Dress rehearsal for tractor repair

An old 2030 LS tractor with a trans­mis­sion fault had been sitting forgotten in the work­shop of a school in Zambia. Retired John Deere expert, Günter Becker was drafted in to help with the repairs. To make sure nothing went wrong, he prac­ticed on a dupli­cate model in Germany.

Günter Becker knows John Deere trac­tors like the back of his hand. He worked as a tech­nical instructor in Bruchsal for nine years before retiring in 2021. If he comes across a model he doesn’t know about, he knows exactly where to get more infor­ma­tion. This was neces­sary when he was asked by the Lieben­zell Mission for his help with a very special project, in autumn 2023: An old 2030 LS on the organisation’s school grounds in Zambia had been in daily use to tidy up the steppe grasses, to prevent them from catching fire. This vintage model, dating from the 1970s, had been malfunc­tioning and been sat in the work­shop for a while, because no-one locally knew how to repair the old German tractor.

A huge advan­tage at John Deere is the complete docu­men­ta­tion. Even with an old tractor from the 1970s, the plans are still availble and precise.

Günter Becker

The head of the organ­i­sa­tion, Michael Pflaum, knew Günter from previous co-oper­a­tions and contacted him directly.  Günter, who had provided his tech­nical exper­tise on aid missions in Papua New Guinea when he was younger, accepted imme­di­ately.

Good prepa­ra­tion with an iden­tical tractor

Firstly, Günter had to under­stand what was wrong with the tractor to fix it. The only infor­ma­tion he had was that the trans­mis­sion was appar­ently broken. In 1972, John Deere replaced the 20 series with the 30 series, focusing on load switch trans­mis­sions: 24 gears that can be adjusted with a 20% reduc­tion under load without using the clutch. This was a reve­la­tion for working on rough terrain with slopes or against signif­i­cant resis­tance. Günter first looked for a 2030 series tractor of the same make in Germany. “I first had to under­stand what needed to be repaired, then which spare parts and which tools I would need to do so.”

Warren is the youngest member of the team. Almost 30 craftsmen take care of the school’s needs all year round.
Warren attended a mechanics school and comes to Günter Becker’s work­shop every Saturday for private lessons to learn more about the tech­nical struc­ture.

A suit­able John Deere model was surpris­ingly easy to find. He was told that a 2030 LS, also aban­doned with a trans­mis­sion fault, could be found on the farm of a John Deere colleague’s cousin. The colleague, Michael Schilling, remi­nisces: “I drove it myself as a young man. When I heard about Günter’s search, I contacted him imme­di­ately.” Günter started work on the tractor in Germany. “A huge advan­tage is John Deere’s seam­less docu­men­ta­tion. Even for such an old model from the Seven­ties, the schematics still exist and include every detail.” He obtained the required spare parts from acquain­tances via the John Deere network.

In the work­shop at home, Günter Becker exam­ines the trans­mis­sion of the iden­tical tractor in order to best prepare for the repair in Zambia.
Equipped with Günter Becker’s prac­tical knowl­edge and the detailed John Deere plans, the mechanics make good progress.

Günter, a qual­i­fied measure­ment engi­neer and control mechanic, knew exactly what needed to be done and explains: “First, I tried to under­stand the system as fully as possible. Which pres­sures would I need? Are there any weak spots and what equip­ment will I need?” He discov­ered that the German tractor had a faulty seal through which oil had escaped, causing the trans­mis­sion fault.

Passionate work on the old machine in Zambia

Equipped with this knowl­edge and a 60kg suit­case stuffed with spare parts, measure­ment equip­ment and tools, Günter trav­elled to Zambia, located in the southern half of the African conti­nent, in November 2023. When he arrived at the school, the mechanics showed him the faulty machine. Thanks to his prep work, he discov­ered quickly that a lack of oil had also damaged the trans­mis­sion here, just like the one in Germany.

With the tech­nical know-how that Günter Becker brings with him, Warren and his colleagues learn more about the entire system and can keep their tractor in better condi­tion in the future.

The old trac­tors have a lot to do at the school. A crit­ical role is land­scape main­te­nance in the dry area where fires can spread extremely quickly.

Kumwenda (r.) is the team’s oldest employee and is respon­sible for all repairs. It is impor­tant to him that they can continue to use Günter Becker’s input even after his depar­ture.

“The trans­mis­sion requires a pres­sure of approx­i­mately 10 bar. If the oil pres­sure drops, the clutch drags,” he explains. “A further drop leads to fric­tion, with the lamella bending and causing damage to the trans­mis­sion. In Zambia, not knowing enough about the tractor’s system, they didn’t pay enough atten­tion to the oil level. They also didn’t know which liquids could be added into the trans­mis­sion.” This is exactly where Günter started his work. He and the mechanics worked their way through the schematics together and he explained to them in more detail how impor­tant main­te­nance and care are, partic­u­larly for old machines.

I want to inspire the same enthu­siasm in people that I feel myself.

Günter Becker

His job is not only to carry out the repairs but also to increase compre­hen­sive knowl­edge. At the end of his one-month-long stay, the mechanics should be better trained. “I really enjoy teaching people to be able to do some­thing them­selves,” he says. “I want people to have the same enthu­siasm and passion for their own hand­i­work that I have.”

Rela­tion­ships and machines need care

Under­standing the local industry is impor­tant to this. Some of the largest commer­cial farms in Africa can be found in Zambia, with very modern machines. However, there are also a lot of smaller farmers living in poverty. . “The 10 years I spent in Papua New Guinea helped me to work in this inter­cul­tural context,” says Günter. “It does require quite a bit of sensi­tivity.”

Kumwenda, Warren, George (tech­nical buyer and trained car mechanic) and Kefas (not in the picture, but as a trained elec­tri­cian an impor­tant employee of the school) and Günter Becker are proud of their work – and will see each other again soon.

He spent more than four weeks working on the 2030 LS and built some great rela­tion­ships – a key aspect for the collab­o­ra­tion – before returning to Germany. Günter will develop these rela­tion­ships even further soon: The school has a second John Deere vintage machine for mowing; a 1630 S, which also needs to be repaired. Again, Günter will look up the docu­men­ta­tion before trav­el­ling back to Zambia to carry out the repairs. He will bring some spare parts with him in his luggage as well as ordering some locally, because it’s easy enough to find John Deere parts in Africa.

Günter is already looking forward to his next mission. “It only takes four weeks to notice the impact on the people. They improve their confi­dence through completing a successful project them­selves. And that is one of the mantras in my life, to drive projects forward,” he says. “That has always worked really well for me with John Deere, and I’m thrilled that I can carry on this work in my retire­ment.”