Megan: Family Time On The Road

Hoxie, Kan. – Perhaps you have heard of the term “farmer’s directions” – where instead of using actual miles and road names, landmarks and other ambiguous descriptions are used to explain the way to a destination. Well, don’t laugh, because these really do exist and, in fact, so do “harvester’s directions.” As Ashley, Kurt, and I made the trip to Hoxie, Kansas to join the harvest crew we were in touch with Dad as to where they were currently cutting in the area. This is a slightly exaggerated version of the directions that Dad relayed to us: “Well, you’re only about 20 minutes out. So what you’re gonna do is turn off the highway by that pretty red barn that your Mom always liked, then go a ways past where Troy buried his combine in the mud that one time and had to be pulled out by a winch truck, and keep going past the field where the battery on the tractor died and the grain cart rolled backwards down the hill and barely missed the power pole, then you’ll see the “Mount Everest” field on your one side – there’s corn planted there now so keep on going, and you’ll drive past that field where the fire started when the film crew was following us two years ago, there you’ll turn and go until you meet that rough field where Paul almost lost his header going over a terrace, and you’ll see us in that field across the road where Lynda lost the tire on her combine.”

You might think I’m joking, but these are honestly how we often give directions in places that we’ve worked in for many years. Since Mom, Ashley, Brandon, and I have personally lived many of these incidents or have heard the stories enough times, this makes perfect sense to us. But when you have a hired helper who has never been to the town you’re working in you have to go back to saying things the black and white way, like, “north on County Road 62 and turn left on Jefferson.” Since Dad has been harvesting in the Hoxie area for over 30 years, it is sometimes difficult for him not to give his version of directions, which leaves the rest of us constantly translating for the “newbies.”

Following Dad’s trusty directions we knew we were headed the right way once we saw our yellow bumblebee machines kicking up wheat dust in the distance.  In case we ever get our stories confused and take a wrong turn there is always a backup method we can use. We like to call it “combine tracking.” This is when you look at the dirt road for combine tracks and see which way they turned. However, during the middle of harvest this is not the most reliable technique since there are so many different combines on the back roads, so use with caution! Mom tells a story of “combine tracking” before the time of cell phones and ending up in a field filled with green combines. Turns out she was following the wrong tracks and ended up over 10 miles in the opposite direction away from our crew. So as I said, beware when doing this!

The rest of our Fourth of July was spent in the field, with everyone busily cutting away. We had anticipated shutting down a little early to enjoy a nice sit-down dinner but as fate would have it we had multiple minor breakdowns that certainly put a wrench in that plan. However, we were able to leave Hoxie around dusk and make our way into Colby. Although our family was crammed into the pickup for the 30 mile drive we enjoyed many random firework displays that beautifully lit up the horizon along the way. As we traveled into town we reminisced about many previous summers. Stories of Fourth of July and harvest filled the cab, followed by eruptions of laughter from the outrageous things that have happened over the years. We pulled into Colby just as the big firework show was beginning and picked up some pizza to go. It was only fitting that we all piled in the back of the pickups, chowing down on pizza, and looking up into the night sky at all the colorful fireworks. It wasn’t exactly the ideal way to celebrate the day but we sure made the best of it and had a blast doing it. Our family was together and we were able to enjoy each other’s company doing something we all love – harvest. Not only that, but it made one for the books and in 10 years from now we’ll be reminiscing about this Fourth!

Pretty wheat
Even with the extremely dry weather Hoxie has managed to have a fairly decent wheat crop this year. Locals say it has been over 6 weeks since the area has seen any kind of moisture. The wheat has been making between 20 to 50 bushels per acre, with test weights ranging between 59 to 61 pounds.

Crew eating lunch
Lucky for us the local café was open on the Fourth of July so Mom brought us out all the fixin’s in place of a typical grill out.  Above: Jose, Eric, Kurt, Brandon, and Kasey give thumbs up as they devour cheeseburgers for lunch in the field. That’s rather American, right?  

Kurt and Brandon in the CR
After lunch Brandon was rather sleepy so he recruited Kurt to take over the combine for him so he could take a mid-afternoon nap. Please notice that Brandon is already comfy, with his seatbelt on and eyes closed. Good thing Kurt is ready to go!

Yeti cooler
Take a look at our new, trusty cooler by the name of Yeti. It is a super heavy duty cooler that has “T-Rex Lid Latches,” a “NeverFail Hinge System,” and a “PermaFrost Insulation.” Basically this cooler is a beast and is meant to last through very tough conditions. It’s even bear-proof, which might come in handy when we start cutting barley in the Wyoming mountains, ha! Over the years, we’ve had plenty of cooler lids blow off and have even had a few coolers punctured or crushed while moving heavy parts in the back of the pickup. I have a good feeling that this one is going to be around for some time. It may sound silly to get so excited about a cooler but, believe me, when you are working 30 miles from town you certainly appreciate grabbing an ice cold Coke out of it in 105 degree weather.

Combining away
Although we spent the Fourth of July working, we had a hay day doing it and managed to knock out some major acres with all the extra help!

Ashley in the combine
Ashley is so excited to be back in the combine! She learned to drive combine by sitting on Dad’s lap when she was just 5 years old. By age 12, she was a full blown independent combine operator and just 3 years later she became a straw boss in the field. Perfectionist is Ashley’s middle name and her meticulous work is always evident in the fields she cuts.   

Grain cart lining up to unload
Kasey lines up the tractor and grain cart with the truck so he can pull ahead and be in position to unload it.  

Wheat in the grain trailer
Check out how clean that wheat is!

Kurt and Augie getting out of the combine
Augie Dog has turned into a great combine companion and just curls up underneath your
feet in the cab. However, he still hasn’t quite figured out how to climb down the ladder so Kurt had to help him out

Wrench set at a breakdown
These wrenches have seen a lot of action the last few days. Fun fact: When we updated from the New Holland TR combines to the CR versions, we discovered that everything in the machines switched from standard to metric. We had to round up metric tools, bolts, bearings, etc. to stock our service truck so we could fully embrace this change. The metric wrench set pictured above is found in the tool bag of every one of our CR combines – they definitely come in handy!

Brandon and Jose looking at the header
Brandon checks on Jose as he finishes replacing a broken sickle bearing. They laugh as Jose tells Brandon how he almost put the bearing in upside down. Uncle Carl introduced us to our favorite saying in these “oh duh” moments. After placing your hand on someone’s head who is not thinking the brightest at the moment you say, “This is more than just a hat rack.”

CR cutting
Amber waves of grain.

Ashley, Brandon, and Megan
Ashley, Brandon, and I gather for a photo at the end of the day. Since we practically grew up in combines, tractors, and trucks we like to think of ourselves as a harvest dream team with all of our experience!

Flashback of kids
Flashback to 1998: Brandon, me, and Ashley posing by the sunflowers at home. We always laugh how our heights ended up reversing.

Mom and Dad
After 30 years of marriage Mom and Dad continue to amaze me with their incredible work ethic and drive. If it wasn’t for them and their “go get ’em” attitudes we wouldn’t have had the unique opportunity to grow up with harvest shaping our lives. Even though things aren’t always easy for our family, Mom and Dad never give up and always remain humble for what we do have. The smiles on their faces all weekend confirmed how happy and content they were to have our entire family together for a few days. We all enjoyed swapping stories from over the years but I was especially intrigued by the stories of Mom joining Dad on the harvest run before we were born. They laughed about how much has changed since that first summer they were married. In my opinion, I’m sure glad it did.

All Aboard Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and Syngenta. Megan can be reached at


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