With the cost of new kit a barrier to entry, one engineer turned contractor has built an impressive fleet of slurry handling implements to service his growing contracting business. Alex Heath finds out more.
With help of his father, Dave Gordon has successfully fabricated a custom range of equipment in their farm workshop near Leek, Staffordshire.
Mr Gordon, who runs a small farm started contracting when a job came up to use a vacuum tanker. Demand quickly grew which required him to invest significant sums of money in order to equip himself.
Having been brought up helping his father, who is a mechanic, in the workshop, Mr Gordon has since developed a knack for fabrication. He says building his own kit not only saves money, but allows him to add the features he wants, while adding in more steel where he thinks necessary.
The first piece Mr Gordon decided to make was a reeler for his lay flat pipe, he says: “We cold rolled the rings for the reeler around an old hay turner wheel, mounted on a piece of box and slotted into a socket in the floor.
“The rings are made of 50mm box section with a 3mm wall, pulling it round by hand and clamping it, before welding it. The main frame is made from 80mm box.”
This was constructed before he got into a full umbilical setup and used to pump off a slurry tanker parked on the headland. The reel itself does not lift off and is driven by a second-hand hydraulic motor, using chains and sprockets off an old feeder wagon.
“It is a powerful setup, capable of dragging 400 metres of pipe in one go,” says Mr Gordon.
Designed to hold 600m of pipe, he reckons it can accommodate up to 800m if needed.
As with all Mr Gordon’s kit, he says it is built heavier than needed and features little details that are not always available with off the shelf implements. All his creations are fitted with an A-frame for easier attachment.
Next to get some attention was a frame for his second-hand Atlas Copco compressor. Capable of 150cu.ft/minute, he says when he bought the compressor, it was handy money and ran well, but the panels were badly beaten. The frame allows the compressor to be carried around on the tractor, but the hitch mechanism folds down out of the way, allowing the access doors to open for maintenance.
After straightening the panels, it was treated to a full respray with trusty red oxide. It is generally kept near to the pump set and connected to the outlets at the end of the day to blast the pipes out.
The dribble bar was made about a year ago and features several improvements over others on the market, says Mr Gordon. It has an eight-metre working width, with 32 pipes distributing slurry onto the ground.
The first part of the puzzle was sourcing a macerator. Mr Gordon says he found a second-hand Joskin macerator costing £500. With 36 outlets, four of which are now blocked off, Mr Gordon says without it, the project would have been a non-starter.
From the macerator, the framework was built, complete with an A-frame hitch. He says for simplicity, he wanted it so that when attached to the tractor, the storage legs did not have to be taken off. These slide into the chassis when attached and have spring loaded locking pins.
The outer wings fold up, going past 90-degrees to make it narrower at the top.
“With lots of work up narrow lanes, getting the geometry right on the folding was critical. It has to come in at the top, otherwise they have a habit of catching trees,” says Mr Gordon.
In total, 90m of 50mm hose is used to get slurry to the ground. To keep costs at bay, he used a sprayer suction hose, which he concedes is not as flexible as the rubber hose generally found on commercial models, so some careful thoughtt went into routing it around the machine.
He says this method cost £2/metre, instead of £7/m for the rubber-type hose. At the bottom, 30m of 50mm lay flat pipe is used to form the dribble tubes, clamped to the outside of the ribbed hose to prevent snagging points.
The 80mm by 80mm box section framework has been galvanised for protection. Weight-wise, Mr Gordon says the frame on its own was about 700kg but with everything attached he says it is less than a tonne.
He estimates the dribble bar altogether has cost less than £4,000 to build, not including his time. However, he says with the features he has added, it makes it a lot easier to use than anything he could have bought.
He plans to adapt his slurry tanker, by adding a lifting mechanism and A-frame, so that the dribble bar can be used for both applications.
Mr Gordon says many of the farms he spreads on require two pumps to generate enough pressure to get up Staffordshire’s rolling hills. On the biggest lagoon he empties, a tractor and pump can be sat there for the whole week, he says, so a dedicated pump set made sense.
However, with the cost of a decent-spec unit nearing an unjustifiable £40,000, according to Mr Gordon, he started to think how he could build one on a budget.
As chance would have it, an aircraft tug, from Manchester airport had been weighed into the local scrapyard. Complete with its 170hp Perkins V8 engine. He admits it may be overkill on the power output for his requirements, being a V8 rather than a straight-six, but he says its shorter length lent itself to being mounted transversely in a frame, keeping the weight close to the tractor.
The engine and pump sit within the width of the tractor, at under 230cm. The pump came second-hand off eBay, while his biggest expense was the Fenaflex rubber coupling joining the pump to the flywheel, costing over £500.
At the bottom of the frame, Mr Gordon made his own diesel tank, with a capacity of 300 litres.
There are two outlets; one sending slurry up the pipe to the dribble bar and the second recirculating slurry back into the pit. These are shut off with gate valves on a see-saw arrangement and controlled via an electric actuator.
Controlling the whole setup, Mr Gordon has rigged up a radio relay system, with an antenna and receiver on both the tractor and pump set. This enables him to alter the revs of the engine and divert the slurry in either direction.
He says the system is not yet complete, with extra functionality to be added, including starting and stopping the engine and starting the compressor for blowing out to be added. He says this will enable it to be a truly one-man operation.
Mr Gordon says flat-out the pump set will push 120cu.m/hour up the pipe, depending on the terrain and viscosity of the slurry. He adds it is definitely an improvement on his tractor mounted pump in terms of performance, while leaving the tractor free to do other jobs.
Mr Gordon’s next project is to convert a Keenan mixer wagon chassis into a trailer to carry all his kit around.