16 Jun Brian: Ready, set … go!
Thomas, Oklahoma–And just like that, the day you thought would never arrive finally arrives. It doesn’t matter anymore what didn’t get finished, what isn’t packed or what was failed to be checked off the to-do list. Most days it seemed impossible to be ready in time. Leaving home is arguably the worst part of the entire summer, packing your life up into cardboard boxes and then moving them into aluminum boxes on wheels. But once we hit the road the anxiety of leaving is replaced with the excitement of arriving.
Getting to this point certainly was filled with anxiety. Unusually cool, wet weather persisted right up to the day we left. The opportunities to plant our corn and soybeans were few and far between, hampered by frequent storms that came like clockwork. We pushed the envelope every time there was a dry spell, some days spending more time working under moonlight than sunlight. Technologies like auto steer and high-speed planters once again prove invaluable, and we wrapped up planting the last field right before another storm system soaked the soil. Just days before we leave for Oklahoma, we still find our time occupied with moving cattle to pasture, readying hay equipment for the summer and other miscellaneous tasks that should have been completed much sooner but were delayed by rains.
I always promise myself I’ll be better prepared for next year, but I failed miserably again. The morning of our departure I find myself haphazardly stuffing belongings into boxes and transferring them to the trailer house. No time to organize or unpack, my room is just a stack of boxes on the floor. Clearly I could stand to learn a thing or two about being more organized from Brenda and Vernelle. The final hours of packing requires us to dodge raindrops and mud puddles, and the weather is so cool we wear long sleeves and jackets. Something tells me jackets will be permanently relegated to the closet very soon.
The rush to arrive in Thomas ends up unnecessary. Eleven inches of water fills the rain gauge at the local airport after a two-day rain event. Yes … your read that correctly. That seems unimaginable after the persistent drought conditions over the last year, and while it delays the start of harvest no one is complaining. With the urgency to arrive ASAP diminished, the crew travels at a little slower pace. Cloudy skies and cool temps make for comfortable traveling, but we still pull out the blankets both nights we spend sleeping on the road. The only real challenges along the way include one blown tire on a trailer dolly, and an unmarked bridge under construction. Narrow bridges cause sweaty palms for those pulling wide loads, but we manage to squeak through. Every mile we travel south the soil color transitions a little more from brown to red, a sure sign we have arrived in Oklahoma.
Thankfully we have a little extra time to get settled in. There always seems to be a few little things that need attention unexpectedly, and a trailer A/C unit on the fritz definitely rises to the level of “immediate attention.” Thankfully this problem didn’t occur on a busy harvest day with a triple-digit thermometer reading. A nearby RV store had a new A/C unit in stock, and after some heavy lifting and rooftop shenanigans we are ready to take on the intense summer heat that’s bound to show up some time. We also found a leaking hose on David’s header and picked up a replacement from the MacDon Harvest Support parts trailer.
Eleven inches of rain tends to put the brakes on a harvest ready to accelerate. Most fields here are a maze of terraces which now seem more akin to tiny dams holding back water. We are almost guaranteed to take full advantage of the combine’s 4-wheel drive systems, ready to splatter red mud all over freshly washed equipment. We are moving machines out to the field later today to test the ground conditions and see what it’s like. The wheat looks thin and short from the road, but the heads are filled with a lot of kernels. The few acres cut before the rain showed yields around 15 bushels per acre, but a few fields managed closer to 35. Given the growing season, that’s about as surprising as receiving 11 inches of rain during a drought. We are cautiously optimistic the wheat here will be better than anticipated, and we are hopeful the ground firms up quickly. The crew is eager to get to the field, and we hope today our 40th year of harvest officially begins.
Brian Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Aboard Wheat Harvest is brought to you by ITC Holdings, CASE IH, Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, US Custom Harvesters Inc., Unverferth Mfg. Co. Inc., Lumivia CPL by Corteva Agriscience, Kramer Seed Farms, and High Plains Journal.