High Plains Journal All Aboard Wheat Harvest


Author Archives: Z Crew

Tracy: Full speed ahead!
Z Crew

Claude, Texas – Good grief! We go from not sure what to do next to full speed ahead! We just completed our sixth consecutive day of being in the field (06/15). 

Last night, I had a few things to catch up on – one being bills that needed to be paid. I had to look at my phone to see what the date was. My brain did this weird little thing when I saw it was the 14th. I felt like I had completely lost a day (or two). It was the strangest feeling. You see, when we’re out here doing what we do, it’s just day after day after day. No reason to really know what the date is until you have to step back in the “normal” world once in a while… like to pay bills.  Continue Reading

Tracy: Joining the party
Z Crew

Claude, Texas – After all the pre-harvest preparations, details taken care of and tears shed, we can finally say we joined the #harvest17 party today (6/10). 

We woke up to a heavy fog again this morning and very cool temps. But, the weatherman had been warning us of the impending heat and wind. It had been decided the night before we would get up early and move our equipment to a 400-acre field west of our current headquarters. By the time we made the move and had everything situated, we hoped the field would be ready to sample.  Continue Reading

Tracy: The Harvester’s Motto
Z Crew

Claude, Texas – We’ve made two test cuts within the past couple of days (6/8 and 6/9). The first result was 20 percent and the second (which was just Thursday) was 17.2 percent. It was 60 degrees this morning. Needless to say, I grabbed the sweatshirt as I headed down the steps to make our morning coffee. Great conditions for humans living in a trailer house but not good wheat cutting weather! 

Jim’s been tinkering on trucks and the Yellow Beast – mostly just to stay busy (I think), but I know there were some things he put off at home hoping he’d have some time before we got started down here. After taking the first test cut, he realized he had a minor issue with the air conditioning in the combine, so it meant a trip to the New Holland Harvest Support trailer. And… a good excuse to hit the Amarillo Walmart.  Continue Reading

Tracy: Destination… harvest 2017
Z Crew

Claude, Texas – We made it!

It’s always a good feeling after you’ve worked so hard to get to the point of driving out of the yard and pointing the trucks south. The transition of “home, home” and harvest has been solidified, and there’s no going back. The feeling of arriving at your destination, however, is even better! This is especially true if you made it there with little to no issues. We had no issues. Oh…wait…I’m wrong. There was one wheel seal on the Pete that started leaking. Jim noticed it on Monday morning just as we were getting ready to leave Hays, Kansas. Continue Reading

Tracy: Last day of the “home, home” routine
Z Crew

Manley, Nebraska – I have sort of a surreal feeling this morning. It’s the last full day of being “home, home.” Home, home…wondering where that phrase came from? It’s something the girls started years ago. When they talked about “home,” it was the trailer house. When they talked about “home, home,” it was Manley. It’s stuck. And what’s even more interesting…I hear other harvesters refer to their homes in the same way. That’s weird, but it works. Now you know.

I was laying in bed this morning trying to take in all the noise that Callie was creating. She was up early this morning getting ready to go to work – her “normal” routine. Normal is good. Even the most normal of activities should be appreciated and loved. You never know when that “normal” is going to change. And isn’t life all about change? Anyways…I wanted to just lay there and soak it all in because I know once we leave, it won’t be the same when we return. She’ll be back to school and the house will, once again, be quiet. I’ve enjoyed having her home so much. So much!  Continue Reading

Tracy: Be patient heart…it will only hurt a little while
Z Crew

Manley, Nebraska – The preparations have been ongoing for quite some time. The talk about harvest and when we’ll be leaving has been happening for more than a month. I’ve often thought about creating a sign and start wearing it every day about the first of April. What would this sign say? It would say…”I don’t know when we’re leaving”. Maybe I should just create a t-shirt! So, THINKING about harvest and DOING harvest are two different things…two different worlds. 
Continue Reading

Tracy: Harvest Time
Z Crew

Manley, Nebraska – It’s Harvest Time…NOT harvest time.

I was laying in bed the other morning and almost got a bit giddy thinking about harvest. This was not because we’ll be escaping home or because of the adventures we’re surely going to experience or because of the first swath made, marking the beginning of harvest 2017. Nope, it was the idea of escaping the clock and the schedules of home.

This is THE most difficult part about coming home in the fall. Most people haven’t a clue what the heck I’m even talking about (and this is unfortunate).

Continue Reading

Tracy: Anticipation
Z Crew

Manley, Nebraska – The old cliche’ holds true…the older you get, the faster time goes. Jim and I have had numerous discussions regarding this thought. He doesn’t agree with me and for that, I’m jealous. I am one that wants to hold onto the special events as long as I can and then try to recall every minute of it somewhere down the road. The years seem to zoom by and when I say, “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years ago that happened” – he’ll say, “it seems that long ago”. Maybe he’s just denying the fact. Maybe he’s got a better grasp on time than I do. Who knows. The fact is…I can’t believe this is our 35th year of owning a combine and making the wheat harvest journey!
  Continue Reading

Soaking up the Moments
Z Crew

Manley, Nebraska – 
It really does feel like it was all just a dream. 

I believe when we’re in the moment, we just can’t fully absorb everything that is given to you at the time. I believe this is true with anything you’re doing, especially the moments that really mean a lot to you. Oh, don’t get me wrong…there’s A LOT of harvest that I would just as soon never have to remember again! But, for the most part, it’s what I love, it’s what I know, it’s what grew a strong family and EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. I go through this same sort of “harvest letdown.” 

Things are beginning to feel back to normal for being “home, home.” We arrived at the farm Thursday, September 29, where Jim will spend the next six weeks (more or less). We unloaded the Beast and gathered our overnight bags and headed home. Jim got up the very next day, hooked up the header, changed a few things from wheat to soybeans and he was off. Back in the harvest field and in the harvest schedule. 

Not so much for me. I have spent the last week trying to acclimate to the real world and getting the trailer house unloaded, cleaned and ready to go in storage. This is where the struggle is real for me. Especially this year. It is even more difficult because Callie is gone. I keep thinking she’ll come through the door any second and it doesn’t happen. So, I try to focus on the job in front of me and keep going. This is where the summer harvest, the daily schedule and being on the road feels like a dream.  Thank goodness for this blog and all my pictures to prove to my brain that it DID happen. So, when the question comes out of everyone’s mouth, “How was your summer?”, I can look back and recall. And what do I tell them? Well, it sorta goes something like this…

It was an interesting summer! Before we left home, we didn’t have a starting point. However, God is good and “wheaties” are too! Because of a fellow custom harvester, we were able to land a job in Claude, Texas. We got there, set up and waited for about ten days before we got started. We found out the farmer we cut for was a really great guy and the town of Claude was just as nice. The crop was below average, due to drought and hail. If I remember, it averaged about 25-30 bushels per acre.
Z Crew: It's what you do when you're a harvester.
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Z Crew: This is what it looks like when you're cutting wheat.
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We moved to Garden City, Kan. and found some phenomenal yields! Who would have guessed you’d ever see 100+ bushels being harvested off of dry land? It was the most amazing crop our farmer had ever seen! The Garden City heat is like none other!! Whew!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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While we were still in Garden City, we found out the farmers we usually cut for at Matheson, CO didn’t feel they could justify hiring us, due to high input costs and the current struggling crop prices. Understandable, yet what do we do now? God is good and so are “wheaties!” Ryan and Casey Graham said we could help them with their job in the same area that we would be heading to had we not just lost the job. So, we headed towards Matheson and found different fields and different farmers for the next couple of weeks. As it turned out, we did end up helping our original farmers for the last couple days of their harvest. And, better yet, we were able to park the trailer house in the same location we were in a year ago – at the farm – which is where it would sit for the next 2 1/2 months. The wheat in eastern Colorado was also an amazing crop. One that left the farmers scrambling and wondering what to do for storage. If you were lucky, you got the loads to the elevator when they had SOME room. Most of the crop went into grain bins on the farm, in bags or in piles on the ground.
Z Crew: It's what harvesters do.
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We opted not to make the trip to Montana again this year. This breaks my heart. Another life lesson…always enjoy where you are at the moment and soak it all up because it may not ever be again. I wish I would have soaked it up a bit more. I never, ever, ever thought there would come a time that we wouldn’t be making that trek north. And every time I allow my mind to drift back to that country, it brings a tear to my eye. Seriously.

Instead, we did something new and different – we headed for the San Luis Valley to help Ryan and Casey again. What a wonderful experience! The two weeks we were there, we harvested barley. Most of this barley was cut for the MillerCoors facility located in Monte Vista. To be able to work surrounded by mountains was amazing – another one of those moments when you just couldn’t soak it all in or even take enough pictures! When the time came for the proso millet to be picked up back on the farm in eastern Colorado, we made that trip back over the pass for our final job on the road.
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The proso didn’t do as well as it did last year – I think it averaged closer to 33 bushels per acre. It was well into the mid 40’s or better last year. The number of acres that were allotted for the Beast were met and it was time to head home…not a moment too soon!

The weather played a huge part of the summer of 2016! It seemed like the rains came early and just never stopped. I know other harvesters were plagued by the same issue, so it wasn’t just us (although it felt like it was). I tried to keep the Combine Cam rolling as much as possible and yet it seemed like the rain had it shut off more. I’m hoping a few of you were able to check it out at least once this summer. And, I have a feeling if you didn’t, it will be there again next summer. Did you sit in the buddy seat with me at least once? Thank you, ITC Holdings Corp. and Kiowa County Media Center for making this amazing tool possible!!!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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This catches you up to where we’re at now. Jim and the Beast are busy as we speak. The farmer we help is very close to home (about 30 miles) and only needs the combine and driver. We have helped him for the past 25 years (or more) so he and his family have been a part of ours. We both have watched our kids grow, get married and now enjoying grandchildren. They’ve attended graduations and weddings – they’re family. 

The weather is, once again, messing with the process. The rains continue which makes Jim have to switch heads a little more often. If the ground is muddy, the draper comes off and the corn head gets put on – making the switch from soybeans to corn. If everything works, Jim should be done and have all the equipment in the shed for winter storage before Thanksgiving. 

As for me, I’m going to continue to get the trailer house ready for its winter nap, rid the flower gardens of the weeds and help Taylor get ready for a November 12 wedding. If you’re ever wondering what we’re up to, head on over to www.nebraskawheatie.com and see if I’ve taken a few extra minutes to write. Sometimes, writing down my words seems like a chore but once I get going, they seem to flow pretty easily…

Thank you for keeping up with our journey this summer! I had some really big shoes to fill when I agreed to take over this job from the girls. I hope you enjoyed my storytelling as much as I KNOW you enjoyed theirs! Thank you to High Plains Journal and ALL sponsors for making this possible! You’ve given me and the other correspondents the outlet to tell the rest of the world what it takes to get their food from the field to their table. We couldn’t do this without you!!! 

God bless you and if it’s His will, I’ll be telling my stories again next summer.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
The final load.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Just enough wiggle room to get under – on our way “home, home.”
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Babysitting Eli means going to the park and playing!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
EM Homecoming – Callie relinquishing the crown.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Celebrating Callie’s 19th birthday with a campfire, hot dogs and s’mores.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
“16 plus 3” candles = 19
All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

Back and Forth, Back and Forth
Z Crew

Matheson, Colorado –
It’s been over two weeks, already, that we left the San Luis Valley and back to the farm on the Eastern Plains of Colorado. The proso millet needed picked up and we went back to work the very next day. 


Proso millet is a small-seeded grass crop, much like wheat. Proso is most commonly used for bird seed but is also used for human consumption and livestock feed.

Proso millet has also been called common millet, hog millet, broom corn, yellow hog, hershey and white millet (Baltensperger, 1996). Proso millet is a warm-season grass capable of producing seed from 60 to 100 days after planting. Because of its relatively short growing season, it has a low moisture requirement and is capable of producing food or feed where other grain crops would fail.

In 2014, U.S. farmers produced 3.6 million bushels of proso millet. This was a large decrease from the 17.3 million bushels produced in 2007. The greatest production in 2014 was in Colorado, followed by Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas and North Dakota (2012 USDA NASS Census of Agriculture). There is no USDA grain standard for test weight for proso millet, but a bushel weighs from 52 to 56 lbs.” Ag Marketing Resource Center

The days were short. We started later in the day than we did with wheat and because the sun is disappearing earlier, we quit earlier. The evenings are cool (almost cold) and it takes much longer for the mornings to warm up. We had several days, though, that felt like summer time all over again. I would so much rather have the heat of summer than the coolness that fall provides.
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Proso millet laying in a swath. When the plant matures to a certain point, it is swathed (with a swather) and laid in rows to finish ripening. This is done to protect the tiny little grain from weather and the elements until it can be harvested.
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The proso didn’t yield as much this year as it did last year. Last year we saw an average of 40 bpa…this year, 30 bushels to the acre. Most of the millet went into grain bins on the farm due to lack of space in the elevators. The last few days, we got to work with the farmer so it wasn’t nearly as boring as it was when it was just me and Jim. Back and forth, back and forth on those mile long strips tend to get pretty darn boring. My position on the seat was a much more relaxed one during proso millet than with the wheat or barley. With the pick up head, I have quite a bit of leeway and most of what I have to watch is directly in front of me.
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We picked up our last swath for 2016 on Thursday afternoon (9/22). And…that’s that! We started the process of cleaning up equipment and getting things ready to head home, home. I always hate to see the end of harvest so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. I dislike the fact that once we get home, I have to watch the clock rather than the sun. The transition between the two worlds is much harder than you would ever believe.
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My favorite time of the day – when the shadows are long and the countryside takes on different hues of colors – the golden hour.
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There…between the box and the frame of Frank…it’s Pike’s Peak on the horizon.
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The first morning with the rest of the crew.
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Going back and forth, back and forth was much better while sharing the field with others!
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Wes would have been so proud of his mom! Except, if he was still part of the crew, I doubt she would have been given much of a chance in the driver’s seat. This was Sarah’s first time in the combine and she did an aWESome job!!
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The beginnings of wheat harvest 2016. It’s like when we leave home – corn is a small plant and beans are just being planted. When we get home, it will be time to harvest them. When we get back to this farm, it will be time to harvest the seeds that are going in the ground now.
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The final night of leaving the Beast in the field to return in the morning for more harvest.
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All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.