Harvest is winding down. It must be, because all the days are running together and they all seem kind of blurry. A few dramatic breakdowns stand out, but I feel like the bloom is definitely off the harvest rose.
Our day begins when the morning light comes in the bedroom window and wakes me, usually sometime around 6:00, but later if it is overcast. That works out ok, because overcast usually means higher humidity, and that means the grain doesn’t thrash well first thing in the morning. Sometime around 7:30, after checking the e-mail morning market reports, it is out the door to the service truck for the short drive to where the combine is waiting, parked somewhere with the wheels turned such that it is not likely to roll down the hill overnight. Yes, that actually happens sometimes, usually with very expensive results.
Morning service routine, greasing the daily service points, checking the oil, washing the windows (imagine dusting your windows with flour and letting the dew set on it overnight), and looking for anything that might be coming loose or on the verge of failure, usually takes about 45 minutes. Water jug and lunch stowed in the cab, I usually manage to get the machine fired up by around 8:00-8:30.
From then on, it takes constant attention to how the grain is flowing into the header, the front cutting/gathering part of the combine. The word ‘combine’ comes from “combined harvester” denoting that the machine combines the “reaper” which cuts and gathers the crop, with the “separator,” which thrashes and separates the grain from the chaff and straw. My first combine, manufactured in 1974, cut a 16 foot swath. I later upgraded it to an 18 foot header. My 1983 model came equipped with a 22 foot header. My current, new-to-me combine, is 15 years old and it has a 30 foot header. This year’s new models sport 40 or 45 foot headers. Ever bigger, ever faster. There is no such thing as a “new, small combine.”
Thirty foot is a lot to watch, especially with this year’s drought stressed, short and tall and thick and thin crops. Modern combines thrash best when kept constantly full of crop material. In the low areas of fields, there was adequate moisture and the crops are heavy and you have to slow down and raise the header. Drier areas the crop is poor and thin and you have to take all the straw you can get and speed up or the machine won’t separate the grain very well. It takes constant attention and adjustment to keep the grain flowing evenly into the machine.
One of my favorite features on my new-to-me combine is the alarm that warns you when the bulk tank is full of grain. I get so focused on watching the header that I forget to look over my shoulder to see if it is about to run over, which it does if you ignore the polite little bell alarm. Full, about 150 bushels, happens about every 15 – 20 minutes depending on how good the crop is. I unload directly into trucks, but many farmers are using tractor pulled bank-out wagons or grain carts in the field. It allows the combine to keep cutting and unload on steeper ground that would be practical with a truck. I am still using smaller trucks that haul about 300 bushels.
If I had big, even fields, I might eat lunch on-the-go. In fact, with my older, slower combine, I often did, not taking the extra 20 minutes to stop for lunch. Maybe I was just younger then, but I don’t remember it feeling so good to stand up and eat lunch.
Our elevator where the grain is trucked to from the field closes at 8:00. If a truck is full by 7:45, there is time to make it to the elevator by closing, because we are fortunate enough to be farming close to town. I usually continue to fill trucks until there is no place left to put harvested grain. These full trucks will be taken to the elevator in the morning while do the morning service work. By 8:30 or 9:00 pm, I have usually quit for the day. The combine is equipped with lights, and I have run at night before, but I find that old saying to be fairly accurate ‘not much good happens out here after dark.’
Then it is time for my least favorite harvest chore: blowing the dust out of the radiator with the portable air compressor. Modern machines have gotten better, but it is still necessary to clean the engine compartment and especially the radiators (this machine has 4) every day to prevent overheating and fire. Our wonderfully dry summers that give us such great grain quality have their downside in that it is so easy to start a fire. Dust buildup on an engine manifold has created lots of exciting times.
Once cleaned off a bit, It is time for fuel, 80 – 120 gallons, depending on how long and how hard the work has been.
Home, shower, check the market, eat something – who cares what – bed. Repeat till harvest is over.
Today, though, at 4:00 in the morning, my truck driver (who I have been married to for 33 years) woke me to say it was raining. “What is out in the field?” I asked. “The Ford with two dumps in it,” she replied. By 4:20 am, the truck was safely in the shed, and the rain had quit. We both knew that had we stayed in bed, it would have rained all day, but the neighbors will no doubt appreciate our efforts to insure a light sprinkle by preparing for a downpour.