27 March 1998

CONVERTED CARS

LET STRAWBERRIES

RIDE MORE GENTLY

Somerset farmer Richard

Parriss machine took top

spot in the Complex section

of the 1997 Barclays

Bank/ farmers weekly

Inventions Competition.

Andrew Pearce takes a

closer look at it

NOTHING stays still for long at the Parris familys Cutliffe Farm, tucked in close behind Somersets county town of Taunton. Although around 405ha (1000 acres) is owned, rented and share-farmed, its not acreage that keeps everyone on their toes; its the diversity of enterprises.

Apart from a substantial cereal crop, theres 91ha (225 acres) of ware and seed potatoes, a 120-strong beef unit and 32ha (80 acres) of soft fruit. Most of the different species here – gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, tayberries – take a relatively small area for pick-your-own. The bulk is down to strawberries and raspberries for the supermarkets, with only around 15% PYO.

&#42 Field to store

On a hot summers day, 7-8t of highly perishable produce comes off the field. Speed is then the biggest priority; moving crop fast over the half-mile or so back to the farm, then quickly into the cooling shed to lose field heat. But rush cant mean bump, as bruising plays havoc with quality. The buyers dont like that.

Bulk handling is the only option. Picking starts at 5.30am with fruit going into punnets. These pack into trays, which then stack 32 to a 300kg pallet; crop value on each is around £450. Now, the logical way for a farmer to shift pallets is with a tractor and trailer, but Richard Parris soon gave that up. "Too slow, too rough and too clumsy, " he says.

So he tried a team of ATVs, each pulling a farm-built, pallet-forked trailer. Unsprung, the trailers rolled on ATV tyres. These outfits were faster and kinder, but the bikes cost a lot to buy, were expensive on fuel and expensive to maintain. And when the pressure was really on they could overheat, producing more stress.

After the 96 season the ATV fleet came due for replacement, but Mr Parris knew there had to be a better way. Over winter he worked out what it should be, but with everything else going on he didnt get into the workshop until April. And with the first polythene-grown fruit due in less than a month, he had to get cracking.

&#42 Off with their backs

A trip to the local scrapyards produced two Peugeot 205 diesel cars, picked for their potential reliability. Wading in with a large grin and a grinder, Richard Parris sliced the bodywork off the first one just behind the doors. After closing off the front ends resulting void with folded 2mm plate, he cut the drawbar from an ATV trailer and grafted the pallet-fork section to the half-car. The resulting Mk1 transporter was mobile, looked useful, showed the idea worked but had no rear springing. So he set about the second 205.

Again, everything aft of the doors came off and a folded sheet closed the cab. On the workshop floor he built a subframe to carry the suspension and pallet forks, using 100mm x 50mm (4in x 2in) box for the main horizontal members. At the front of this, two channels in a vertical frame hold the fork carriage, which comes from a second-hand Ford Cargo tail lift and runs on John Deere pickup reel bearings.

Welding the subframe to the cabs closing panel stiffened the body. Another scrapyard venture produced two self-contained Montego spring/damper units, which were the jumping-off point for Mk2s rear suspension.

To maximise ground clearance and generate flotation, Mr Parris planned to plant his transporter on the biggest diameter ATV wheels he could find. As the back had to stay completely open to accept a pallet, a beam axle was out. So to keep overall width down he had to devise the slimmest possible independent rear suspension, and brace it so neither wheel-carrying pontoon twisted under load.

The answer was a simple trailing arm for each side, made from deep 80mm x 15mm steel and pivoted at its forward end. The chassis rails provide an inner pivot, while angled extension sweeping back from the cab look after the outer one (Pic 5). Extra torsional stiffness comes from plate welded between the sections.

The space behind the seats is home to the 12V tail lift combined motor and pump, plus a simple home-built fuel tank (Pic 7). Outside, a switch controls lift operation and a mechanical interlock adds security should the lift expire in transport (Pic 3)

Finding room for the front wheels provided a small challenge. "The original rims were 13in diameter, but the biggest ATV ones I could find were 12in," Richard Parris explains, "And these wouldnt fit over the front steering knuckles. So I welded the original Peugeot wheel centres inside the new rims and cut away the wings to take the tyres."

&#42 Now, thats better

Conversions each took 10 days – and the cost of the pair, including labour and the base vehicle, came to less than one new ATV. Last season all the supermarket crop travelled by Peugeot, leaving Mr Parris pretty pleased with the way things turned out. "Its solved our problem," he confirms. "We can carry pallets at up to 30mph and still get no fruit damage, take produce quickly to the cooler and do it all cheaply on red diesel.

"Last summer we had 155mm of rain in three days. The trucks moved around afterwards without doing damage or getting stuck, so I reckon we shouldnt have future problems. This year Im going to add suspension to the first one; but as weve also got an order to build two more from a grower in Portugal, Id better get moving." As we said, nothing stands still at Cutliffe Farm.

2. Soft fruit needs a soft ride – Richard Parris with his Peugeot-based strawberry transporter.

4. Removable rear gates secure the load. These lift off, letting a drawbar slot into the open chassis rail ends. An open body can take a pallets place.

5. Below: Rear suspension comes from Montego concentric spring/damper units. Each rear wheel is carried on a front-pivoted trailing arm.

3. Left: … the operator uses an external lift switch. In around 5secs its fully up and a mechanical safely lock is clicked home.

6. A single 2mm steel sheet folds round to close the cabin, then a box-section rear subframe welds to it to stiffen everything up. Switch (top) controls pallet lift. Extra rails between door pillar bottom and the back wheels stop drivers tangling with gateposts.

7. Behind the seats, the pallet lifts combined pump and reservoir (bottom left) share space with a fabricated fuel tank. The ex-Ford Cargo tail lifts ram can be spotted through the back window. Red diesel makes for economic operation, says Richard Parris.