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Janel: Belonging in a wheat field

Photo by Janel Schemper

Janel Schemper joins AAWH’s Sarah Moyer to discuss growing-up, knowing she would one day be a custom harvester. They also add in a story about Miss Moo’s start on the harvest trail and discuss Janel’s favorite harvest foods. Tune in to step into the field with Janel.


It’s what I like to do. I like to be busy. If I’m not busy doing something, I kind of go crazy. So when you’re in the combine, you’re always busy. It’s what I love to do.

Welcome on to the All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast. I’m Sarah Moyer. She knows the wheat fields are where she belongs, and she can’t remember missing a harvest. We have Janel Schemper with us today on our All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast to share her memories of her beginnings with harvest and on the harvest trail.

Janel, would you like to talk about how your experience with harvesting and the responsibilities that you’ve had over the years has been changing and evolving with time? 

Yes. Somebody asked me the other day how long I’ve been running combine, and I said over twenty years. And they said, “Oh, you’re only twenty years old?” And it’s like well no. I started running combine full-time in the summers when I was thirteen years old, so I’d had practice before then, because I would ride the combine with my dad or my older siblings. By the time I was thirteen I was ready to go, so that’s what I was doing all summer long, but over the years I helped my mom cook. I do enjoy cooking. I don’t cook too often for the crew, because I’m always in the field. If needed, I’ll help out with that. 

Sounds like you’ve always had your eye on the combine, and that was always one of your goals; but to get there took a little time… Yeah I’ve always had a job there, because you know it’s full time, and a bigger responsibility and it’s what I like to do, you know, If I’m not busy doing something, I kind of go crazy. So when you’re in the combine, you’re always busy. It’s what I love to do.

The combine calls the shots or the combine is the determining factor… The elevator, of course, chooses when it closes down or when it’s going to stop accepting loads, but if there’s weather or if there’s other factors going on the combine driver kind of calls the shots.

Oh yeah. So when you’re in a combine, everything’s based on the weather… You can cut all evening if you have a lot of wind and hot air. It starts getting tough when you lose your wind and the dew starts to set in and then you can feel the dampness in the straw, so you can’t cut any more. But if you have good cutting conditions, I mean, you can cut late at night; and typically harvesters will fill up all their trucks, which can take a couple hours just depending on the crop and yield and the condition when you first started cutting.

Was it difficult to adjust to harvesting at night, or is it much different than during the day?

It’s alright if you’re already in the field, but if you have to move to a new field after dark it’s a little challenging. But it can definitely be done, and we typically don’t move after dark. It’s just hard for everyone.

What was the hardest part of learning to drive the combine when you first got started?

I guess for me it just came naturally. I just, I guess I didn’t have a choice so…  You know, it was you have to do it or what are you going to do?

You probably started taking notes long before you started driving.

Yeah, yeah, for sure.

As far as some of the equipment that you all use in the combine, what kind of system did you have to learn… or what’s the standard for your harvesting crew?

I’ve seen all the different colors in combines. When I was really little, my dad ran Gleaner combines and then he switched to a red combine for like a year or two. And that didn’t work out, so he went to John Deere combines. I think it was like in 1990. I grew up running John Deere combines. You can run any combine… If you’ve grown up in it, they’re all a little bit different, but it’s all pretty common across the board. 

Once again this is Janel Schemper of Schemper Harvesting. She is one of the All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ correspondents. In a moment, we’ll talk about homemade ice cream, Miss Moo and who makes the best burger on the harvest trail. We’d like to pause to thank our sponsors, High Plains Journal and John Deere, for their contributions to this podcast. And I think some people would be interested to know where Miss Moo came along in the scheme of things. How long were you a combine driver before you had a right hand canine or someone to sit in the buddy seat?

Yeah, she was born in ’09, and it’s a funny story. People always ask me, “Well, where did you get Miss Moo?” Well, my parents had taken in a stray dog, and like six weeks later the dog had six puppies. It was all a surprise to all of us, and it was exciting. Moo is one of the six puppies. I think two my mom took the pet store and sold them; and two are in Holdrege, Nebraska, where I’m from. And then I have Miss Moo and my Uncle has Baylor. We kept you out of the six.  And so that… would be her ninth harvest, because she’s eight years old. She’s been with me all day every day.

Have you missed a wheat harvest?

Have I? No.

So you were out and about from a young age, of course, with family involved.  What were some of your first memories of wheat harvest?

Oh, I don’t know… Always going to the field, always working at it. My mom drives truck, so I rode with her in the truck all the time when I was really little. I don’t know. I’ve just always been in the field. It’s been ongoing forever. I started out at combine, and I didn’t actually drive a truck until I was eighteen years old. I got my CDL shortly after that. And I do like driving trucks, but I have to be in the combine. But when we do move from location to location, I do drive a truck, and then sometimes I haul a load of grain in. I did the other day. I hauled one over to Cheyenne Wells, Colorado. And then like in the fall, I’ll get in the elevator line and be there by 7 a.m. every day and haul the first load in.

So, Janel, I know you’ve put on several photos on your blog posts about your meals out in the field. You mentioned that you like to cook, so do you have a favorite harvest meal or some go-to ones that you just enjoy during the harvest season.

Absolutely, my favorite harvest meal is just a good ole hamburger with you know a couple sides. And then of course, I’m famous for my homemade ice cream.

I heard that over the Fourth of July you had fixed homemade ice cream for your harvest neighbors.

I did. I had put it together in the morning and just left it in the fridge. Then when we got in from the field, you know about 8:30, I went ahead and put the ice and the ice cream salt on it… It took about forty-five minutes, but everybody stayed up late watching the fireworks. And ice cream still wasn’t done. But finally when it was done, I’m like, “Does anybody want any?” And they’re like “Well that’s what we stayed up for. We’re sitting here waiting on the ice cream.” So I have a homemade recipe that I got from someone special, and I make it all the time. Nobody turned me down when I asked them if they wanted some.

So that’s your summer treat their during the summer.

But I have to say again, you know, working in the field, there is nothing better than just a good ole hamburger or cheeseburger.

Who makes the best hamburger on the harvest trail?

Oh, my mom. 

Hands down.

That was Janel Schemper of Schemper Harvesting, one of the five All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ correspondents for the 2017 harvest trail. Once again this has been your All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast. More All Aboard Wheat Harvest is online at allaboardharvest.com. The Twitter handle is @AllAboardTour, or check out our Facebook page www. allaboardharvest.com, just as the blog’s website. And you will be in the know on all things wheat harvest-related as our correspondents take on the harvest trail. This year’s been a rough ride, but they have been persevering through the difficulties posed to custom harvesters this year. Once again, we’d like to recognize High Plains Journal and John Deere for being our primary sponsors of All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ also our partners at AgriPro, Unverferth Manufacturing Company, I.T.C. and the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children. From High Plains Journal and John Deere, I’m Sarah Moyer. Thanks for joining us on this All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast.


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