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Climb Easily into Combine with New Stairs

By Paula Barbour

Already busy with auto repair, custom farming, grain trucking, and his own farm operation near Maquoketa, Iowa, Ron McDonald wasn’t looking for yet another sideline. Once he built his first combine curving stair ladder, however, John Deere customers came looking for him.   

“I’m right next door to a John Deere dealership, P&K Midwest. If a combine comes in and the buyer wants one, they give it to me to get the ladder done,” he says.

His first design, he says, was inspired by the ladder on an older Massey Ferguson combine, which was more angled instead of straight up and down (like a factory John Deere ladder). It also had a railing.

“We’ve built about 12 of them now,” says McDonald. When he says we, he refers to his good friend and “very good fabricator,” Dave Bentley, who moved back to his area four years ago.

“We help each other out a lot on our farms,” McDonald says. “Dave had a drafting program on his computer that helped us lay out some of the measurements. Obviously, it still comes down to real life, but it helped a lot,” he recalls.   

Speaking of assistance, they’ve had a machine shop cut out the two curving side pieces on the last few they’ve built. “It saves time. The machine shop cuts the two outside pieces really nice and smooth. We bend the railing, make everything else, and weld it all into one unit,” McDonald says.

“The steps that come with the 9000 series John Deere combines are not very farmer-friendly, and they don’t work very well behind a six-row head,” he says.

McDonald’s ladder comes up and over the drive tires.

He says the lowest step on his is only slightly lower than the factory version to keep the proper clearance, but the railing helps the operator ascend.

“I built one for an older guy who’d had both knees replaced. He told me, ‘If I can get in the cab, I can keep combining,’ ” recalls McDonald.

“I have two designs. One fits any 9000 series John Deere combine, and the other fits any S series model, from the smallest to the largest. I’ve made more of those now because people would rather modify their newer combines.”

McDonald charges $1,800 for his ladder, which includes installation.  

He says the ladder swings out so the side panel can open. It pivots at the same place as the factory original. “When the ladder swings back in to the combine, a latch secures it in place, so it’s nice and solid when you walk up,” says McDonald.  

A $2,500 winner

McDonald is the next recipient of a $2,500 Firestone in-store credit offer for having his idea chosen as the Idea of the Month.

Learn more: Ron McDonald

Operation: “We grow soybeans and corn,” says McDonald. He has also done custom combining near his farm in the Maquoketa, Iowa, area since he was a teenager.   

Family: McDonald and wife Mary have three adult children and four grandchildren. Everyone lives within an hour’s drive of the homeplace. 

Hobby: In 1968, McDonald bought his first car, a 1937 Chevy two-door sedan, now in its second total rebuild. “This time, it will have power windows and air conditioning,” he says. The Chevy has been in national car shows. 


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