High Plains Journal All Aboard Wheat Harvest

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Sage: Harvest is all in the Bin…at least for me
Sage Sammons

Another year is in the books and it has been a year I will never forget.  From starting strong in Holliday, Texas to a rain day or two in Floydada, Texas to too many rain days in Dumas, Texas.  Then we had a very quick run in Last Chance, Colo., but still managed to meet a bunch of new people and see old friends.  Now we are in Montana where we have worked side-by-side with John Deere’s, cut swaths because of sawfly and are getting ready to harvest our farm in Cut Bank.  It has truly been a great summer.

From the beginning I knew this was going to be a very different year, But all in all it has been a successful and fun summer.  Yes there have been low points, and most of those are well documented, but I persevered and prevailed, mostly because of all the support I have had all summer long.  I will be eternally grateful to everyone who kept my sister and I in their thoughts during my specific tough time.

Everyone knows that I was blogging on the website, which got picked up by the High Plains Journal.  But some people don’t know that I did radio interviews as well.  Those were really fun.  From North Dakota to Kansas to Texas, there were some really cool disc jockeys I got to talk with.

The High Plains Journal is very innovative in creating the blog.  During the second year they involved more writers, all with a different perspective.  I am very appreciative of getting a chance to show people my harvest and what we do here at Sammons Adventures Harvesting.  I would like to thank everyone at the High Plains Journal for giving me a chance to tell my story.  I would also like to thank those same people for all the hard work they put into the All Aboard Harvest project.  The writers are the people who get all the attention but there are so many people behind the scenes that do so much.  Thank you very much to all of you, doing what you do best.

I would also like to thank all of our sponsors.  Without them, All Aboard Harvest wouldn’t be possible.  I would like to thank DuPont specifically because of all the interviews they set up and hard work they did.  From radio stations to newspapers they were able to get the word out about the harvest coming through, and it gave me a chance to talk about what we are doing and maybe getting some people interested in the harvest who didn’t know about it before.  It is definitely a great time of year that everyone needs to know about and appreciate.

The last group of people I would like to thank are the readers.  You kept me true in every sense.  From all of your comments to learning stories about what f you do, I was inspired.  I really appreciate you for taking time out of your busy days to hear my story and read what I had to say.  The Agriculture industry is full of a very special breed of people; wholesome people that can see the big picture and truly care about people.  My opinion of that was just reinforced many times this season.

Throughout the year, I was extremely busy, which can explain my inconsistency between blogs.  For that I apologize.  I definitely underestimated the number of people that share my love for harvest and follow it so closely.  If I weren’t on harvest I would be following it very closely too!

For me it is now time to return to school.  I will miss the harvest greatly, as it is my favorite season.  But just as the seasons change, harvest was bound to be over at some point.  I will never forget all the memories from this year and all the people I have met.  I am truly blessed to have met some great people and even more blessed that they wanted to hear my story.

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop

Sage: Skinner Harvesting
Sage Sammons

Fort Benton, Mont.- I have kind of mentioned that we are cutting with another crew since the rest of our machines are in South Dakota.  I’m going to take this time to talk a little bit about the Skinner Harvesting crew.

Dan and Stephanie Skinner are the owners and operators of Skinner Harvesting.  They run three John Deer 9770’s.  They have a blue and a brown Peterbilt, both 379s and two white Kenworth T-800’s.  But the biggest asset on harvest, in Dan’s words, is his wife Stephanie and everything she does.

Dan has been on the harvest run since 1992 and Stephanie joined in 1997.  Dan is out in the field managing the crew and keeping wheat in front of the combines, while Stephanie cooks and does the paperwork.  They instruct their truck drivers to keep a strict log of their loads because Stephanie gives the farmer a day-to-day report of how harvest is coming along.  They are extremely organized and efficient in their work and are extremely proud of what they do.

The very hardworking couple hires mostly hardworking young men, and that’s no exception this season.  Everyone on their crew jumps at every opportunity to work. From combine operators to truck drivers, everyone is involved to get the job done quickly and efficiently.  It can be very rare to see that in today’s society when cell phones, TV and video games consume most of their peers.

With the younger crowd, one may think there are a bunch of shenanigans that go on.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes they have fun, but they work hard and know the consequences of their actions.  It helps that most of these guys have a lot of farm background so not only do they know the machines very well and how to run them efficiently, but they are also very mechanically able when it comes to repairing them.  They have fun working on the machines and being part of the crew, which is their family for the summer.

Dad has known Dan for many years, as one of Dan’s stops has always been Cut Bank.  They have been fairly close over the years and have worked together in the past.  Since we do travel much of the same route, we have helped them cut and vise versa.

Dan is known for being a very hard worker, and after 19 years on the run, he has a ton of insight to harvest.  Much of that knowledge he has turned into quotes, and whoever is on his crew year in and year out, they are quoting Dan all summer long.

I’ve said this a couple of times, but it is truly wonderful to have great people like Dan and Stephanie on harvest.  It has been a pleasure working side-by-side with them this summer, even if they do run green machines.

Lined up

The combines all lined up before another day of cutting.

Skinner Harvesting

One of the Skinner Harvesting Machines getting ready to dump (Photo by Stephanie Skinner)


All the machines cutting together (Photo by Stephanie Skinner)

Service truck

Dan Skinner driving the Skinner Harvesting service truck

Steph Skinner

Stephanie Skinner getting dinner ready in the field

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop

Sage: High Moisture and Sawfly
Sage Sammons

Fort Benton, Mont.- Slowly but surely we are cutting away here in Fort Benton, but we have run into a few issues: one that we have seen the entire summer and a new issue involving insects.

The first issue is higher moisture.  We have been cutting everyday, it’s just a matter of how long we can cut and when we can start.  It doesn’t help that the days have been overcast and cool either.  The past week has felt more like treading water than anything else, but we are getting some work done even if it isn’t at the pace we were at earlier in the summer.  It finally warmed up today and a ton of wheat dried out quickly.

The next issue we are having is one I kind of already talked about, Sawfly.  It’s a problem that is very prevalent in north central Montana, and can truly destroy a good crop.  It is when a wasp like insect lays a larva in the stem of the wheat during the growing stage.  As the wheat matures, so does the larva and by the time the wheat has fully matured, the stem is very brittle and even a small wind can knock it over.  With the high winds in northern Montana, it can literally lay an entire field flat on the ground.  When that happens it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to get the entire crop off the ground.  The only way to effectively control Sawfly is to swath the crop a week to 10 days before harvesting.  There are some solid stem varieties of wheat that can help, but the little bugs still manage to infiltrate the stems. After it has been swathed, the harvesters then come in with pick-up headers and pick up the swath.

If it is a light crop it is easy to pick up the swath.  The wheat dries quickly and moisture isn’t a problem.  Obviously the heavier the crop and more material, the longer it will take to dry out.  We are cutting some heavy wheat as it is averaging 55 to 60 bushels per acre.  On top of everything else, we are hauling to the farmer’s bins that are on the property, so it needs to be dryer than what the elevator would take it at.

By the weekend we should be back to straight cutting, as we should finish this job up.  Make sure to check out the video of us using the pick-up headers!

Sawfly damage

Part of the wheat falling down due to sawfly damage

Picking up swaths

Picking up the swaths instead of straight cutting the wheat

Picking up swaths

Coming up on some down wheat that wasn’t swathed.


Dad showing the difference between a Sawfly infected stem (LEFT) and one that isn’t (RIGHT)

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop

Sage: Pickin’ up Swaths
Sage Sammons

We ran into a little insect issue up here in Montana, so I just wanted to show you a little different part of the wheat harvest.  We were picking up swaths that the swather cut about a week ago because of Sawfly. 

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop 

Sage: My Favorite Job
Sage Sammons

Fort Benton, Mont.- There are certain stops every year that crews love returning to.  For me it definitely hits close to home, and for as long as I can remember, has been part of my summer home.  It is our farm between Big Sandy and Fort Benton, Mont.  The farm my great grandpa started and where my mother born and raised.

It is where I drove my first combine.  It is where I was finally old enough to help.  It is where I was able to create special bonds with each member my family.  For me when someone says harvest, for some reason my mind always comes to this farm and those times.

One of my fondest memories is just a few years ago when the crew was 60-miles west, north of Fort Benton, and were harvesting away.  Since they were so busy over there, dad and I brought and one truck and combine over to Big Sandy to cut the three fields we have here.  22 hours later we were finished and moving back over to Fort Benton.  Nothing spectacular happened, and we were actually able to cut fairly quickly, but it was the fact that it was just the family; it felt just like old times.  I will never forget those two days.  On top of all of that, it was one of the best crops we had harvested here.

This year has been another great crop and made some different memories.  Skinner Harvesting came with us and helped us, and since we were staffed for four machines, we had a pit crew whenever something had to be fixed.

We brought two, one red and one green, of the four combines and the grain cart over from our other job.  The first thing out of my grandpa’s mouth was “I don’t know how long it’s been since a John Deere cut here.”   The wheat ran well, about 35-45 bushels per acre, 12 percent protein and 60 pound test weight.  We did run into a little bit of high moisture though, so it took three-half days to finish cutting.  On top of the high moisture, we had some equipment issues.

On day two, we had the worst breakdown of the season.  The bearing on the drive shaft of our combine (the Case 7120) went out and put us out of commission for the evening.  Dad went and got the parts and we were able to back in the field fairly quickly today.  But as we were making a part run, Skinner’s header also had a bearing go out.  For a little bit there we were completely shut down.  After we got everything going again, we had some minor issues with rocks, and had to replace a few sections and guards.

The job we started on, north of Fort Benton, dried up so Dan moved his combine and crew back over there and got cutting, while we finished up in Big Sandy. We are now getting ready to take the 60-mile venture over to join the rest of the crew.  Just like that my favorite part of harvest is over and done with, and it is still my most beloved part of the summer.

Red and Green

The Red and Green machines sitting side by side before we started cutting.

View from the cab

The view from my seat in the combine

Combine time

Getting a little face time in the combine (Thanks Mom)

Broken guard

Broken guard and section after hitting a rock

Section guard

Changing out the section and guard


The family during the Big Sandy harvest. This has christmas card written all over it.

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.

Sage: I’m Back to Harvest, Friends and Montana
Sage Sammons

Fort Benton, Mont.- I do realize I have been MIA for about a week, but I had to fly back to Las Vegas for my job that I have during the school year.  I am back on the trail now and boy do I have stories to tell, but first we will start with the South Dakota crew.

The crew is almost done with the winter wheat harvest in South Dakota, and are getting ready to start cutting the spring wheat.  When they are done with that, they will then reunite with the one machine in Montana.  The wheat has been extremely good there, but the conditions haven’t been the best.  They have still been fighting rain and long lines at the elevator, but are still progressing.

As for me in Montana, we only have one combine and semi here.  I have moved from driving semi to being a combine operator.  That leaves Mike to take care of all our trucking needs.  We knew from the beginning that we would be short-staffed here, so dad planned on that, and now we are working with another crew, Skinner Harvesting.

Dad and Dan go way back, and we have even worked with his crew in the past.  It is always great to see friends and even better when the work can benefit two crews because of convenience.  Our farmer expected us to have four machines, and we do, it is just three green machines and one red machine.

We have run into a problem that we haven’t seen this year, and that I personally haven’t seen for a few years, sawfly.  I will get more into sawfly later this week, but I’m telling you now because we have to use different headers.  To prevent a sawfly disaster, farmers swath their crops a week to ten days before harvest. Because of the swathing, we have to use pick-up headers instead of our 40-foot Mac-Don’s.

So far we have only had this problem on one of our jobs.  We ran into a little bit of moisture on that job today, so we moved two combines to a different job 60-miles away, west of Big Sandy, Mont.

We are now cutting on the farm my mother was born and raised on; or were cutting until we got a little rain this afternoon.  It wasn’t enough to shut us down for more than the evening. We will be able to get back in the field tomorrow morning, and should finish up everything late afternoon tomorrow, weather permitting. Then we will move back to the job we were originally on, North of Carter, Mont.  We are staying in Fort Benton, Mont. because of its central location to our jobs here.

I’m glad to be back, and I will talk a little bit more about the sawfly, pick-up headers and cutting on my grandparent’s farm later this week.

P.S. I promise I’ll have more photos and even a video up before the week is over 🙂

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.

Sage: Back together again, well kind of
Sage Sammons

Cut Bank, Mont.- We were able to finish up in Last Chance, Colo. fairly quickly, as we cut a total of only five days.  The wheat was decent for the area as it averaged over 35 bushels an acre.  We were able to cut every morning bright and early, and the only reason we shut down at night was because of the 60-mile drive back to our camp.  Usually when we are in Colorado, we get a little bit of downtime.  We usually make it into Denver at least once, but this year was a completely different story, but I’m not complaining.

As we finished up, dad changed his mind on what we were going to do about 15 times.  On one hand he wanted to take both machines and the grain cart to South Dakota to cut.  On the other, he thought about taking just one machine and the grain cart to South Dakota and bringing the last combine to Montana and be prepared once the wheat is ready to cut.  He eventually choose the latter since he had to double back for one machine anyway.

I was given the duty to drive dad’s motor home to Fort Benton, Mont. as the rest of the Colorado crew headed to South Dakota.  Their trip went seamlessly, and they were able to make it all the way in one day.  My trip, however, was more of an adventure.

I took off from Last Chance at 5:30 a.m. and by 7:00 a.m. I was battling over heating issues with the coach.  I figured the header I was pulling was the cause of the issue, so I found the Case I-H dealer in Greeley, Colo. and dropped the header there.  Since it is on dad’s route home he will be able to pick it up.  As soon as I got back on the interstate the overheating issues returned.  I limped up to Cheyenne, Wyo., and initially had trouble finding a place that could look at it.  After I went to three shops, Wyoming Machinery was able to work me in later in the afternoon.  Since the engine compartment is in the rear of the coach, the motor sits in front of the radiator. The oil overflow tube had blown a little oil into the radiator causing it to attract dirt.  That then made a sort of gunk that caused the motor to overheat.  The solution was to pressure wash the gunk off.  They also made a tube around the radiator so the problem will not persist.

After seven hours in Cheyenne, I was ready to get back on the road, but only made it to Casper, Wyo. I stopped there to eat dinner with my dad’s eldest sister, who I haven’t seen in a while.  It was good to catch up with her, but after dinner I was back on the road.  I shut down right before midnight in Sheridan, Wyo.  The next day went flawlessly and I was able to roll into my destination at lunchtime.

Dad is currently his way back to Colorado tonight to pick up the last machine, and should be in Fort Benton either Friday or Saturday.

The wheat in Montana is expected to be very good, but still isn’t quite ready yet.  Dad is hoping to be cutting either Sunday or Monday, depending on the weather.  So right now I sit and wait once again, but it is good to be back in the cooler weather and be home for a little bit.

The weather looks like it is about to set in here in Cut Bank, so I better post my blog before the Internet goes down.  I will have an update very soon on how the rest of the crew is progressing in South Dakota.

Colorado sunset

A Colorado sunset with the grain cart and dust (Photo by Sierra Sammons)


Combine and grain cart emerging from the dust. (Photo by Sierra Sammons)


Snapshot of me driving the Peterbilt back to the field (Photo by Sierra Sammons)

The grain cart all loaded up, ready to go to South Dakota.

Dad stands in front of the convoy after we got everything ready to roll.

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.

Sage: Cutting and Attracting a Crowd
Sage Sammons

Last Chance, Colo.- I would like to first point out that we are actually cutting much closer to Last Chance, Colo. rather than Limon, Colo. where we are staying.  I say this because there has been so much weather in the area that if the Limon area was hit with rain, it most likely missed us, or vise versa.

We have been cutting north of Last Chance for two full days now, and have had nothing but perfect conditions.  The air is crisp, making the hot afternoons bearable.  The fields are pretty good too.  We have been cutting around 35-45 bushel wheat, which is very good considering a lot of this area was hit pretty hard by hail, especially close to Limon, Colo.  If we are able to continue to have these conditions we should be done this time next week.

Not only have the last couple days been extremely productive, we have also been very gracious hosts, as a total of 11 guests have come through to see the harvest.

The first guests were two DuPont sales women, Marissa and Elizabeth.  They were very nice young women who both hail from California, but work for DuPont in Colorado, covering different parts of the state.  They came out yesterday and spent the early part of the afternoon riding around the field on the combines.

Our next guest was an older gentleman by the name of Phil.  He spent yesterday evening, and most of today riding around the field on the combines.  He told me he has always had an interest in farming, and when he saw the harvest up close and personal, he said he felt like a kid in a candy store.  He was absolutely amazed by the machines and the 40-foot headers.

The third and last was a group of eight guys from Case.  It was a mixture of guys from the marketing department in Racine, Wis. and guys from quality control in Grand Island, Neb. who were out touring the area talking to a few cutters.  They were there for the better part of the afternoon riding on the machines and talking to us about how we liked them.

It can be challenging to stay focused when you have groups of people come visit, but we were able to stay very efficient and keep the combines rolling.  The reason they are out there in the first place is to see the combines in action.

It was extremely nice to meet all of these great people the last two days.  I had a tremendous time with all of them.  When someone comes out and see’s the harvest, they get a glow about them that is just contagious.  Thanks to all of them that were able to come see us and I hope they liked their little taste of Sammons Adventures Harvesting, because we truly enjoyed having all of them.


Marissa (left) and Elizabeth (right) pose in front of the combine during their visit.

Phil and John

Phil (left) joins our combine operator John for a quick picture during his visit.


A few of the Case guys talk about the machines right after dinner.


The combine dumps into the grain cart after finishing part of a field.

Grain cart

The grain cart dumps into a semi as dusk hits the harvest field.

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.

Sage: Done in Dumas…Cutting in Colorado!
Sage Sammons

Limon, Colo.-A whirlwind of events has happened the last couple of days, starting before we even finished in Dumas three days ago.

It turned out that we only had 300 acres of wheat left to cut in Dumas during our 10-day hiatus.  With four machines, that is nothing, but because of high humidity it took us two half (six hour) days to finish it.

During the last day of cutting in Dumas, we were down to three machines because we started the haul to Colorado early.  We knew we were going to have to double back, and since there was not a lot work left, the crew was able to finish it up with three machines.  So Dad, Sierra, myself and our new truck driver Matt, loaded up one machine and took off, along with the motor home and two headers.

The next day the crew loaded the second combine and grain cart up and they hauled it to the farm north of Last Chance, Colo., where we are cutting.  A few guys had to go back because the crew is now splitting up.  Half of us are here in Colorado and the other half is heading to South Dakota.  Right now we are a little shorthanded during their move, but we should be back to efficient staff when Craig (grain cart) and John (combine) get here either tomorrow night or Wednesday morning.

We got everything prepared and ready to cut this morning, but didn’t see the field until 4:00 p.m.  It rained enough last night to slow our process, but we were able to do some minor fixes to the combines and were ready to roll.

Tomorrow we will be right back in the thick of it, starting bright and early.  If everything works out, it will be our first full day of cutting in over two weeks; really crazy when you think about it.

There are a lot of harvesters in this part of Colorado.  Combines are moving up and down every road you go down, proving that harvest is in full swing.  A couple of dad’s harvest friends are in the area, and it is good to catch up with them.  We even got a chance to see the Zeorian crew, who are actually camping two doors down from us.

Well the breakfast bell rings early, so I am hitting the hay.  I will have a crop update and a bunch of pictures up very soon!

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.

Sage: Playing the Waiting Game
Sage Sammons

Dumas, Texas- First off sorry to everyone about not posting a blog in while.  We have literally done nothing here in Dumas since I last blogged, in a sense of cutting wheat.  But we have had a to-do list a mile long to finish up, and we are almost done with it.

The timing actually could not have been better for the break.  We are shorthanded right now because one of our truck drivers went to Missouri for a wedding and has been gone since July 1.  Another couple employees had great opportunities at home and they gave their two-weeks notices a couple weeks ago and now just took off.  Tonight we are adding a couple more truck drivers so that should even out the staff.

As for me, I have been sick since July 3.  I’m still not too sure what it was, but I know for a fact it wasn’t strep (what Sierra had about two weeks ago).  It was some kind of flu that settled in my head, now I have a really bad head cold, to go along with a little bit of cabin fever.

My mom, Lisa, was done here helping, but she just left today.  She came down for a little bit to help with the cooking efforts after our cook left.  Sierra has been taking over that job now that we are sitting still, but will have to relinquish it once we get back in the field.  I’ve learned about my little sister this summer, but mainly, she is one heckuva hard worker.

Around the yard here we have been working on some not so little projects.  We are fixing a header that was dinged up when I was gone (wow we have had some header issues this summer) and that project is almost done.  The cook camper bathroom also flooded so we had to fix the piping on that.  Along with that, came replacing the carpet that was in there.  That has turned into a couple of days project as everything still has to dry, story of our time here in Dumas.

Our future timescale, once we finish up our to-do list is this We have one more day of cutting, whenever it is dry enough to cut.  Hopefully we will be moving from Dumas here by Saturday to Limon, Colo.  Once there we will have all four combines for only three or four days as half the crew will split over to Grant, Neb. to do a very small job there.  That crew will then continue on to South Dakota.

The other two combines will finish up in Colorado then move to Wyoming where we have a tiny, one or two day job before we will split again and move our last combine to Montana, while the other will go to South Dakota.  Everyone will meet back up in Montana after the wheat harvest is completely underway there.

But remember it has to dry out before any of the future plans can happen.  So as of now, we still wait.


Dad showing us how to really play the waiting game.


Part of the crew working on the header.


Sierra shows off her skills in the kitchen.


Rainbows are starting to become a familiar scene this week.

Sage Sammons can be reached at sage@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard 2010 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.