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Mechanics Corner: Painting farm machinery

Andy Overbay Published on 17 October 2014

I had a friend tell me one time that my dad was like his: “He doesn’t care what it looks like as long as it runs.” My thought was, “This guy sure doesn’t know David Overbay.”

One thought that was drilled into me from a boy is that cleaner really does run better, and one of Dad’s favorite sayings when asked why he bought a new tractor or took the time to paint an old one was, “Every once in a while, I like to burn the paint off a manifold.”



As we well know, using farm equipment places them in situations, especially around a dairy, where a clean, fresh paint job is hard to maintain. In order to keep a sound protective finish on our machines, we need to freshen the paint from time to time.

This is problematic because few farms have the luxury of a dedicated paint booth and proper painting equipment. Goodness knows we didn’t, but that didn’t stop us from getting the job done.

Over the years, I have seen a wide range of paint job “successes.” Some were pristine, mirror-like finishes. Some were epic failures. As a youngster, Dad liked to have me paint things like truck frame rails and other less-than-noticeable areas because I was small enough to get in there and I put the paint on thick … not recommended, by the way.

I can remember one truck-frame job years ago when a neighbor visited and inspected our new dump bed that Dad had built. When the neighbor asked about me painting the frame, Dad remarked, “Andy does a good job. I know if he gets as much paint on the truck as he does on himself, it will last a long time.”

Painting equipment properly takes time and, just like building a house, a good foundation is essential to doing a good job. There are as many options for paint formulations as there are colors themselves, but without a good, smooth base for the paint to adhere to, even $1,000-per-gallon paint is wasted.


Thoroughly cleaning and de-greasing the machine may take a great deal of time and several trips back to the drawing board. Cleaning and painting are very much like clipping show calves; after a while, you go blind and it all looks the same.

Sanding and using fillers to get that ultra-smooth finish is important, but it is also important to remember that the mechanical integrity of the machine must be maintained. Being overly aggressive with the sand blaster can ruin even a heavily made casting, causing leaks that require expensive repairs or replacement.

After you have achieved a nice smooth surface, selecting the appropriate paint to use will be a major factor in the overall success of your project. While I am not one that subscribes to the “more it costs the better it is” model, cheap paint is just that … cheap.

My best advice is to evaluate the use of the particular piece of equipment, the kind of torture it may be exposed to and ask someone who regularly paints equipment or cars in your area what they would recommend.

When you have decided on a formulation, be sure you have the proper equipment to apply the paint and a clean, dust-free place to paint. What you may find is that while getting a professional to paint your equipment is expensive, creating the environment for you to have the desired level of painting success in a do-it-yourself setting is even more costly.

The benefits of keeping a nice looking line of equipment are numerous. You will elevate the resale value, of course, but you will also find that keeping things neat and nice elevates the level of care taken when operating equipment.


No one cares more about equipment than the person who paid for it, so if you exhibit a “don’t care” attitude toward your machinery, don’t expect anyone you hire to do that for you. Finally, having a fresh, well-maintained line of machinery elevates the reputation you and your farming operation have in the community.

Looking successful makes things like getting a loan or even having a machinery auction easier and more profitable because you have a reputation as a person who cares about the details. PD

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

andrew overbay

Andy Overbay
Extension Agent
Virginia Cooperative Extension