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Brian: Wheels up

Thomas, Oklahoma—They say time flies, and if I didn’t know any better I’d say I’ve been working at an airport the last few days. The final hours at home are best described as organized chaos. With such a flurry of activity we’re almost in need of a traffic control tower to keep track of every one—and every thing—that is coming and going. Our flight across the harvest heartland is about to take off, and it’s the final boarding call for our trip to Oklahoma.

We are leaving a little later than expected due to unexpected weather down south. Farmers have begged and pleaded almost the entire growing season for rain, yet very little ever materialized. Now, after most of the damage has been done and the yield will be well below average, round after round of heavy rain has fallen across much of the southern Plains states. Inches of rain have fallen over the last few weeks. Our first stop in Thomas found themselves in a flash flood advisory after 4-plus inches of rain fell in one day after previous storms saturated the ground. It’s like the weather is bipolar and instead of the triple-digit temps we might have expected this time of year the high temperature barely climbs to 80 degrees some days.

This allowed us to push back our scheduled departure time three days, and you probably think that sounds like bonus packing time. Trust me, it somehow feels exactly the opposite and is about as much fun as being stuck in an airplane terminal. The sooner we leave behind all the craziness the sooner the exhausting preparation work is over. Leaving later means we are home for the beginning of hay cutting, and it tends to be a huge distraction from summer packing. And cleaning the planter or putting the silage feed wagon away doesn’t make you feel like you are gaining much ground towards being ready to leave either.

Whether it’s mowing hay, end of season planter maintenance or playing Tetris and trying to get everything stored under roof for the summer, you can be guaranteed it’s work from sun up to sun down.

The baggage crew has been working overtime, loading every last tire, tote and toothbrush into our cargo hold. But some jobs have no shortcuts, and monumental tasks like moving kitchen wares, loading tools and washing equipment consume more than their allotted time. All the critical tasks get done, they’re just not always done to perfection. Glen had to spend extra time researching our flight plan, figuring out how to navigate around construction zones and tricky detours. Vernelle and a few of the kids came down with bad colds that couldn’t have been more ill-timed, and David had the extra stress of replanting soybeans just days before leaving. Heavy rains drowned out significant areas of some fields in southern Minnesota. Talk about last-minute, stressful decision making.

A thorough combine wash guarantees you two days of wet misery. Walk out the front door and you’ll find everyone is busy with trailers, one being maintenanced while the other is loaded with belongings.

Somehow it all came together in the end. Everyone takes their assigned vehicle seat … with seat backs in their upright position and tray tables stowed, of course. We push back from the gate, taxi down the runway, and after a hectic final week it’s officially “wheels up” for Jones Harvesting. The combines loaded on their trailers remind me of jumbo jets, and it takes a few miles for everyone to begin to feel comfortable pulling trailers and wide loads again. The Minnesota crew has a longer flight than the Iowa group, but we join up in Clay Center, Kansas, to travel the last leg together. Our layovers consist of two nights sleeping on the side of the road with no electricity for A/C or showers to freshen up. Our in-flight meal service consists of hot dogs, sloppy joes and other sides that can be quickly prepared without the need for a microwave or oven. We are disappointed there is no in-flight movie. We pass the time by staring out the window, but by day three it seems like this flight is taking forever.

It always gets “real” when the combines are finally loaded onto their trailers. Quick roadside meals and overnights without A/C are all part of the adventure.

We are thankful our trip doesn’t encounter any unforeseen turbulence, and the crew has officially landed in Oklahoma. With the rainy weather last week we will have a few days to settle in, unload equipment and make sure everything is field-ready while the fields dry out. We all feel a little jet lagged, but our love of the harvest has us eager to get back to what love to do the most. I guess time really does fly when you are having fun.

The crew spends our last minutes at home with friends and family in a prayer circle, asking God for another safe season doing a job that is inherently unsafe. Leaving home is hard, and it’s easy to suddenly find yourself enjoying those everyday sights a little more knowing you won’t be back here for months.

Brian Jones can be reached at brian@allaboardharvest.com.

All Aboard Wheat Harvest is brought to you by Unverferth Manufacturing Co., Inc.High Plains Journal, New HollandITC Holdings CorpU.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc., and Kramer Seed Farms

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