Retro machinery fleet in demand for silage work

Three mechanically minded friends have clubbed together to form a contracting outfit that runs almost entirely on lovingly fettled modern classic machinery.

Ashley Benson, Dave Marwood and James Rawsthorn – collectively known as ADJ Contracting – have been in business for three years, after getting the opportunity to produce a small amount of clamp silage for a local farm.

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With most other firms in the area already flat out, Martin and Arlene Fishwick were unsure who they could get to pick up a 40ha patch in timely fashion.

Added to that, their small yard and low, covered pit weren’t suitable for the massive trailers and loading shovels favoured by many operators.

“We’d each already got our own tractors, mowers and balers, and James had a trailed Claas 40 forager, so we put ourselves forward,” says Ashley. “If it wasn’t for Martin and Arlene, ADJ might not have happened.”

Ashley Benson, Dave Marwood and James Rawsthorn

Ashley Benson, Dave Marwood and James Rawsthorn © James Andrews

Since then, the trio’s customer base has grown to seven, its chopping area has increased to 250ha, and its arsenal of equipment has swelled with it.

Recent additions include seven trailers, a Krone two-rotor rake, a Case IH MX110, two Jaguar 75 forage harvesters and – the main event – a 1992 682 self-propelled.

All of the gear has one thing in common: it’s arrived either broken, cosmetically rough, or worn out.

To keep costs down, repairs have been carried out in-house, and they’ve made a bit of extra cash by selling on some of their resurrected kit for a tidy profit.

“We like to make sure all the machinery is as good as it can be, so we minimise the risk of any breakdowns when we’re working,” says Dave.

“In the winter, we get together in the workshop every Wednesday evening for what we call ‘Chop Shop’ where we carry out maintenance and repairs, and have a bit of a laugh.”

Which brings us on to the fact that all three of the ADJ team have full-time jobs that they have to juggle around the contracting work.

Ashley is a digger driver, Dave is a car mechanic and James is a self-employed agricultural engineer who formerly worked for Claas dealer Rickerby.

All have flexible working arrangements, which mean they can divert their attention to the contracting job when required.

That said, they’ve already taken on enough work to get them near the limit of their capacity.

“One more customer would be nice, but we don’t want to get too big and spoil the fun.

“We’ve got to a nice level where we’re busy, but we can get around the work without too much stress and make a bit of money,” says James.

Tuned tractors

Ford 8240

Ford 8240 © James Andrews

Most tractors are owned by each of the team individually, with Ashley running a Ford 8240 SLE that has just 6,500 hours on the clock (the real hours are unknown), James a 14,000-hour Case IH Maxxum 5140, and Dave a John Deere 6400 and 6600 on 11,000 and 9,000 hours respectively.

Like the jointly owned silage kit, most were bought cheaply with some sort of problem.

Ashley’s Ford, which he purchased 10 years ago for £6,750, required quite a bit of bodywork treatment and now features a custom paint job on the bonnet.

It’s had new injectors as well, and been tuned on the dyno so that it’s running at about 130hp.

The John Deeres have also had work, particularly the 6600, which was decidedly flat when Dave bought it last year for £13,500.

Fitting a reconditioned injector pump and tweaking the output has got this running at about 120hp.

The 6400, which he bought three years ago for £11,500, has been tweaked up to 108hp.

John Deere 6800

John Deere 6800 © James Andrews

But James’ Maxxum 5140 has received the most attention.

When he bought the tractor three and a half years ago for £8,500 the bodywork was rough, so he fitted a new cab roof and mudguards, and gave it a full respray.

It’s had some mechanical upgrades too, including a left-hand shuttle with neutral position, transmission thumb shifter and a tweaked pump that means it’s putting out 145hp.

He’s split the tractor to fit a new damper plate and, while he had it apart, he treated it to a pto bearing upgrade kit.

He also checked the crown wheel and pinion and the oiler pipe that keeps it lubricated, both of which were fine.

Another addition was a load-sensing “power beyond” hydraulic slice for running a modified spout swivel on the trailed forager.

At the time of going to press, the forward clutch pack had also given up the ghost, so he’d split it again to fit a replacement.

The only tractor jointly owned by the group is a Case IH MX110, which was purchased as a non-runner.

It had been left running on a mixer wagon and all the water leaked out, causing it to melt the pistons.

Once stripped down, they had the Cummins block bored and lined, before rebuilding with all new parts, including a complete new head.

The crank was undamaged though, so they were able to reuse that.

Like the other tractors, it’s putting out much more power than standard, recording 150hp at the shaft when it was recently hooked up to a dyno.

Claas choppers

Claas Jaguar 682

Claas Jaguar 682 © James Andrews

Having started out with a classic Claas Jaguar 40, the team quickly ratcheted up the rankings, buying a couple of 60s, before settling on the two 75s they have now.

As each model was done up when it arrived and sold on for a profit – usually using parts from Lancashire breaker David Cowking – it hasn’t cost them much to upgrade.

The 75 that does most of the trailed work has also had new bearings throughout and a couple of performance-enhancing modifications, the most significant of which was to replace the weak electric spout swivel with a more powerful hydraulic version.

This was fashioned out of a hydraulic motor from a straw chopper and has plenty of power to turn the spout uphill when working, which the electric version struggled with.

For the past two seasons, the frontline chopper has been the self-propelled 682, which was purchased in late 2021 for £5,800. It was cosmetically mint, but its 3,800 hours of work had worn the internals paper thin.

That winter they set about nursing it back to health, fabricating an entirely new blower housing and chute out of thicker-than-standard steel, installing new wear plates throughout and replacing all bearings and bushes, apart from the drum.

Finishing touches included swapping the huge original steering wheel for a far more compact version from a Claas Scorpion telehandler and upgrading the spout from manual to hydraulic folding.

All in, the parts bill ran to about £4,000, but that still only puts the total outlay at £9,800, not including their labour.

Output from the 682 is about 2-3ha/hour in a decent crop of grass and they can get 1.5-3ha/hour out of the 75s, so the drag choppers now only tend to get used for smaller patches of ground.

Other kit

Baling is another service ADJ offers, using a pair of New Holland 60×90 chamber D1000s owned by Ashley and a Claas Rollant round baler that belongs to James.

As these are mainly used to produce silage, they also have a Danagri wrapper that can deal with both round and square bales.

Each of the team has a rear-mounted mower conditioner, with Ashley running a Kverneland, Dave a John Deere and James a Claas.

Most of the current kit is now up to scratch, but there are couple of projects already earmarked for this winter.

The main one will be to rebuild the 682’s spout in the same fashion as the blower housing and chute, as well as fitting front linkages to the Ford 8240 and John Deere 6600.

The Krone rake also has a cracked main beam that is due for repair, and they might start looking for an upgrade once it’s been sorted.

ADJ Contracting’s machinery fleet

  • Tractors Ford 8240, Case IH Maxxum 5140 and MX110, John Deere 6400 and 6600
  • Foragers Claas Jaguar 682 self-propelled and trailed Jaguar 75 x2
  • Mowers Claas, Kverneland and John Deere rear mower conditioners
  • Balers New Holland D1000 x2, Claas Rollant 255, Danagri wrapper
  • Trailers Seven from 6t to 11t
  • Other Krone twin-rotor rake, Claas tedders x2, four-rotor Haybob

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