Many people who go into farm equipment work have grown up with mechanical repair—they have experimented with repairing lawn mowers, old cars, and other machinery, and they have used a lot of farm equipment. If you do not live on a farm, you may be able to find part-time or summer work on a farm. You can also get valuable mechanical experience working at a gasoline service station that has a repair department, automobile repair shop, or automotive supply house. Attending farm shows is a good way to learn about farm equipment and manufacturers. At shows, you may have the opportunity to talk to equipment manufacturers' representatives and learn more about new developments in the industry. In addition, consider joining a chapter of the National FFA Organization. This organization is open to students aged 12 to 21 enrolled in agricultural programs and offers a wide variety of activities, including career-development programs.
The success of today's large-scale farming operations depends on the reliability of many complex machines. It is the farm equipment mechanic's responsibility to keep the machines in good working order and to repair or to overhaul them when they break down.
When farm equipment is not working properly, mechanics begin by diagnosing the problem. Using complex testing devices, they are able to identify what is wrong. A compression tester, for example, can determine whether cylinder valves leak or piston rings are worn, and a dynamometer can measure engine performance. The mechanic will also examine the machine, observing and listening to it in operation and looking for clues such as leaks, loose parts, and irregular steering, braking, and gear shifting. It may be necessary to dismantle whole systems in the machine to diagnose and correct malfunctions.
When the problem is located, the broken, worn-out, or faulty components are repaired or replaced, depending on the extent of their defect. The machine or piece of equipment is reassembled, adjusted, lubricated, and tested to be sure it is again operating at its full capacity.
Farm equipment mechanics use many tools in their work. Besides hand tools such as wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers and precision instruments such as micrometers and torque wrenches, they may use welding equipment, power grinders and saws, and other power tools. In addition, they do major repairs using machine tools such as drill presses, lathes, and milling and woodworking machines.
As farm equipment becomes more complex, mechanics are increasingly expected to have strong backgrounds in electronics. For instance, newer tractors have large, electronically controlled engines and air-conditioned cabs, as well as transmissions with many speeds.
Much of the time, farmers can bring their equipment into a shop, where mechanics have all the necessary tools available. But during planting or harvesting seasons, when timing may be critical for the farmers, mechanics are expected to travel to farms for emergency repairs in order to get the equipment up and running with little delay.
Farmers usually bring movable equipment into a repair shop on a regular basis for preventive maintenance services such as adjusting and cleaning parts and tuning engines. Routine servicing not only ensures less emergency repairs for the mechanics, but it also assures farmers that the equipment will be ready when it is needed. Shops in the rural outskirts of metropolitan areas often handle maintenance and repairs on a variety of lawn and garden equipment, especially lawn mowers.
If a mechanic works in a large shop, he or she may specialize in specific types of repairs. For example, a mechanic may overhaul gasoline or diesel engines, repair clutches and transmissions, or concentrate on the air-conditioning units in the cabs of combines and large tractors. Some mechanics, called farm machinery set-up mechanics, uncrate, assemble, adjust, and often deliver machinery to farm locations. Mechanics also do bodywork on tractors and other machines, repairing damaged sheet-metal body parts.
Some mechanics may work exclusively on certain types of equipment, such as hay balers or harvesters. Other mechanics work on equipment that is installed on the farms. For example, sprinkler-irrigation equipment mechanics install and maintain self-propelled circle-irrigation systems, which are like giant motorized lawn sprinklers. Dairy equipment repairers inspect and repair dairy machinery and equipment such as milking machines, cream separators, and churns.
Most farm equipment mechanics work in the service departments of equipment dealerships. Others are employed by independent repair shops. A smaller number work on large farms that have their own shops.