US Volunteers Bring a Combine to Iringa

Iringa 2015, the combine team goes to Iringa by Paul Bolstad 

On October 20th, a team from Our Fathers left for Iringa, Tanzania, in support of the maize (corn) production and marketing plan of Cheetah Development and their company, Pearl Foods. Earlier in the year our church raised the money to send a modified (by Steve Strehlow) 1974 John Deere 3300 combine to Iringa by partially disassembling it and fitting it into a 40 ft. container. The container arrived in late May after a long sea journey and was unloaded and reassembled by the local John Deere service center in Kisolanza, Tanzania, some 30 miles south of Iringa on the main road. 

The local Cheetah staff and John Deere experts had difficulties in getting the engine to run which they attributed to rust in the fuel tank. They managed to drive it nearer to Iringa and park it at a secure machinery yard owned by a friend of Edwin Post(Pearl Foods director), Garrick Johnson of the Johnson Group. So, there it sat awaiting the expertise of Steve and Sheri Strehlow together with that of Brian Walton in dealing with the problem of the fuel system. 

Our team arrived in Dar es Salaam late in the evening of Oct. 21 and were able to get to our hotel near the airport for some much needed rest and breakfast the next morning.

From Dar we flew in a 12 passenger to Iringa, arriving at 3.30 pm and were met by Edwin Post, a Cheetah staff member, who brought the team to the Cheetah office.

We had made reservations at the Neema Guest House, which employs only disabled, mostly deaf mutes, in making beautiful crafts for sale in the tourist trade. We had our breakfast there, ordering our eggs “easy over” for Steve, toast, coffee and tea by sign language! 

After breakfast, we were picked up by Edwin and went to the Cheetah office to plan our work: the idea being that we would clean the fuel tank, get the battery charged up, start up the engine and test everything and then drive the combine up to the Cheetah compound where there was space to work.

The plan was to come back the next day and get the combine started. But, with the national elections on Sunday and many shops, schools and businesses closed, we were advised by Garrick Johnson not to drive the combine into the city on Saturday, rather resume our work on Monday…after the election and if all the excitement settled down. 

Edwin arranged for us to spend the night at the Consolata Brothers guesthouse; the “Brothers” are a Catholic group involved in schools, hospitals such institutions all over Tanzania and their headquarters are in Iringa. The next morning, after a quick breakfast with the brothers we were back at it down at the Johnson Group compound with the combine. After reinstalling and reconnecting all the fuel lines, installing a new fuel filter and a charged battery, Steve started up the engine and it seemed to sound just fine. But then he noticed that he wasn’t getting full power, although it would run up to about 1500 rpm….very disappointing! 

The fuel pump was changed with the new one from the spare parts box…and then changed back. Nothing seemed to help! The fuel line was checked and rechecked and we finally started to think about the diesel injection pump. It was then that Steve had an inspiration: he suddenly asked me, “what time is it back in Minnesota?” 

We called Sharber Brothers in Rogers, Minnesota, one of our sponsors; Pat is a old friend of Steve’s in the workshop there…so, with Pat on the phone he described what was happening with our engine. A call from Iringa, Tanzania on a cell phone to Rogers, Minnesota supplied the critical information that solved our problem! 

By now it was getting late…we had been at this all afternoon in the hot sun. So, Steve drove the combine back to the Johnson Group compound for the night where it would be safe. We went back to the Cheetah office to meet up with Edwin and update him on what had happened and discuss our plan for tomorrow. The two Cheetah drivers that Edwin had designated as our team for training had been with us all afternoon, so their training had already begun in an unplanned way! 

Edwin arranged for us to stay at the Mama Iringa guesthouse, run by an Italian woman who is a talented cook and we enjoyed her pizza that night! In fact, we liked the place enough that we decided to stay there for the rest of our time…and she has wifi that, although slow and turned off at 10 pm, allowed us to contact our family and friends back home…and it was quiet…no roosters crowing at 5 am or Muslim clerics calling their faithful to prayer about the same time. These are the sounds common to many African cities in the early morning… 

Mgaya, the Cheetah driver picked us up at 9 am the next morning and we headed back to the Cheetah office to plan the day. Edwin and his drivers thought that we should have one vehicle in front of the combine and one in back during the move up the escarpment and back to the Cheetah compound. 

So, with the two vehicles driven by Alex and Mgaya, we arrived at the Johnson Group compound, and started up the combine and off we went. The combine can move at a top speed of 13 mph, but many vehicles(overloaded) are also going slowly; here Steve is being passed by three “bodabodas”(motorcycle taxis). But Steve kept on the power, moving right along.

It was a bit of a tight fit sometimes, but Steve kept going at full power. Finally, we turned on the road up to the Cheetah office and compound and Steve drove the combine through the gate to the Cheetah compound; he had waited a long time to do that.

It was decided to park the combine right next to the office building, but in the back where the unshelled maize waited. Steve demonstrated how to maneuver the combine into a tight spot. Edwin was thrilled to have the combine finally at the Cheetah compound, ready for testing and training. With Steve at the controls, Sheri, Brian, and Alex dumped the bags of maize into the “hopper" and began an Intensive training with Steve showing Alex and Mgaya everything about maintenance on the engine, as well as operating and driving the combine… 

This was the last full day in Iringa for Steve and Sheri, so the training went on all day. But in late afternoon, Steve and Sheri expressed a wish to visit the John Deere service center in Kisolanza; Edwin suggested we also visit the main maize buyer for Cheetah, Silverlands…which was in the same area. 

So, we left the combine at the compound and headed south on the main tarmac road to Kisolanza, where we were able to meet and talk with Hashim Millanzi, the Tanzanian director of the John Deere service center. We requested a detailed breakdown of the invoice that had been presented to Cheetah for the services provided in putting the combine together and repairs. 

Steve and Sheri are long-time customers of the John Deere company. It was a special thrill for them to see their favorite combine maker establishing a presence in Tanzania. We all felt that it was important to cultivate this relationship for the future. Unfortunately, both the senior and junior mechanical maintenance staff were away on field trips. Steve and Sheri were able to look around and discuss the various kinds of tractors and implements that were offered by Lonagro, the company that has the John Deere dealership. 

Steve really enjoyed a meeting with Sean Johnson, the “commercial director” for Silverlands…asking a lot of questions about the various crops and the prices paid. We learned that Silverlands produces a range of feed product lines for chickens and other domestic animals and are keen to buy as much maize from Cheetah as their farmers can produce. The topic of bulk handling was discussed and some ideas presented; Sean showed us the weighbridge and bulk unloading grate where a vehicle/trailer can drop their grain through a “grate” that is then moved into storage by augers, blowers and such. 

It was a short time for Steve and Sheri to work with the combine in Iringa, but we did accomplish the basic job we came to do. We got the combine running properly, got it up to the Cheetah compound and had a full day to train Edwin, Alex and Mgaya, we test ran all the maize that had been purchased for us to use…making the necessary settings and adjustments and explaining all of these to Alex and Mgaya.

Edwin made arrangements for us to be invited to a friend’s home for an authentic Tanzanian dinner. This friend was Jean Milliken and her hospitality was wonderful; it was an example of Edwin’s care for us and his creativity in arranging activities for us. 

We ended our day on Friday, with visits to the Masai market to do some souvenir shopping,  and then back to Mama Iringa for an Italian dinner and sleep. 

Saturday morning, we were picked up by Edwin on his way to the Cheetah office; the plan was for Brian and me to accompany two Cheetah teams to two villages where we could meet the local pastors and lay the groundwork for a future relationship with Our Fathers.

After meeting with the pastor, we followed the other team and vehicle through the many houses scattered throughout the village to the house of one of the Cheetah farmers who had shelled maize to sell to Pearl Foods. The team weighed the maize and then loaded it with hired laborers into one of our two vehicles.

The next village was Itungi, at altitude of 6000 feet, a very different environment from the last one and one that enables these farmers to grow potatoes in addition to maize. A group of them were waiting for the Cheetah team led by Elizabeth, Edwin’s wife; the goal today for these farmers was to complete their credit applications of the coming season so that they would receive seeds and fertilizers at the right time. 

Sunday Edwin and family took us to the airport and we said our goodbye’s to them and the Cheetah team! Our team from Our Fathers is very thankful to Edwin and his wife, Eliza, for taking care of us so well and making it possible for us to do our job in a very limited amount of time. 31

Our team accomplished our basic mission, which was to get the combine operating properly so that testing, calibration and training could take place. We had to solve the problem of the fuel line blockage that had given so many problems in the move from the John Deere service center in Kisolanza to the Johnson Group yard in Ipogolo, the industrial area below the main part of Iringa. 

Maize has been run through the combine successfully with good results; further recommendations will be written up by our team and sent to the Cheetah team in Iringa. Additional technical consultation will be feasible now that our team has been there to see everything in Iringa and met the team that will be responsible for operation of the combine. It will now be up to the Cheetah team to work out how the combine can be deployed most effectively in the 2016 harvest season. Our team stands ready to assist as necessary in this process. 

All things considered, it was a successful trip and we, once again, thank Edwin Post and his wife, Eliza, for their constant attention to our needs…which enabled us to make the best use of our very limited time.