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Seventeen-Year-Old Deere Loader Keeps on Ticking

Thu July 19, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Equipment owners expect their machines to last a long time, but a 1990 John Deere 544E wheel loader owned by American Crystal Sugar Company in East Grand Forks, Minn., has gone above and beyond the call of duty, with more than 72,000 productive hours under its beefy belt.

The loader, which works at American Sugar Crystal’s sugar beet processing plant in East Grand Forks, charges hoppers with the lime rock and metallurgical coke used to produce 300,000 tons (272,155 t) of sugar annually. It also scoops up lime waste and hauls it to a disposal site approximately 1 mi. from the plant.

“This 544E has outlasted every piece of equipment at any of our five factories,” said factory engineer Bruce Keifenheim. “It’s great when a piece of machinery keeps costs down so low. This loader is a far cry from some of our machines. When a machine goes down, we have to rent or contract the work with an outside operator. Our 544E has definitely saved us money.”

The secret of the 544E’s longevity has been engine oil changes every 10 days and regular preventive maintenance, according to Kevin Grove, service manager at Deere dealer RDO Equipment, which performs a maintenance check and inspection of the machine annually.

“For that application, most people would have owned three or four loaders in that time. American Crystal Sugar people are sticklers about maintenance, and it pays dividends,” Grove said.

The machine’s engine has been overhauled twice. The transmission wasn’t touched until 1999, when the dealer installed a torque-converter bearing. The original hydraulic pumps lasted 44,600 hours before being replaced, Grove said.

Keifenheim said the company has no near-term plans to trade for a new loader.

“It’s in decent mechanical condition. It’s just old,” he said. “Our mechanic thinks the machine can go for a few more years, so we may break the 100,000-hour mark.”

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