High Plains Journal All Aboard Wheat Harvest


The Zeorian Crew

Zeorian Harvesting & Trucking is a family-run third generation custom harvesting business. The Zeorians joined All Aboard Wheat Harvest in 2009 with Jenna blogging on a full-time basis. In 2012 Jenna handed the responsibilities over to younger sisters Taylor and Callie. In 2016, Tracy took over the reins as correspondent. Continue Reading

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.

From the Field to the Fridge
Z Crew

Monte Vista, Colorado –
Mention Coors Light or Miller Lite and I would be willing to bet most readers of this blog will immediately think of this:
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Rather than this:

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
(Photo credit goes to Linda Lutz)
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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We came to the San Luis Valley in Colorado to cut malt barley for farmers who had contracted with MillerCoors. We once cut a small patch of barley in Montana but I’m fairly certain it was used for feed, not for brewing purposes. So, I was excited to see what this was all about. We’ve had harvester friends talk about the Valley for quite a few years and I’ve always wondered what it would be like.

Once here, I found the Valley to be so interesting and each time we passed the MillerCoors Barley Elevator, I knew a story was waiting to be told. 

I had the opportunity to meet Kim Hayden (Regional Manager) one day when Casey and I went inside the office to get a sample tested for moisture. I was determined to find out if I could tell the story – the story of field to product – so, I asked. She said she would have to get in touch with someone at the headquarters in Chicago, IL first and would let me know. The next thing I know, I’m receiving a phone call from Jonathan Stern (Director of Media/Investor Relations) and a time is set up for a conference call for the three of us. I told them I wasn’t a real journalist but I write a blog and I wanted to share with the general public what it takes to get the barley from the field to the brewery.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Thank you, Kim, for allowing me to take your picture and for all of your help with this story!


This is the story as told by the harvester, who sat in the cab of the combine, who cut the barley, that was dumped in a truck, that was driven to the elevator, that was dumped in the pit, that ultimately became a can of Coors Light or Miller Lite beer.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Bumper sticker on the back of a local truck that was in front of us while in line at the MillerCoors Facility.


The Company and the Farmer
MillerCoors contracts with 151 farmers in the Valley to grow 45,000 acres of barley which will be used exclusively for the MillerCoors products. Every one of these acres are grown under an irrigation pivot which supplies the life-giving water from ancient, underground aquifers. The aquifers are replenished by the snowpack in the surrounding mountains. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, the Valley (the largest and highest commercial agricultural valley in the world) is a high altitude desert (7,500 feet or more) and receives an annual rainfall of less than 7”. Shoot…we sometimes get that much rain in one storm in eastern Nebraska. It’s the warm, sunny days and cool nights which provide the perfect growing conditions for the barley in this area.

Most of the custom harvesters who are in the area have been here for years, some are multi-generational – just as the farmers who grow for MillerCoors. According to Kim, they have been contracting directly with the same local barley growers for almost 70 years. They consider their growers family and have been working with two or three generations of the same family.

MillerCoors also contracts 8,000-10,000 acres of barley with 50 growers in northern Colorado – Longmont and Ft. Collins. They also have facilities in Idaho, Montana (Billings and Power) and Wyoming (Worlund).

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Photo taken by Dusty “Crophopper” Claunch of the MillerCoors Elevator in Monte Vista, Colorado during the 2015 barley harvest.


Harvest and Tests
Barley harvest begins in August and will continue into September. MillerCoors has very strict tests that every truckload of barley will have to pass in order to be used for their product.

When the truckloads of barley leave the field and make their way to the elevator, the wait between entering the yard and actually sitting on the scale can sometimes be quite long. According to harvesters who have been coming here for quite some time, the wait time has been greatly reduced from what it used to be. However, the line can still be several hours to most of the day, depending on the number of trucks making their way to the facility. The elevator closes the gates at 5:00pm…period.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Arriving at the MillerCoors Facility in Monte Vista.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
The line was reasonably short for our last trip but we still waited over an hour before reaching the scale.

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When the truck arrives at the scale, a probe is used to obtain a sample of the grain. They will test moisture, protein, plumpness of the barley and physical analysis. Physical analysis includes diseased and damaged kernels, chemical damage, insect damage, mold or fungus, skin and “brokens” (primarily due to combine) and foreign materials (wheat, rocks, beards). They want to guarantee they are purchasing high quality barley.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
A portion of the sample received from each truckload of the grower’s barley is used to create two different types of composites – the Grower Composite and the Daily Composite.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Shawna Jones (Procurement Coordinator) collects the sample and performs the required quality tests for each truckload entering the facility.


The samples are kept in clear plastic bags identified by the grower’s name. At the end of harvest, a Grower Composite includes every sample saved from each grower’s truckload that entered the facility. This also provides the facility with a form of traceability in case a problem shows up later.

A Daily Composite is created by keeping a portion of each grower’s sample brought to the facility each day. At the end of the day, all samples are combined together and a daily analysis is run. This analysis can be provided to MillerCoors’ malting and brewing customers. Through these daily composites, they can let their customers know the quality of the barley and how the harvest is progressing.

The barley is stored and conditioned by running air through the grain pile to bring the temperature down to 40 degrees to eliminate bug issues and can be stored for up to a year. The ultimate goal for the elevator in Monte Vista is to purchase a high quality product and take care of it until it’s needed for the next step – malting. The elevator will ship throughout the year to the MillerCoors facility in Golden, Colorado for the malting process.

Headed to the Malt House
100% of the barley contracted in the San Luis Valley will go to the MillerCoors brewery in Golden, Colorado. Once it arrives in Golden, it is stored in silos to be cleaned and prepared for the malting process. The brewery owns their own malt house.

The malting process is basically tricking the barley into growing or beginning the chemical process of breaking down complex starches into simple sugars without growing a plant. So, in other words, to trick the grain to start growing…but not really. Yeah, I didn’t quite understand that either until Kim explained it to me in more detail.

There are three phases in malting – steeping, germination and kilning.

  • Steeping – The barley is soaked in big tanks filled with water to encourage it to grow before the water is drained. The moisture is allowed to go from 12% to 45%.
  • Germination – The wetted grain is allowed to grow under controlled conditions. This is where the complex starches break down into simple sugars without growing a plant. You want simple sugars so the yeast can consume the sugars to produce the alcohol for the beer.
  • Kilning – Before sprouting goes too far, the barley is toasted with warm air in a kiln. The kiln can be used for more than simply stopping growth. Time in the kiln controls color, from pale gold to rich chocolate. It also controls flavor, creating beer that’s sweet and mellow or dark and bitter.

After the kilning takes place, the malted barley is stored until it is ground into malt flour, called “grist.” Milling cracks the tough outer hull of the grain so water can get in and dissolve the starch and sugars inside.

What’s Next?
I found the remaining steps directly from the MillerCoors website (their website is beautiful, by the way):

Mashing – Mashing is the final process of converting any remaining starch into fermentable sugar. Hot water is added to the grist to produce a mixture called “mash.” The combination of heat and natural enzymes from the barley breaks down the starches into fermentable sugars. This process takes place in large kettles called mash tuns. When the sugar content is just right, the mash is filtered to separate the solid husks and germ of the grain from the sweet liquid. The solids, which make nutritious, high-protein animal feed, are sold to local farmers. The sweet liquid, called “wort,” is transferred to another kettle. The wort is heated to a boil to clarify it and reduce excess water. Hops are added at this stage for their aroma and spiciness, and to balance the sweetness. After boiling, the wort is strained, cooled and transferred to a fermentation tank.

Fermenting and Aging – When the wort cools, yeast is added, and fermentation begins. It takes a while for the yeast to multiply, but once there’s enough, it consumes the sugars and produces alcohol and CO2 (carbonation). The fermentation tank is constantly kept at cool temperatures for the yeast to do the best job. Fermenting typically takes eight to 10 days. After fermentation, the filtered, fermented wort is officially beer. But at this stage the young beer needs to mature. For most beers (and all lagers), the next step is aging and secondary fermentation in large tanks. A term for this stage is “lagering,” German for “storing.” During the aging process, the beer matures, develops its natural carbonation and its unique flavor. Ale yeast likes warmer temperatures than lager yeast. So the ales ferment and go through their aging at less icy temperatures than their lager counterparts. It’s why lagers and ales taste different. When aging is complete and the flavors found in the beers are in perfect harmony, it’s time for their ultimate destination.

We all know this fun fact about wheat – A bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread OR about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread. So, I thought it would be fun to know fun facts about barley and something to think about the next time you open a beer.

What Goes Into My Beer?
On average, a single 12 oz. serving requires:

 72 oz. water
 0.0700 lb. malted barley
 0.0260 lb. unmalted rice or corn
 0.0003 lb. hops
One bushel of barley produces approximately 565 12 oz. beers.
Our truck averaged 1,000 bushels of barley OR 565,000 12 oz. beers.
Now, let’s go a little bit further…
 45,000 acres of San Luis Valley barley x 150 bushels per acre =
6,750,000 bushels of barley
 6,750,000 bushels x 565 = 3,813,750,000 12 oz. beers
THAT’S A WHOLE LOT OF BEER!!

Thank you, Jonathan and Kim, for providing me with the details I needed to tell the story. I will forever think about what it takes to produce a bottle of beer – from the field to the fridge!

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

Taters and Carrots…a Harvest of a Different Color
Z Crew

San Luis Valley, Colorado
I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before…the San Luis Valley is an amazing place to see all sorts of different crops being grown and harvested. Maybe it’s just interesting to me because the crops I’m most used to seeing consists of soybeans, corn and wheat. Maybe it just seems so much more magical because of the mountains that surround the valley. Whatever it is…I’m in love with this valley!

I’m not sure what day it was or what we were doing (and it doesn’t matter) when we came upon the carrot harvester. At first, we passed right by it because I’m sure we were on a mission to get something – like a header trailer. I attempted to take a couple of pictures on the move when Jim said, “Would you like to stop and watch this for a minute”? Why, yes I would.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvester's do.
Unfortunately, this is not a very clear picture and I considered not even using it but thought even a blurry picture of something you don’t see everyday is better than none at all.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvester's do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvester's do.
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So I had lots of questions about the San Luis Valley carrot harvest. The person I decided to start asking those questions to was the farmer we were cutting malt barley for, Cory Myers of M&G Farms. I asked him what would happen with the carrots we saw being harvested. This is what I found out and felt it may be interesting to those of you who only know that carrots are bagged and can purchased at the grocery store.

There are 1,200 acres of carrots grown in the Valley for Grimmway Farms. Grimmway’s main farm and headquarters is in California. The farmers who grow carrots for Grimmway are contracted to only grow the carrots. Grimmway provides the equipment necessary to harvest the crop and move the product to where it needs to go.

The harvesting machine loosens the sandy ground as a rolling mechanism (much like a corn head) gently pulls the carrots out of the ground. There are knives that cut the tops off the carrot while they are in motion inside the machine. The tops go out the back of the machine while the carrots travel on a conveyor belt and are dumped into the truck. The carrots will be cut into 2″ pieces and turned into “baby carrots.” To learn more about this process, click here to be directed to Grimmway’s website. There is a very interesting video explaining the harvest and the process of what takes place after the carrots are dug. 

Cory told me any tops that didn’t get cut on the harvester and any other carrot waste is taken to a local buffalo ranch or used for livestock feed. He said when the harvest is in full swing, there will be 25 reefer (refrigerated shipping container) loads of carrots harvested per day.

So, how many of you thought baby carrots were grown as baby carrots? Now you know.


I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t want to stop and grab a couple of those carrots that fell from the truck!

The potato harvest hasn’t started yet. They’re right on the verge of getting started. It’s much like the beginning of wheat harvest – anticipation, excitement and just plain ready to get started is happening right now. There are a few farmers attempting but conditions must not be quite ready. I was told the majority of the potato harvest will begin about the 15th of September. Cory and his family grow potatoes and have one of the largest potato harvesters in the Valley. This particular harvester weighs 110,000 pounds stripped of all dirt and potatoes. It has a 300 gallon fuel tank and will burn 270 gallons of diesel in a 10 hour day. It separates 2″ and larger spuds from the smaller ones. The smaller ones will be used as seed or discarded because there isn’t a market for the smaller potatoes. The dimensions of the harvester is 43′ long, 26.5′ wide and 18′ tall. It will cover 35 acres per day. When harvest begins for a farmer, he will have hired at least 50 employees or more. Not only will he need people for the harvester, he will also need many drivers for the potato trucks. 

The San Luis Valley grows 48,000-52,000 acres of potatoes and is the second largest fresh potato growing region in the U.S. 95% of these potatoes are for the fresh market with primary sales being to the southeast region of the United States. To learn more about the San Luis Valley potatoes, click here. Once there, be sure to watch the video that explains more about the San Luis Valley and the farmers that are in this area! 

The following video is one that Cory shared with me. This is their harvester in action:
After Cory explained the harvest and all the steps involved, he got in his pickup and left. I assumed he was going back to his farm for the day. About 1/2 hour later, he returned to the field with a canvas bag. He called me over to the endgate of his pickup as he began dumping the contents of the bag. This is what he brought back to show me:
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These beautiful purple and yellow potatoes are a new variety developed right here in the San Luis Valley by a local breeder working at the CSU Research Center. The name of these potatoes are “Masquerade.” Cory is the only one in the U.S. who is commercially growing this variety of potato – he planted just a little more than 11 acres this year. Last year, his crop of Masquerade potatoes made their way to eastern Canada.
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Cory said these potatoes are called Mesa are the best tasting potato on the planet! There are over 70 varieties of potatoes grown in the San Luis Valley. I had no idea there were so many different kinds. Silly me…I thought russet and red potatoes were the only kinds out there. How about you? Did you know there were so many different varieties of spuds??
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
These are the newer, updated buildings used to store the spuds. The old buildings scattered through the countryside look like Midwest dugouts. They’re above ground but made from adobe with sod roofs.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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I’ve enjoyed seeing so many new and different aspects of agriculture while here in the San Luis Valley! I hope my pictures and stories have spurred a little bit of interest in this unique and beautiful part of Colorado!

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

Visitors (YAY!) and Vacation (sort of)
Z Crew

Monte Vista, Colorado – 
When Jim and I began our harvesting business and we left home for the summer, it was something new to family and friends and we always had visitors. As the years went by, the “fun” wore off and the number of visitors just sort of dwindled…except for the kids. Being away from home also means being away from friends and family. It was always a welcome treat to have someone from home show up. It still is. When we leave home, we don’t usually make it back until we show up just in time for the fall harvest of corn and soybeans. This is usually late September/early October. 

We received a phone call after we left the field late Thursday afternoon from Jim’s cousin, Dwayne. He and his wife, Linda, were on their way to Utah for vacation and wanted to stop in and say “hello.” We told them we were in town (Monte Vista) and we’d wait for them in the parking lot of a store on the edge of town. Once they arrived, we piled in our service pickup and took them on a tour of the area. Dwayne and Linda farm and were interested in seeing the different crops – and the hay – in the Valley. We eventually ended up at the field to show them the equipment and what the barley looked like.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
The town of Center, Colorado.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
One of the many different crops we looked at was iceberg lettuce.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
One of several pieces of equipment used during lettuce harvest. Lettuce is manually harvested and machines are used during the packaging process – all in the field. I don’t honestly know the steps involved in harvesting the lettuce. I would like to watch the process sometime…if possible. I just know it looks like a large party in the field!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Me and The Beast – picture credit goes to Linda Lutz. Thanks, Linda! I don’t have many pictures of me on harvest. 🙂
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Linda, Dwayne and Jim checking out the barley.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Photo credit – Linda Lutz
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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We had such a nice time visiting with Dwayne and Linda! And so thankful they stopped in! After convincing them to spend the night at the same motel we are at, we went to Del Norte for supper. We sat in the pickup and visited after we got back to the motel. Linda and I made our escape and went back to our rooms, leaving Jim and Dwayne talking up a storm. I think they finally called it a night about an hour and a half after Linda and I left. I Guess they were enjoying themselves and lost track of time. 

They left Friday morning and were going to make their way to Utah. They had no destination in mind and no deadline. I sort of envied that! Being able to take off and go and see and do and stay as long as you wanted to sounded like a great time to me. And they were planning on camping. That’s something I really miss getting to do. We didn’t haul our camping stuff this year since the girls weren’t going to be with us. 

Thanks for stopping to see us, Dwayne and Linda! I hope you had a great vacation!

The morning sky was thick with clouds and it was cold. We didn’t see how it would be possible to be back in the field so Jim agreed to take a drive through the mountains. I was to pick the route and we’d just spend the day touring. We stopped in South Fork for an early lunch before heading to Creede. Once we arrived in Creede, we visited their underground mining museum. The town was cute and full of fun little shops but there was no stopping and shopping! 
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Creede, CO
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
North Clear Creek Falls – most photographed waterfall in Colorado
We had a nice day – a good little “get-away” from the fields and combines and all that goes with it. It felt (kind of) like vacation. I told Jim, though, I was feeling a bit guilty for being in the mountains without the girls. I know how much they all enjoy the mountains. If they had been with us, I may have been able to convince him to stop a little more often. As it was, we ended up driving about 250 miles on our adventure. But…it got us out of the motel. I’m certain we missed some things we should have stopped for but there’s always next time, right? 

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

Our Weekend Began on Wednesday
Z Crew

Center, Colorado –  Our “weekend” began on Wednesday (8/24).

As you may recall from my last post, we were able to get started on Thursday (8/18) and kept working every day until we bumped up against high moisture on Wednesday morning (so we got six good days in). We all had high expectations of keeping the wheels rolling but we were also beginning to really show signs of needing a break. Which we got.

We sat in the field all day Wednesday hoping each moisture test would be better than the previous one. The last test we took was low enough on the combine monitor and the hand tester to justify taking a sample to town. Because this particular field will have several trucks making the trek to the Coors facility in Monte Vista, we knew it would have to be tested by them before the wheels were going to continue rolling. Casey and I made the 15 mile trip to Monte Vista. Their result was 14.2%. Too high. So, we just quit early for the day.

Thursday morning, we began the day as usual. Jim went to the gas station to get fuel for the combine and to the grocery store, while I made lunches and got things gathered for being away for the day. It was cloudy and chilly – not good for drying grain. We did take a sample, though, early afternoon – 14.1%. So it dried…some. We just all left the field for a while. Some hauled grain, some went home and took a nap and a few of us just took a short road trip. We got back to the field late afternoon and tried it one more time. This time the sample tested 12.5% but the clouds were thickening up and getting pretty dark. After a phone call to the farmer, it was decided that since it was so late in the day and we hated to chance getting a truckload of grain that was too wet to get rid of, we’d just wait another day. And then it rained…not much. But around here, it doesn’t take much. The nights are beginning to get pretty chilly and it takes longer in the morning to warm up. 

Therefore…

Nothing was even attempted Friday. 

While we’ve been away from the field, we were finally able to get our laundry done and bills paid. We had visitors from home and we took a drive through the mountains. I will save this info for another post. In the meantime, enjoy a few of the photos I took over the past week. Hoping tomorrow we’ll be back in the field.  And, speaking of being back in the field…don’t forget to check out the Combine Cam. It’s been running pretty consistently while we’ve been here. It’s good to have cell service again! Have you ever watched a windrow of grain being picked up? It’s just so weird after watching a reel turn all summer long and now it’s not there.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
This is barley – not wheat (although they do look very similar). The heads of the barley is longer than wheat.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
The “14ers” got a dusting of snow during one of the many storms that rolled through. These mountains are referred to as the “14ers” because of the elevation being at least 14,000 ft or more.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
While we’re helping Ryan and Casey Graham, the amount of equipment in my pictures has increased by quite a bit. Every time we pull up to the field, it puts me in mind of a farm show. We can certainly get a whole lot more done with five combines!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Looking at the next circle of barley from on top of the Beast.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Lots of equipment means lots of people to run it. The night we were leaving the field, we only had one pickup because we had just moved everything to the current circle. A few of them had to ride in the back which made for a pretty chilly ride!!
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
And, yes, I’m still a sucker for a good sunset!

 

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

A New Place…A New Crop
Z Crew

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Monte Vista, Colorado –
We made the trip up and over the LaVeta Pass with the Beast last Thursday with no issues. Once we arrived at our destination, we unloaded the combine and knew we wouldn’t be back until after we got the pick-up header in Goodland, KS. We thought that would be the next day. However, once the call was made, we found out it wasn’t ready to get picked up and we wouldn’t be able to get it until Monday afternoon. So, our plans changed – as they sometimes do. I tried to convince Jim we should go home for the weekend but he sorta frowned on that idea. Jamie and Curt were going to be starting to move into their new home and Callie was moving into her dorm. I really did want to be there for both of those events. But, as most harvesters know…when there is work to be done, there are lots of things we miss at home. The sacrifices are part of the job.
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Callie was lucky to have her sisters to help her with the move. It looks like they had everything in its place in no time. I’m certainly anxious to get home and see her new “home!” And to see Jamie and Curt’s new home!
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Flaps are up…it’s time for liftoff…well, sorta.
We made the trip to Goodland, KS on Monday – late morning. By the time we had the header loaded and were heading down the road again, it was mid afternoon. We had made the decision not to take the trailer house over the hill and would stay in a motel instead. This meant packing clothes, office supplies, groceries, toiletries, shoes, etc – basically everything we needed for the time we’d be away. I tell ya what…those of you who stay in a motel the entire harvest journey have earned my respect! It’s not so bad, except it’s not home. And making due with what you have is something I can do but it certainly isn’t as easy as having everything in its place in a “home.” Making lunches takes on a whole different feel in a motel!
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Servicing included oiling chains before beginning the barley harvest.
We were up early on Tuesday morning. Again, Jim wanted to get over the pass before the heat of the day. Both pickups were going to be hauling headers – the MacDon Flex Head and the MacDon Pick-up head. All our stuff was packed and we were ready to go by 8:00. The trip was pretty uneventful except for one issue. As we were starting to make our way up the pass, I heard a loud bang. It sounded like something hit the side of the pickup. I called Jim on the two-way and told him what I heard and thought maybe we should stop and check it out. After walking around the pickup and header trailer, we couldn’t see anything that looked out of place so we started up the hill again. I heard it again – only louder this time. So, Jim decided he’d drive the service truck and see if it did it again. When we reached our destination, I asked him if it ever made that noise again. He shook his head, “no.” Then said, “Why do you always want to try to give me a heart attack?” I asked him what he meant because I would never do something like that on purpose. He said, “look in the backseat of the pickup – there you will find the noise you heard”. I looked. All I saw were the few boxes of items that we packed and a bag which held several bags of potato chips. That’s when I realized the loud noises I heard were actually the bags of chips popping open due to the change in elevation. It seriously sounded like a tire blew or a gun shot. A bag of potato chips…

We unloaded our living necessities in the motel and took off for the combine. We had some servicing that needed to be done before we could get back in the field again. We took the rest of the day to do that and to also put a new tarp on Frank. The old one was 16 years old and began showing wear this summer. Thanks to Steve Molstad and Colby Canvaswe now have a brand new tarp. Colby Canvas also created our window covering a couple of years ago. Steve and his gang do a great job and I would highly recommend Colby Canvas! They know and understand the needs of the harvester.
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While putting the new tarp on Frank, the wind decided to come up – quite strong, I might add. So, while Jim was attempting to attach the tarp to the metal frame, I was attempting to hold the tarp in place so it wouldn’t blow off the truck. That was a funny sight, I’m sure!
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Pretty certain the sunset pictures are going to be way more than necessary!
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The San Luis Valley is a high-altitude desert with an annual rainfall of 7″. Everything that is grown here is kept alive with water coming from a pivot (and there are a lot of pivots here). This area will rarely, if ever, see a 1″-2″ rain like we experience in the lower elevations. The Valley is surrounded by mountains and is absolutely gorgeous. So far, I’ve seen potatoes, barley, lettuce, canola and hemp being grown here. We haven’t been able to really explore but I’m hoping before we have to leave, I can see more of the valley’s agriculture.
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Interesting house, wouldn’t you say?
We were ready to begin cutting on Wednesday afternoon. We moved the combine and trucks to the field we were to start in and cut about 100 yards. The sample was taken to the elevator and the result was too wet. The sample was 18.2% and it needs to be 12-13% like wheat. So, we moved our equipment down the road about 15 miles and made the initial cut into the field to take a sample. The farmer took off with it and would call us with the results. In the meantime, the rain began to get closer and closer. Just as the farmer called to let us know the moisture test was 11%, it began raining. So, we called it a day as it was after 6:00 p.m. when it started to rain.
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Moving to field #2. I took this picture because it just has agriculture written all over it! The truck was hauling barley, the swather would be used to swath barley and then there’s the combine. I was stopped while I took the picture. The truck was turning right and I wanted to make sure he had plenty of room to make his turn.
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Barley looks a lot like wheat only the heads are much longer. I should have taken a picture of the grain in my hands – I’ll do that another time to show the difference between the two grains. Most barley is swathed and laying on the ground by now. Because of the weather, some of the farmers have opted to leave it stand and use the same header used for wheat. When it’s laying on the ground, we will use the pick-up header. The majority of the barley grown in this area will be used by Coors for beer. 

We were able to get started yesterday. It’s a very slow process – not anything like the craziness of wheat harvest! We didn’t get a very early start this morning because of the rain the night before and I was only able to get 50 acres cut today before we had to shut down for the night. I lacked 10 acres of getting our first half circle done. The reason for the slow going is because the straw is still green (very green in places) and it’s yielding so well. The monitor shows an average of 150 – with a patch or two that makes the monitor move in the 300’s.  Oh well. It’s a new place, a new crop and there’s a whole lot of learning to do!

Jim took this video. It isn’t a very clear video but gives you a fairly good idea of the area around the grain bins that he’s been hauling to. 


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No words needed.

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

A Working Vacation
Z Crew

Matheson, Colorado – 
We finally made a decision and there’s no turning back now.

Weather began playing against the “plan” we had. The plan was immediately after we finished the wheat in Colorado, we were going to make our way to the San Luis Valley for the barley harvest. Then the monsoons moved in. The plan started taking a different course of action. The swathing dates for the barley kept getting pushed later, which meant picking it up got later. The question going through Jim’s mind has been “Do we gamble with the weather and head over the pass and count on a short run? Or, do we play it safe and stay where we’re at?” The reason he was starting to second guess what we should do is we’re planning on helping with the proso millet again this year. Right now (and we all know plans can change), a date has been set to “possibly” begin picking up proso September 1. That doesn’t leave much time for us to make the trip to the valley (three times) and back (three times).

When I was finally given the chance to give him my opinion, I told him I thought we should just gamble and head over the pass. We’re here…we have a combine…we’re supposed to be using that combine…and we’re usually in one place for ten days to two weeks before moving. So, we made our first trip yesterday afternoon with Frank and Pete (our trucks). I had no idea what to expect.
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The countryside from the farm to LaVeta is desert. It was HOT and the air was dry. My eyes and nose literally had every bit of moisture sucked right out.
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And then I started seeing them on the horizon…the mountains. I get as much pleasure seeing mountains as I do a field of wheat! And tend to take about as many pictures to verify this!
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Yes, we did get rained on but with the heat, it didn’t stay wet very long.
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The perfectly shaped mountain. I couldn’t help but think about the many pictures that have been drawn by my kids which included mountains that looked exactly like this one. I now know the mountain they used to draw does exist.
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The LaVeta pass is an eight-mile climb. When you finally get up and over the pass, the next town to stop in is Ft. Garland. And…yes…the route we took to our destination is marked on the map as a “Scenic Route”.
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This mountain range is one of several that can be seen from the place we parked Frank and dropped the grain trailer. We will be helping Ryan and Casey while in the valley and this is what they get to look at every. single. day. (jealous) Yes, this is going to be like a working vacation!


As I mentioned, we dropped the grain trailer and parked Frank and left again in the Pete. By now, it was 8:30 pm and we needed something to eat. We walked into a restaurant at 8:50 – they close at 9:00. “Can we still get something to eat?” “Absolutely” was their reply. Once we had a quick bite, we made our way a bit further down the road. We pulled into an empty lot, parked and slept in the “Hotel Pete.” This is what we woke up to in Blanca, Colorado:

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And the next several pictures are of the view on the way down the other side of the pass (forgive the dirty windows). 

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We returned to the Cottage about 2:00 p.m. Wednesday. We waited for the heat of the day to disappear and then washed the Beast for the first time this summer. It was so dirty. She’s loaded and ready to make the trip over the pass Thursday morning. Plans are to leave shortly after sunrise…THAT’S 6:00 AM! I’ll be the first one to tell you I am NOT a morning person! They’re predicting another hot day for eastern Colorado and Jim wants to make it up and over the pass before that heat kicks in. 

Once we get this trip made, we’ll have to make another trip to Goodland, Kansas to get our MacDon pick-up head. So, that means all that will remain to make the trip will be the header and the trailer house.  I look forward to this new adventure. I just can’t imagine waking up every day and getting to work in such beautiful surroundings! What a job we have!

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

From Yellow to White (video)
Z Crew

Matheson, Colorado –
Things happen on the road – much like they do when we’re home. At home, we have our favorite places to go when we need help with a situation. But…those places can’t help us out when we’re 600 miles (or more) from home. 

We count on our farmers and other harvesters to give us suggestions for places to go when we are in need of help with combine/truck repairs, doctors, trailer house repairs or anything else that will help us keep moving. When you stop in a new location for the first time, you never want to have to have suggestions for these different places. But, when a breakdown occurs and a place is suggested (and they treat you right), they tend to get repeat business as often as needed.

This is why we frequent the Witt Boys NAPA Auto Parts store in Limon while harvesting in the area. Jim absolutely loves to visit this store. When their services are needed, we know we can count on things being done right and meeting Jim’s expectations. 

When the front tire of the combine developed a bulgesteps were immediately taken to get a replacement found. Dawson Tire & Wheel in Gothenburg, Nebraska loaned us a yellow-rimmed tire to use until the new one arrived from South Carolina. We made the 300+ mile (one way) trip to Gothenburg the day after we arrived in Limon. The very next day (Sunday), the Witt Boys’ tire truck showed up and made the swap. The new tire made its way to the Limon store and once we were done with the wheat, Jim made the call to have the truck return to make another tire swap. 

Clint Rand (also involved with the first tire swap) and Eddie Ehmann showed up at the farm on Friday morning to put the new tire on. These two made the swap look effortless – almost like they’ve done it before. 🙂 And another thing I noticed…who needs a weight room when you handle tires?

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
The brand new tire.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Goodbye yellow-rimmed tire!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
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I added this video to show you just what it takes to get the job done!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
Good as new and ready for the field, once again.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do!
While the tire was being inflated, there was interest in what the combine looked like behind the shield. Jim was happy to answer questions.
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Thank you, Clint and Eddie!! Jim paid you the best compliment ever and you didn’t even know it…until now. “It’s an art to be a true tire man” and in his eyes, you fit the bill! Also a huge thank you to John and David Witt (Witt Boys NAPA) and Dawson Tire & Wheel for all the help you provided with this ordeal!

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

The Final Days of Wheat Harvest 2016
Z Crew

Matheson, Colorado —
Wheat harvest 2016 has come to an end for the Z Crew. I get so involved with the moment and with everything it takes to get through our day I lose track of time and then, all at once, it’s over. Days just turn into more days. Time isn’t kept track of like most people’s lives. The clock isn’t watched as often while working with the sunshine.

It wasn’t until the last two years that it ended so early for us. For crying out loud, we used to cut wheat in Montana until well after the first part of September. It was spring wheat but it was still wheat. The girls began their school year in Jordan and we wouldn’t get home until mid-September or later. Speaking of the girls and Montana, Jamie and Jenna made the 2,000-mile trip to Jordan over the weekend to celebrate Jenna’s 10-year class reunion with her classmates. That was one of the best things we could have ever done—enroll the kids in school there! This lifestyle has provided wonderful experiences and memories for the kids. I know if asked, they would agree and would do it all over again. It’s a part of who they are—what helped create the person they have become. They have learned so much by being a part of so many different communities and getting to know people from south to north.

Let’s back up a bit. I tend to get sidetracked on different thoughts and then just wander. 

In my last post, I mentioned that it had rained. We fixed a minor combine issue on Friday and then was going to get back to cutting, hopefully, by noon on Saturday. That didn’t happen. We didn’t get started cutting until 3 p.m. due to moisture. Once we finished filling a bag, we moved from red wheat to white wheat. The two can’t be mixed. We cut the rest of the day on Saturday and then finished the white wheat on Sunday evening. We even had to push through a sprinkle of rain to get it completed. This was the last day Ryan and Casey were going to be able to help so I was glad we got the field finished! 


Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Haedyn and Shelby Graham were Jim’s helpers on Saturday morning. He left me at the trailer house to get a few necessary things taken care of. He came back to the Cottage for lunch and then headed out to the field shortly after.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
The “circling of the wagons” while waiting to hear the results of the moisture test. The ground seemed to be a little soft, making everyone a bit nervous about what we were in for.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
When the shields are open on both sides of the Beast, it looks like it’s ready to take off flying—sort of like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (remember that show?). This was taken on Sunday morning during “servicing.”
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
It was touch and go for all of us most of the entire day but I found the one soggy mud hole in the field. It took two tries and one broken chain to get out of this mess. And of course it had to be me. Guess when it rains, mud happens.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Jim and Beano making the chain connections from the grain cart to the combine.

On Monday morning, Ryan and Casey and the crew began the cleanup process. They were going to make the first trip home on Tuesday morning so their entire day was spent cleaning and loading. We, on the other hand, remained in the cutting mode and began helping the Maranvilles. It felt so good to be a part of their crew again—it just felt right. Well, almost. Chanse did a great job on the grain cart, but he has some pretty big shoes to fill! With the yields, we three machines kept him and the truckers pretty darn busy.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
The supper lineup.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Final day of wheat harvest 2016. We only had 90 acres ahead of us.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.

Did you catch the reference to “filling a bag” at the beginning of my story? Because of the once-in-a-lifetime yields in this area, the elevators filled fast and weren’t taking any more wheat. The grain bins on the farm weren’t going to be used because they needed to be empty for the millet harvest (late summer). What were they going to do? There was talk of creating piles on the ground, but no one was certain what would happen to the grain once it was subjected to the elements and critters (although there are piles all over the place). After much thought and discussion, it was decided that if the local elevator would allow them to use their bagger, that’s what they were going to do. 

I didn’t get to see this process in action so I asked Jim if he would take pictures and video for me to share. I had all kinds of questions and I hope I can remember exactly what he told me. The truck unloaded the wheat onto a conveyor, which moved it to an auger, which filled the bag. The tractor was running (to provide power for the PTO) and placed in neutral so that as the bag was filling, it pushed the tractor ahead. Jim said the tractor would move 12 to 14 feet with each truckload of wheat. Each bag held 30,000 bushels of wheat—30 truckloads. By the time the harvest was complete, there were seven bags lined side by side. I’ve included a short video showing the process much better than I could explain it to you. By the way, thanks and photo credits go to Jimbo! 
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Unloading the last of the 2016 wheat crop into the truck. This makes me feel a bit sad! It’s the most anticipated part of the year and it’s always over before I’m ready.

So, after the field was finished, we still had quite a bit of the afternoon left. We started the crummy job of cleaning the header. At least on this day, it wasn’t as darn hot as the last time we did the job in Garden City! We had clouds and a good breeze.

We were nearly finished when Jim decided we needed to put it on hold and get the MacDon pick-up header ready to make the trip to Yost Farm Supply in Goodland, Kansas, for updates. This had to be done before we can take it to “The Valley” for the barley harvest. The hardest part of this job was getting the header trailer on the car trailer. Jim didn’t want to have to worry about the header trailer’s wheels and bearings while travellng on the highway so he felt the easiest thing to do was what he did.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Today (Wednesday), we made the trip to Goodland and back. We also had 11 days of laundry that needed to be washed. Spending $4.75 for a washing machine that’s on for 23 minutes is a rip-off! Of those 23 minutes, 10 of them are in the wash cycle—10 minutes to wash grease, grime and field dirt from clothes. Not nearly long enough! I certainly hope my washing machine works at the next stop.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Unloading the pick-up header at the New Holland dealership (Yost Farm Supply) in Goodland.

Next on our schedule? To get truck maintenance done and equipment cleaned for the move to “The Valley.” We’re hoping to have the first load headed over the mountain pass this weekend. I’m anxious to see something new. I’m told it’s beautiful where we’re going and I do look forward to seeing the mountains! New adventures on the horizon…

All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and New Holland Agriculture. The Z Crew can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.

It’s All About Relationships
Z Crew

Matheson, Colorado –
We finished with the acres we came back to Limon for. Ryan and Casey told us we could help them with their job so they could be finished in decent time to make their way back home to Del Norte, Colorado. If you check a map, you’ll see they live in the San Luis Valley or simply referred to as “The Valley” to the custom harvesters. I’ve heard about “The Valley” for quite a few years. We have other harvester friends who have made their way to “The Valley” at the same time we made our way to Montana. Because our journey to Montana has been put on hold due to the wheat ripening at the same time as the Colorado acres, we will be making our way to “The Valley” after we finish with the additional acres we’ve picked up. Yep, we’ve got a couple more days of wheat to cut in the area. The same farmers that we’ve cut for the past several years asked us if we could help them get their acres finished up. Once we get finished here, we will begin a new adventure in “The Valley” thanks to Ryan and Casey.

Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Jim had an idea for something special he wanted to put on the combine in honor of Wes. In real time, we’ve only known the Maranville’s less than a year. We’ve helped them cut their wheat since 2012 and have become pretty close to the entire family. When I received word of Wesley’s death in December, it literally sucked the air right out of my lungs. The text I received from Taylor at 2:00 am was read and reread many times before I allowed the words to sink into my head. It had to be a mistake! Wes was playing basketball with his Simla Jr. High team when he collapsed. Wes had an unknown heart defect and there was no way it would have been detected. He was the best grain cart driver…ever…but he also shared the same love for the combine as I do. This has been a tough harvest for everyone – especially his family. I finally put the decal (created by Jenna) on the combine. I think I had been putting it off simply because I was wanting to deny the fact. Things like this happen to other people – not to people you know and love. This has certainly made me realize that when you tell someone, “see ya next year,” you may not. Take the time to thoroughly enjoy those special times together as we’re not guaranteed a “next year.”  
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Bubba
Taylor took this picture of Wes last summer while she was attending the fair with the family. Wasn’t he a cutie!
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Jim looking at the decal and thinking about the one we have been missing.

We had a really good day of cutting on Thursday. As the sun was setting, the clouds began to move in. I heard something in the cab of the combine that didn’t sound quite right so I called Jim on the two-way to tell him I felt he should come listen. He drove the truck to the machine and jumped out. It was then that I realized the little clouds that had been forming absolutely blew up right over the top of us. It was an amazing scene to watch this particular cloud boil as it was moving east. It marched on and didn’t stop the combines. It was the next cloud that rolled over the field, however, that brought enough rain to keep us out of the field yesterday and part of Saturday.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
My co-pilot for the day – Haedyn Graham.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Jim had to make a phone call to Monte with the New Holland Harvest Support. The ONLY way you can get consistent cell service in this area is to stand on top of the combine…really! Jim was able to explain the noise and what he thought was wrong to Monte who helped him determine what part needed to be replaced.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
Jim and Dave trying to figure out the easiest way to replace the part needing replaced.
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
The daily blowing-off-the-dirt-at-the-end-of-the-day chore.
As it was, the rain day provided the perfect opportunity to make a trip to Goodland, KS to get the necessary part to make that cab noise disappear. Igor Kuzmenko with New Holland was in Limon. He’s here to visit with us and the Graham’s – and other custom harvesters who drive New Holland combines. We stopped in Limon and rode over to Goodland together. I was finally able to meet Jon Yost of Yost Farm Supply in person. I’ve visited with him via Facebook but never met him in person. As you can see, these guys were enjoying each other’s company. 
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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We got back from Goodland in plenty of time to replace the part and we’re now ready to roll as soon as the wheat is dry enough to cut again! Thanks for your help, Igor!  You listened to A LOT of stories and was a good sport through all of it! It was a good day – a productive day! I’m all about developing relationships and I feel another friend has been made! 
Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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Z Crew: Because it's what harvesters do.
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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.