IT'S A DIRTY, greasy, nasty job that keeps your hands grimy and makes a mess on the floor or ground. And that's just when you change engine oil in the shop. It can be even worse in the field. But by using a unique oil vacuum system, Steve Yoder has washed his hands of most oil-change hassles.

Yoder, whose operations include irrigated corn, wheat and alfalfa, is among those growers who have incorporated a Sage Oil Vac into their farming operations. He got the product from a neighbor grower in the far northwestern Texas Panhandle near Dalhart. It was Gary Sage, corn and wheat farmer and inventor, who developed the oil vac system in his own shop in the early 1980s.

A better way

Sage moved to Texas from Iowa in 1980 to start a new farming venture. Along with tractors and combines, irrigation engines were also added to his list of equipment to maintain. Oil changes became an even greater nuisance. “I knew there was a better, cleaner, more efficient way of changing oil on irrigation engines and farm equipment,” he says.

That's when he developed a single tank unit that vacuumed oil from an engine's oil pan. The practice cut his oil-changing time in half and kept the dirty oil off his hands, clothing and the ground. He later developed a method of pumping new oil into an engine from a side-by-side tank unit.

The system enabled him to buy oil in bulk and eventually saved him at least $1/gal. over packaged oil. It worked so well that he decided to start manufacturing the units and selling them to his neighboring farmers.

“We attended a few small farm shows, and the systems caught on with other growers,” says Sage's son, Aaron, now chief operating officer of the family-owned company. “By the late 1990s, we had expanded the products for use in other industries, such as natural gas compression and construction heavy equipment.”

Standard tank sizes for the Sage Oil Vac are 5, 10, 15, 30, 60, 80, 120 and 250 gal. Depending on the size of an operation, Sage Oil Vac, now a 25-employee company headquartered in Amarillo, TX, can manufacture trailer-mounted units that can handle more than 1,000 gal. of fluid. It has dealers to serve customers in 25 states.

In general, the oil vac uses air pressure and vacuum to extract oil from and deliver it to farm equipment or any other industrial equipment. “For a quick oil change, the vac can be used to vacuum oil through a drain plug fitting installed on the bottom of the engine pan, through the dipstick tube of an engine, or from a vac drain pan underneath an engine,” Aaron says.

Environmentally friendly

Yoder bought his oil vac in 1995. It is still in operation, with only a few minor repairs needed over the years to replace fittings or hoses. The system includes dual 120-gal. tanks mounted on a two-wheel trailer pulled behind a pickup. It features either male or female fittings on 3/4-in. hoses. The hoses attach to hoses or lines on various engines.

Yoder can pull the oil vac to any location on his farm, vacuum out the old oil and pump in new oil without having to handle dozens of plastic bottles or other oil containers.

“We run two Case IH tractors, a quad track 9370 and a 4-wd 9350, along with a Case 2388 eight-row combine and two John Deere tractors, a 4960 and a 4840,” Yoder says.

“We also run 20 center-pivot irrigation engines, either Chevy 454s, 350s, or Caterpillars or an older Minneapolis Moline. They are powered by natural gas, but go through a lot of oil.”

The irrigation engines require an oil change about every 200 hours. In the semiarid area where a corn crop normally requires up to 25 in. of supplemental water, that means eight to 10 oil changes a year. That's about 20 gal. for the Chevys and up to 50 gal. for the Cats and the Moline. The oil vac makes the job a lot easier.

“I don't know what we would do without it,” says Ron Toews, Yoder's head employee.

“The biggest advantage is that it eliminates the mess,” Yoder says. “You get the oil out of the engines without having to handle it. We are not faced with handling near as many plastic containers. It is a very conservation friendly unit.”

Price and features

The 1995 model unit cost Yoder about $3,500. The 2005 same-sized model is priced at about $7,500. Other units are priced according to the size of the unit and options.

The 120-gal. unit can remove approximately 30 gal. of oil in 10 minutes. The tanks are mounted on a 6-in. steel channel frame trailer. The highway-ready trailer is equipped with lights, electric brakes and heavy-duty safety chains. It has a 2-in. bulldog hitch and jack, ¾-in.- × 33-ft.-long hoses, a weather-tight toolbox, an oil filter receptacle and a 5.5-hp Honda Puma compressor.

“Optional equipment includes spring-loaded hose reels that run about $300 each,” says Gary Sage, noting that hydraulic fluid and other industrial fluids may also be used in the oil vac system.

His farming activity now mostly involves family custom farm work and cash leasing his land. The oil vac company takes up most of his time.

It should. Customers now include not only the agricultural sector, but all types of industries that use heavy equipment. The U.S. military is also using Sage Oil Vac equipment worldwide.

The environmentally friendly products are being recognized more and more. With the Sage Oil Vac's ability to help prevent oil and other fluid spillage, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality awarded the product its Texas Environmental Excellence Award in 2003.

For more information on Sage Oil Vac products and uses, visit www.sageoilvac.com or call 877/645-8227.