High Plains Journal All Aboard Wheat Harvest


Tracy: And yet it’s all the same
Z Crew

Chester, Montana – It’s ALL different – the routine is different, the combines are different, the trucks are different and the scenery is different. And yet it’s all the same. 

The Mattson Farms harvest crew consists of five Gleaner combines, two tractors/grain carts and a whole slug of trucks. Four of the five combines are driven by women – Kerry, Megan, Tasha and me. Prior to our arrival, Janice (Carl’s wife) was in the combine I am now running. They have three young men from South Africa (Koos, Mynhardt and Johnathan) for the summer and the rest of the crew are men who have helped them with their harvest in past years (William, Bill, Al, Butch and Quanah). Gabe is a senior in college and is visiting the crew for a week. Travis is the mechanic (I refer to him as the Maytag Repair man) and this leaves Carl and Vince – the two in charge. There are 16 lunch boxes filled each morning.

Speaking of lunch boxes… do you know how much better a lunch prepared by hands other than yours tastes? I am so appreciative of the filled lunch box and a hot meal at the end of the day!

This reminds me of a couple more harvest hands to add to the list. Vince and Kerry live on the farm and have two children. Since Kerry is in a combine all day, they hire a babysitter for kids. Kennedy and Ahmia have tag-teamed this job. These two gals have been the ones preparing the evening meals – but not totally. Most of the meals are pre-made and in the freezer so all the girls (and kids) have to do is cook the main meal and prepare a side dish.

The only real complaint I have is the lack of cell service here. When we first pulled into the yard and realized there was NO SERVICE, I thought my life was going to end right then and there! How in the world would I be able to keep up with all that I’ve got going on? Seems it’s not as difficult as I first thought (and it’s even sort of nice)! However I do miss being able to call the kids once in a while – but have found out facetime works quite well.

I was concerned about running a combine that was different than what I was used to. I rode with Janice for most of the first morning to get the feel of the land and the machine. I was a little apprehensive at first but it seemed as the day grew longer, the more at ease I was feeling. I’ve already been asked by several, “How does the Gleaner compare to the New Holland”? There’s no comparison. The Gleaner is 20 years older than the New Holland. It’s the bells and whistles on the New Holland that I miss – and the fact that it can eat through the heavy crop much easier. So, I have had to change my attitude about cutting wheat – slow and steady!! But in all honesty, other than the age difference, they both do exactly what they’re supposed to do – cut grain.

The one thing I DO think about while sitting in the cab of the Gleaner is my old buddy, “The Beiner”. If Kevin Bein was alive today, I just know he’d be smiling from ear to ear knowing I was sitting in one of “his” machines. I have to wonder if he isn’t sitting next to me on the buddy seat. Darn, I miss talking to him!

We finished our fifth day of work on the Mattson Farm today – August 4th. Vince explained to me the drought line begins in Havre. From Havre east, severe drought; from Havre west, the crops fared much better. The further west you go, the better they are. We’re cutting winter wheat that will average 50 to 60+ bushels per acre. I was told the stand was so beautiful this spring and they were expecting better yields and then they got a late season freeze. So it could have been better but considering the year, I think they’re sitting pretty darn good! The quality is excellent…61-63 pounds and protein has been 13%-15%.

From tonight’s supper conversation, we should be done with the winter wheat tomorrow. What next? Either Durum or Chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Either one will be interesting to me since I’ve never had anything to do with either. So…stay tuned!

Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
Our new location.
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
We did have one rain day since we arrived. Jim and Koos are putting a steering wheel kit on the new auger.
Z Crew: Because it's what Harvesters do!
This thing is a monster and without the steering wheel addition, it was practically immovable.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
The daily menu.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do!
Tasha, Ahmia and Kerry preparing about a jillion sandwiches every day.
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
The assembly line begins about 7:00 each morning. While the gals are busy putting these lunches together, I am in charge of water jugs and filling lemonade bottles. I’ve been taught how to create a refreshing mid-afternoon treat. Fill water or Gatorade bottles 2/3 full of lemonade and freeze overnight. The next morning, fill the bottle to the top with more lemonade. As the frozen lemonade melts, it creates a slush. Pretty good on a hot day!
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
Please don’t tell The Beast it’s been replaced for a little while. This ‘ole girl and I have become pretty good friends over the last couple of days.
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
Partial line-up of trucks waiting to head to the field.
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
Dang! These Montana wheat fields are big!
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
The hills in the background are called the Sweet Grass Hills. The elevation of the highest point is 6,983 ft.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
These hills in the field look like they’re no big deal – until you start climbing them. I had to put it in first gear to make it up and over. I honestly don’t know how the people cut wheat in the Palouse! They are a whole lot more brave than I am!
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
I am most impressed with the width of the swath we take compared to what I’m used to.  Five combines with 40 foot heads = 200 foot swaths. It’s quite amazing to watch big acres disappear so quickly.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
This group is so organized but it doesn’t happen on its own. Carl’s son, Vince, is the orchestra leader. He’s in the tractor/grain cart shown in this picture all day long constantly on the two-way directing everyone’s next move – much like a symphony. I really am quite amazed how he keeps everyone moving in the right direction but I do feel sorry for how often he hears his name being called out.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
Making the move to another field.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
Vince and Travis working on a noise I was hearing in the machine.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
I don’t know much about the unloading process since I’m in the combine all day. However, they’ve got it perfected! Jim said it’s pretty nice not having to get out of the truck to weigh at the scale or to dump. There is someone at each station keeping the flow moving. Above, William is the truck driver and Gabe is helping him get the truck dumped.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
Awfully nice winter wheat!
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
Tasha had to come to my rescue. My bin filled before I could get myself cut out of the line I was opening up. So, I had to follow her out of the cut.
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
Finishing another field with the Sweet Grass Hills in the background.
Z Crew: Because that's what Harvesters do!
Action shot – while waiting for Tasha to get dumped. At one point, the grain carts couldn’t keep up and we had to wait for them in the field.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
The end of another day!
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
The evening lineup.
Z Crew: because it's what Harvesters do.
No explanation required!
Z Crew: Because it's what Harvesters do!
Another day of work comes to an end.




All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and John Deere. Tracy Zeorian can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

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2 Responses to Tracy: And yet it’s all the same
Z Crew

  1. Wow,no way! My brother just sent me this link and turns out you are my “neighbors!” I am helping Skari farms this year. I live in Iowa, but they needed some help so I’m here. Cool! I saw the Gleaners roll by on the road the other day and was glad that someone uses the brand up here. My dad is a faithful Gleaner man. If you see the Skari Farms grain cart, that’s me! Enjoyed your post!

    • What a SMALL world!! I just visited with Kerry about this and she said you’re the first farm west of them. How cool is this?? It’s such a wonderful place to have landed and what a fabulous experience. I have absolutely LOVED this experience. God is so good!! Have fun and enjoy each and every moment. Thanks for leaving your note!

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