is definitely more side load when you turn,” says Hanmer. “But when you’re turning on the radius were talking about, it’s pretty much a non issue.” He says the tracks can more easily slip sideways than loaded tires because they tend to float higher on the soil surface. Tires carrying a lot of weight often sink deep into soft ground and put a similar stress on hubs. “I tried it one time (with tracks) and turned as short as that combine would turn, and it really didn’t make a rut,” he says.
With all that extra rubber on the ground, tracks distribute the combine’s weight over a larger area than tires do. According to Soucy, their 813 millimetre-wide combine track systems cover 2.4 square metres of surface area at any one time. Contrast that to a typical 800/65 R32 tire that has a footprint equal to 0.65 square metres.
That kind of floatation can get you into a field in wet conditions tires just can’t handle. Last year, that ability alone would have been worth the investment for many grain growers. “Get stuck once and it (costs and delays) adds up pretty fast,” says Hanmer.
And because tracks keep combines from sinking deep into wet ground, running one through a soft field could reduce soil damage and minimize compaction. “The other issue is rut repair,” says Hanmer. “With this, it pretty much eliminates (the need for it).”
The Soucy design uses an interior lug and sprocket drive system to eliminate slippage. That also allows the track to operate with less tension than is needed by friction-drive types. The cable-reinforced rubber belt has a three-lug tread pattern for optimum traction.
A set of Soucy combine tracks retails for around $70,000. To add extra value to that investment and keep those tracks turning through a larger part of the year, Hanmer says he came up with idea to try and use them on his air seeder cart in the spring. As a result, the company developed an adapter to mate with the different hub design used on carts. Hanmer now uses combine tracks on his own air seeder cart. The hub adapters are now commercially available.
Because the Soucy combine tracks are designed as a drive system not just an idler track, they can still operate the ground-drive systems on commodity carts. “All you’d have to do is recalibrate the setting,” says Hanmer.
Adding a set of these tracks will cause your combine or cart to bulk up a little, the assemblies weigh about 5,000 pounds per side. And because of the difference in effective circumference, the tracks will cause a combine to run about 20 per cent slower than it would with ordinary tires, which could add to transport times for those who need to move their machines down the road.
But they do offer a different transport benefit. A combine equipped with tracks will be much narrower than one equipped with duals or triples once the header is removed. If you have to travel down narrow, high-traffic roads, that bonus could outweigh the speed disadvantage.
If you just want to add tracks to a grain cart or other trailer, Soucy also makes a system designed specifically for non-drive axles. With a suggested retail of about $40,000, they’re a much lower-cost assembly. These models can be used on grain carts that have up to 1,200 bushel capacity.