You made it through last harvest with your old grain truck, but how about this year? Is old faithful looking a bit tired and the duct tape wearing thin? Are you thinking about upgrading your grain trucks? What’s the best answer? Single axle, tandem or tag axle, or semi truck and trailer?
Well, there are lots of answers and they’re all right for somebody. Here are a few thoughts and ideas that will help you find the right answer for your farm.
HOW MUCH TO SPEND?
On our farm and probably on yours, cost is a limiting factor. Cost also depends on your repair abilities, the time you have to do those repairs, and how comfortable you are with older equipment that breaks down. You also have to be careful not to spend too much and run short in other areas.
Also consider the lifespan of the truck. The more you spend, the longer the truck will last, and hopefully the more expensive truck will be more trouble free. Interest is cheap now, so if you can find a friendly banker you can likely finance a pretty nice truck for your farm that will last 10 or 20 years. However if cash is tight, maybe a cheapy is best. Starting prices for very used trucks are $3,000 for a three ton, $7,000 for a tag or tandem, and $20,000 for a semi truck and trailer.
COST OF REPAIRS
Prices listed above are for the cheapest serviceable truck available. If you can find a truck at these prices, it will quite likely need some repairs before it’s in good shape. Generally, the more you spend, the better you get but that is not always the case. Spend carefully.
As with most other machinery your ability to repair can save you a lot of money. If you can do your own repairs without causing more damage than already has been inflicted on the machine, then you are making money. However, if you are a stranger to wrenches and it scares you to look under a hood, then you’d best not buy a fixer upper.
With trucks, the bigger the truck, the bigger the repair bill in most cases. Also who’s going to fix your truck? If it can be fixed locally that’s cheaper than driving it 150 km to the nearest dealer. Most garages can repair single-axle trucks, but once you get into tandems and highway tractors it gets more specialized. The newer computer controlled units often have to go to the dealer for some of the diagnosis and service.
Who hauls your grain? How comfortable are they with driving larger units? To drive a semi trailer unit you need to have a Class 1 licence with the air brake endorsement. To drive a tandem with air brakes for farm use in Saskatchewan you are OK with a Class 5. But just because someone is allowed to drive a tandem by the government does not mean that they can drive it safely without causing damage or injury. Make sure you and your drivers are willing and able to drive the new truck or will take the necessary training to be safe operators. Remember, bigger trucks with bigger loads take longer to stop. A three ton that hauls 18,000 pounds of wheat (300 bushels) stops a lot quicker than a semi hauling 60,000 pounds (1,000 bushels).
Another consideration is standard or automatic transmissions. Before you buy the truck, make sure your operators are able to drive a truck with a non-synchronized transmission. These transmissions require special skills including saying the right words and holding your mouth just right until you become proficient with their ways. Automatic transmissions are available in all trucks, but they cost more money.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you have all your land in one block and you’re half a mile from the terminal. Some of us aren’t that lucky. If you have long hauls from field to bin, then bigger trucks can significantly speed up harvest. If you haul your own grain to market, you’ll make fewer trips with a larger truck.
Custom hauling is fine if it works for you and it does work well for many farmers. However you’re sometimes hampered by the trucker’s schedule. Can you get a custom hauler when you need one? Also the money you spend on custom hauling could be making the payments on a larger truck of your own.
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED
A semi trailer needs a transfer auger or a swing away auger. We bought an old 60-foot swing away auger at a reasonable price to unload our semi-trailer.
How long is your unloading auger on the combine? And how high is it? With our old Massey 750s, we can barely fit the auger over the side of the grain trailer. You have to make sure to park the trailer in a low spot if you can and then it’s OK.
Until our son Ben bought his highway tractor and grain trailer, I didn’t realize how nice it was to have them. We could park in the field and combine until we had 1,000 bushels or more on the truck.
Going from driving a three ton to a semi trailer unit is like going from a 12-foot cultivator to a 50-foot cultivator. Only with a large cultivator, when you make a mistake it’s usually only a few fence posts. If you make a mistake with a semi, you can squash cars and cause all kinds of injuries or worse. Before you buy a larger truck, try driving with a neighbour who has one. Get your learner’s license and perhaps take a course to learn how to drive the unit you’re planning to buy.
Ben has been a professional driver for several years and he was quite comfortable with buying a semi. I, however, will need some training so I’ll have a bit of a learning curve. Good luck with your truck shopping.
Ron Settler, his wife, Sheila, and their sons Ben and Dan farm and run a repair and salvage business at Lucky Lake, Sask.