It’s probably a good thing the people at Fendt didn’t know my track record with driving machines with joysticks instead of steering wheels when they let me into the driver’s seat of the Fendt Ideal 10T combine for a demo drive a few weeks ago. You can get the Fendt Ideal 10T with or without a steering wheel. This model didn’t have one. You do all the steering with a joystick. It’s an option on tracked versions of the Ideal combine.
Don’t worry, they were smart enough to have an expert in the cab with me. The last time I drove a skid-steer with a joystick, I was helping prepare an FFA exhibit at the state fair a few years ago. Trying to place a bucket load of mulch in very tight quarters, I caught the edge of one display. It only took half an hour and a new board to fix that slight mishap. The machine was fine.
Nothing like that happened as I drove the Fendt Ideal 10T combine down a concrete runway also used for small aircraft. A grain head was attached, so I had to pay attention to what was around me and where the combine was positioned at all times. The neat thing was that I had no trouble seeing through the windows of the cab. Without the steering wheel and steering column, you have complete visibility right in front of you. Seeing what’s coming into the head would be much easier if you were combining for real. No, I’m not quite ready for that yet.
I didn’t expect to become an expert at driving and guiding a huge combine with a joystick in 20 minutes, and I certainly didn’t reach that status. But it was long enough for me to realize that once I got the hang of it, it would be cool to operate a machine without a steering wheel.
The biggest challenge for me was figuring out how quickly the steering would react when I pushed the joystick right or left, backward or forward. It certainly wasn’t a jerky ride — no one was going to get slammed into the windshield. Instead, the machine made gentle movements. Knowing how soon I needed to start “turning” by pushing the joystick took several attempts. But before I finished my test drive, I was learning how to turn in time to pull into a spot where I wanted the combine to be.
The machine is equipped with camera systems to help you know what is behind you, and the cab is state-of-the-art quiet. It just takes a while to get used to what isn’t there — the steering wheel!