This year was my first year as full time combine driver. I learned how to harvest wheat, barley and field peas, and oats and field peas in the late summer, but Jonathan did most of that harvesting. When it was “go time” for soybeans, we got the combine all ready, and headed out to the first field.
Jonathan started by taking off the buffer strips – areas of soybeans next to non-organic fields that need to be hauled into town for sale, usually 25-50 feet wide. I jumped in to learn how to operate the soybean head, and how to avoid things like rocks and tile intakes. While Jonathan was driving, we smelled smoke. Not good. Turns out that a small rock got wedged into the cylinder, causing sparks, which ignited the dry material inside the combine. We drove it to the neighbors and poured water on it for a long time, not knowing exactly where the problem had started. Once we determined its location, we concentrated water on that area until we didn’t see any smoke. Jonathan went out to harvest some beans to flush the water and wet beans out. He would need to handle those separately. Once he got going again, I went out to start combining on my own. When I got to the side of the field he was on, I noticed that the smoke was once again pouring out of the combine, a little worse this time. Jon drove it home while I went ahead in the pickup and hooked up hoses. We opened everything up, and poured water on the area for a long time. We then let it sit overnight. What a way to start harvest!
Once the mechanic took a look at the combine and determined that no real damage was done, we once again went out to start soybean harvest. Things were pretty uneventful after that. I cleaned out the rock trap regularly, which is a very dusty job, but I wasn’t about to take a chance on another fire!
I had mentioned to Jonathan before harvest started that it would be nice if he could take my place about every four hours so I could stretch…and potty. Confession time…I refuse to “take care of business” out in the field. Yep, I’m one of those ladies. (I also think looking good while working on the farm isn’t bad.) I have heard that a satellite can read a license plate. My behind is quite a bit bigger than that. I’m not taking any chances! I don’t like camping, either. Camping, to me, is staying at a Super 8. I have stayed at campgrounds in cabins with central shower houses and bathrooms, but it isn’t my first choice of places to stay. If it means spending time with family that I don’t normally get to see, I will put on a brave face and deal with it for a weekend.
Jonathan was usually pretty good about taking my place for my “breaks”, especially if I gave him enough warning. It worked well, I thought. Until the last day of harvest. We had about 5-5 1/2 hours of work left in our final corn field, and I really wanted to be the one to finish it. I brought my coffee with me that morning to make sure I could get an earlier start. Everything was going quickly until the last three rounds. There were cottontail rabbits and pheasants that couldn’t figure out that leaving the rows I was in would be smart.
By the last round, I really had to go. But there were four bunnies, and four pheasants running in front of the combine. Running back and forth between the eight rows that were left in the field. I was just crawling along, growing more miserable by the second. It seemed like the longest round of my life! Finally we were done! I just had to unload the combine, jump into the pickup, and hurry home. I called Jonathan to tell him the good news that we were done, and he told me to be careful of the pickup door. What?! I was in a super big hurry! What if the door fell off and I couldn’t drive it home? Panic had set in. There were about 10 men working just across the tree line from where I was. There was no way I was going to be stuck out here! Thankfully, the door didn’t fall off, and I was able to make it home in time. Whew!
The 2011 harvest season was a huge learning opportunity for me. I really enjoyed my time in the combine, and it made me appreciate what the guys have gone through every year. Mostly, I appreciate the patience Jonathan has had for me and for making this an enjoyable experience. And now that we have the crop safely in the bins I can say…oh what a relief!