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Tracy: The Support System

Manley, Nebraska—It was some time between the 2000 fall harvest and the spring of 2001 that we made the decision to change things up a bit with our crew. I would go to the field with Jim and the girls were going to become our support system. I was silently doing a little happy dance because I loved being in a combine.

When my grandparents asked me to join their crew for the 1974 harvest, I’m absolutely certain they had no clue they were setting me up for what would become my life journey.

Z Crew

Anticipation … waiting a bit longer before the first stem of wheat is cut for 2019. 

I was all of 12 years old that summer. I was supposed to help Grandma do whatever needed to be done—she was their support system. I helped her with groceries, food prep, laundry, parts running, etc. She was the “go-fer” and I was her “go-fer-in-training.” She didn’t know this at the time.

This all changed when Grandpa figured out that I enjoyed being in the field with him and the machinery. I fell in love with the combine that summer and couldn’t get enough of being in the driver’s seat.

Fast forward quite a few years.

After marrying their hired hand, we purchased our own combine. Eight years later, we made the decision to do it on our own. For the next eleven years, I was the “go-fer.” Grandma taught me well and I feel like I did my job to the best of my abilities. Being on the road with kids is a challenge and you learn to do whatever it takes to make it all work. I wouldn’t change anything about any of it.

Z Crew

Okay … so I didn’t know what the heck this “Baby Shark” song was all about.  And then I babysat the grandkids for a week this winter while mom and dad were in Florida. I received this in the mail the other day from a dear friend of mine and it brought a smile. 

In 2001, I hung up the “go-fer” hat and put on the “field” hat. As a family, we made the decision to do this so we didn’t have to hire an additional person. Jamie was old enough to drive and, with Jenna’s help, they took care of the two younger sisters and became our support system. This was their opportunity to earn some decent money for use in later years. Little did they know, it was also the perfect opportunity for them to learn some very important life lessons!

Z Crew

Jenna “adulting” as a homeowner and clearing the gutters of the thousands and thousands of whirlygigs – better known as Maple tree seedlings. We had way more than usual this spring!

Z Crew

G’day, mate! Callie standing in front of the Sydney Opera House. Please don’t tell her I miss her!

Heading to the field was like a vacation to me. I soon learned my previous job was way more challenging than being in the field all day. I think I could write an entire book about what it means to hold the “go-fer” title. Ask most HarvestHERs who are in this position what it’s like and I’m certain you’ll get the same answer. It’s a. Lot. Of. Work! That’s one reason we women in this industry need to stick together and support each other the best we can.

Z Crew

Speaking of us women sticking together—I was blessed early on in our harvest journey to have a HarvestHER mentor help me get organized for delivering meals to the field. This was our “harvest bucket.” The bucket includes everything needed to eat off the end of a tailgate. When the meal was over, all dirty dishes went into a plastic grocery bag. Once we arrived back to the trailer house, the dishes were washed and placed back in the bucket ready to go for the next meal. The bucket is still in the trailer house waiting for the next harvest meal. 

No one job on a harvest crew is more important than another. It takes everyone working together to get the job done. However, I would be the first to tell you the job of being the support system (or backbone of the crew) is not an easy one! And if there are little kiddos to tend to, as well, the job becomes even more of a challenge. Not only are you taking care of the adult crew … you’re taking care of the littles. Driving a combine all day is a piece of cake compared to what the support system does. And what they do, they do all day long only to get up and do it all over again the very next day. You have all of my respect!

The crew learns early on to be extra nice to the one who feeds them. I watched, with anticipation, for the girls to arrive at the field in the evening for two reasons. Number one … they would be showing up with an amazing meal for us to enjoy together.  Number two … I would get to see them for a little while and hear about their day. Nothing beats a meal around the tailgate of a pickup! These opportunities created some of my most favorite harvest memories.

Z Crew

Eli’s last T-ball game was so horribly hot and sticky. You can see on Nora’s face just how the rest of us felt.  

Fast forward again to present day.

Those meals around the pickup tailgate are pretty few and far between. Now, I pack our lunches in the morning and fill the lunchbox with as much as I can to get us through the entire day. When we call it a day and make our way back to the “cottage on wheels,” all we want to do is eat something quick (cereal or frozen pizza), take a shower and go to bed. Gone are the days of those wonderful harvest meals.

Until the kids come to visit.

Two of our favorite recipes are Tater Tot Casserole and Dump Cake. When they show up, we can look forward to a meal together on the tailgate just like the good ‘ole days. Only these days, I savor every minute of those times together a bit more than I used to.

Tater Tot Casserole
1 bag of frozen tater tots
1 ½ lb. hamburger
1 head of broccoli (chopped)
1 can French’s Crispy Fried Onions
1 medium (preferably 2) tomato – chopped
1 can mushroom soup plus one can of milk
A lot of grated cheddar cheese
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp pepper

Place tater tots in the bottom and up the sides of 9 x 13 pan. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Brown hamburger and drain. Place beef, chopped broccoli, ½ can Crispy Fried onions (or fresh chopped onion) and tomatoes in potato shell.

Combine soup, milk, ½ cup of cheese and seasonings; pour over beef mixture.

Bake, covered, at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Top with more cheese and Crispy Fried onions. Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes more – or until cheese is melted.

Dump Cake (one of my Grandma’s harvest recipes)
Grease 9 x 13 pan.
Pour in pan 1 large can crushed pineapple and 1 large can cherry pie filling.
Sprinkle one box of yellow or white cake mix (dry). Slice one stick of butter over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
Delicious served hot with vanilla ice cream!

Z Crew

The Missouri River is supposed to be between the two red lines. Instead, it’s nearly bluff to bluff—the farthest bluff on the horizon is Iowa. This picture was taken just north of Omaha. Unfortunately, the prediction for this water level remaining at flood stage will last until the fall months. Today, it’s nearly four feet above flood stage. The Mighty Missouri has been above flood stage since mid-March. 

Z Crew

It may not be wheat but this Nebraska sunset was pretty spectacular!

Until next time … “The world needs strong women. Women who will lift and build others, who will love and be loved. Women who live bravely, both tender and fierce. Women of indomitable will.”—Amy Tenney.

All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and John Deere. Tracy Zeorian can be reached at zcrew@allaboardharvest.com.


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