Bob Caister conjured up the dream of a self-propelled sugarbeet harvester. Then, he and two valuable employees took that dream all the way to reality. Reality took the form of “Sugar Sweet 9000,” the prototype self-propelled harvester with which Caister lifted his 300 acres of beets last fall.

The harvester is completely hydraulic-driven, cutting down on maintenance and eliminating broken chains. Four pumps drive the system: one — a high-capacity unit — is for hydrostat. Of the others, (all 55 gpm units), one drives the front paddle shaft, and another is a tandem pump that drives the rest of the machine.

There are just four small chains on the entire machine: one on the bin’s discharge potato chain; one on the beater shaft; another on the bin auger; and then the belly chain. There are no transmissions, no drive shafts, no gearboxes.

The 4WD harvester is powered by a rear-mounted 350 hp Cummins diesel engine. Front tires are 18.4x26; rear tires, 30.5x32.

A 24-inch-wide ferris wheel transports the beets up to a 24-inch-diameter auger, which in turn distributes them with a balanced flow throughout the 15-ton-capacity tank. That tank helps Caister achieve one of his primary goals: keeping his trucks out of the fields.

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While the harvester is set up for six 30-inch rows or eight 22-inch rows, a header can be built and attached for virtually any configuration.

It possesses sufficient traction to drive and operate at up to six miles per hour under fairly wet conditions. Even at an empty weight of 37,000 pounds, it handles well in wet fields.

What motivated this Michigan “Thumb” area beet grower to invest the time, energy — and an obviously ample sum of money — in this dream of a self-propelled harvester? “It goes back to the ‘Flood of ‘86,’“ Caister recounts. “We had 31 inches of water in 31 days, and many beets had to be left rotting in the fields. We had a John Deere 4640, but even on tiled ground, you still couldn’t get them out. The tractor tires just spun while pulling the digger.

“I sat there on the tractor and thought, ‘There has to be something better than this. It just can’t continue.’“

There will be some minor in-shop modifications prior to the 1991 harvest, but overall Caister was very pleased with the performance of the “Sugar Sweet 9000” during its inaugural season.

“We’re really quite happy,” he said. “It performed like it should.”