29 Jun Brian: Identity crisis
Thomas, Oklahoma–I’m taking one final walk through the house, making sure I haven’t forgotten something. The refrigerator is unplugged. The hot water heater is turned off. The blinds are closed. I’m holding the last box of clothes to transfer to the trailer house closet. I shut the door, locking it behind me. I wonder if I remembered to bring … Never mind, it’s too late and doesn’t matter. At the end of the driveway I glance over a shoulder for one final look at the farm. I’m saying goodbye to one lifestyle and assuming another. Don’t panic, I’m not having an identity crisis. I’m just becoming a custom wheat harvester for the next few months.
With our lives packed up in a few boxes and the equipment loaded, the Iowa crew says their traditional prayer before pulling out onto the highway. It’s Oklahoma or bust.
Our adventure doesn’t start off very smoothly however. Not an hour into our trip and I hear a loud bang that scares a guy so bad he nearly drives off into the ditch. However, after my brain computes what I’m hearing I realize I am familiar with this sound. A tire blowout. The crew pulls over on the side of the road and I get out to find a rear inside tire on my truck blown. Of course … the hardest tire to change. We have a spare and the tools to change it, but that means for the rest of the trip we would have to gamble with no backup tire left to use.
A tire failure is not exactly the way to start off the long pull to Oklahoma, but thankfully nothing is damaged and we are able to limp into a nearby town for a replacement.
Luckily we are not too far away from a town, and we are still close enough to home that we are familiar with tire shops in the area. A few phone calls later and we have a new tire waiting to be installed just up the road. The rest of the crew drives on while I limp along. Thankfully the flat tire stays put and doesn’t leave pieces of rubber on the road, and slowly but surely I’m able to make it to the tire shop. We recently replaced a number of tires on this truck, but sometimes a tire that looks good can be old enough that it’s not reliable. We decide this is a headache we don’t want to experience again, so we replaced the final four older tires on the truck. This takes a little time, and some of the crew manages a short nap in the air-conditioned semi sleeper bunk.
Rested and ready to roll again the Iowa crew gets back on the road. Unfortunately, the caravan from Minnesota has their own tire headache towards the end of the day. David experiences a blowout on the combine trailer, probably the worst tire issue to experience while on the road. Thankfully nearby is a large lot they are able to pull off into, but it’s too late in the day to find a repair shop open. Jacking up a trailer with a combine loaded on it comes with a lot of risk, one we try to avoid at all costs. To be safe David and Cameron decide it’s worth the extra work, so they unload the combine off the trailer. The plan is to pull the trailer to a nearby town to replace the tire first thing in the morning.
With another tire issue on the combine trailer, the crew is forced to spend an additional night on the road. Finding parking for the entire caravan can prove challenging with such long trailers, but we locate a great spot to fuel up and park overnight.
It’s been extremely hot, and the trailer houses are like saunas. The thermometer reads 95 degrees F inside. Everyone tries their best to sleep, but the heat is miserable. Having the two caravans separated overnight adds another set of challenges. It’s a miserable night of sweaty sleep, and this is, without a doubt, one of the worst parts of moving days. Morning finally arrives, and David decides he’s not interested in having any more tire troubles either. With thousands of miles and years of service, we swap out all eight combine trailer tires with fresh rubber. Eventually we all are back on the road. Our paths cross in Clay Center, Kansas, and with the sun about to set the crew pulls off the road for the night in Pratt, Kansas. This may or may not have been strategic, but it seems like a good place to spend the night since there are trailer hookups nearby with the electricity we need to power these magical devices call air conditioners that allow us a good night’s rest.
The rest of the trip goes off without a hitch, and we are welcomed with triple-digit heat as we pull into Thomas, Oklahoma. This heat is especially taxing after all the below-normal temperatures we have been experiencing back home. Just a few weeks ago we had lows that actually dipped below 40 degrees. We set up the trailer houses to get the air conditioner going as soon as possible, and after lunch we make the executive decision for everyone to take a short nap. I think most would have liked to pulled the covers up over our heads and called it a day, but there is work to be done. We head out to meet a customer and check some wheat fields.
We arrive in Thomas, Oklahoma, to find our normal trailer house parking spot is at capacity due to a large wind energy construction project in the area. We found ourselves a new place that we have all to ourselves. After finalizing our living arrangements the men scout out our fields to determine how quickly we need to get the machines unloaded and to the field.
The hot, dry weather has really sped up the ripening over the last few days, and while there still is the occasional green head or soft kernel we know we have arrived at just the right time. In the evening, after the heat subsides a little, we unload equipment and check over a few last things to make sure we are ready to go. The next morning we move equipment out to the field, and the combines get their first taste of wheat for the season. We run a grain sample up to the elevator to test the moisture, and it confirms what we already knew. It’s go time.
Harvest officially beings as the machines make their first passes in the field. The first sunset of harvest proves to be pretty spectacular, offering some relief from the triple digit temperatures that will take some getting used to.
The first truck load is on its way to the elevator and the equipment is no longer dirt-free. A layer of red Oklahoma dust beings to collect on everything, a sure sign that wheat harvest 2021 is officially under way for our crew. The weather forecast is hot and dry for ten days, so we are hitting the ground running full speed. We sympathize with the crews down in Texas that have been sitting still for far too long due to excessive rains. We feel fortunate to have a forecast that puts us right to work.
Glen and Cameron haul the first of many loads to the elevator, but not before the crew finds a little shade to eat their first meal in the field. This is the new routine we will become a custom for the next few months.
The wheat has some freeze and drought damage, but late season rains salvaged what looks to be an average crop, maybe better if we are lucky. A month ago having average yields seemed highly unlikely, but the guessing game is over. The combine yield monitors will soon tell the tale of this Oklahoma crop. I’ll be sure to let you know what we find after we get a few more days of harvesting behind us. After months of preparations, those hectic final hours of packing, and the long drive to Oklahoma the moment of truth has arrived. It’s finally time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Everyone is all smiles around here, because there is nothing more exciting than the sights and smells of the first day of harvest.
Brian Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by Case IH, Unverferth Manufacturing Co., Inc., BASF, Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, Gleaner, ITC, Westbred, Huskie, Western Equipment, US Custom Harvesters, and High Plains Journal.