Brian: Dust and downpours

Sublette, Kansas — No two years are ever the same, but the stark contrast between harvest this year and last year borders on ironic. We blitzed Oklahoma, cutting straight through without a break and working more consecutive days in the first week than we did at any point during all of 2023. Any rain showers we did receive only resulted in a delay of hours, not days. Last year’s downpours have been replaced by wind-driven dust.

Our move to Kansas was hampered by the hot, windy weather and road construction. Sustained winds of over 30 mph and gusts near 50 made pulling trailers tricky, especially when these oversized loads are not very aerodynamic to begin with. The semis had to reduce their speed at times to avoid overheating their engines in the hills, and the gusts caused some white-knuckle driving conditions as the trailer houses were pushed around on the road. It all made for a tense, drawn-out trip to Kansas, but we managed to make it, no worse for wear. We quickly set up trailer houses so they could start to cool down, and then we went right to work unloading equipment. It’s a little unnerving to feel the combines sway in the wicked wind while backing them off the trailers, but with the duals installed and fuel tanks topped off we went right to work. When it’s this blustery, filling the trucks gets tricky. It’s a constant game of moving the unload auger to compensate for the wind, and sometimes the blowing dust reduced visibilities on the road so much you had to reduce your speed.

Pulling equipment on narrow roads through the hills on a hot, windy day takes extra time and is taxing.
We experience a Kansas “dust bowl” first hand, the loaded combine ahead of me completely obscured.
It’s a group effort to install the duals, but we make quick work of it on this hot day to start harvest here.

Last year every acre we had to harvest in Sublette was abandoned, taken over by weeds that couldn’t be controlled due to constant rains. Those discouraging memories have been partially erased by a beautiful crop this year. Dry land fields have averaged in the 55-65 bushel per acre range, and the yield monitors sometimes climb to over 100 in some parts of irrigated fields. Terraces have been replaced with straight tracks for the combine operators to follow, allowing auto steer to do most of the work while we sit back and enjoy near perfect harvest conditions. It seems a just reward for the long hours and challenging fields of Oklahoma.

But in Kansas the weather can change in a heartbeat, and our mini dust bowl turned into a downpour in a matter of hours. A flood warning, of all things, was issued for the area, and a heavy line of storms slowly crept over southwest Kansas for more than 12 hours. We managed to be on the lower end of the rainfall totals, with most of our fields receiving 2-3 inches of rain. Others were not as fortunate. Only 50 miles away, nearly 8 inches fell, making wheat fields look more akin to rice fields.

With a flood watch in effect, it’s all eyes on the skies as we prepare for the inevitable downpour.
The wind picks up as raindrops begin to fall, and the combines rush to load the truck to exit the field.
Dark, puffy clouds do not disappoint, dumping up to 8 inches of rain and causing flash flooding in areas.

It’s been a long time since the crew had a full day off. Most of us skipped breakfast and dozed in bed the next morning, listening to the pitter patter of rain on the trailer house roofs. We’ve filled the days with naps, puzzles and a little basketball in the cool of the evening. We even found time to head to Dodge City to visit the infamous Boot Hill. Completely renovated, it’s an exceptional historical museum that captures the amazing history of this cowboy town, complete with gunfighters reenacting a shootout in front of the famous Long Branch Saloon.

It’s going to be a few days before the soggy fields dry out, and the crew is looking forward to a little down time. With less than 100 acres left in Sublette, we will soon move equipment to Minneola, where our larger job is located. The forecast is favorable for the remainder of the week, and with the downpours behind us no doubt the dust will be flying in the fields once again.

The Gunfighters of Boot Hill reenact a shootout in front of the world famous Long Branch Saloon.
Glen and Vernelle test out the stagecoach sitting bench inside the Boot Hill Museum.
Wicked winds swirl the dust around the machines, hampering the visibility of a beautiful Kansas sunset.

Brian Jones can be reached at

Thank you to our 2024 All Aboard Wheat Harvest sponsors: High Plains Journal, Lumivia by Corteva Agriscience, Unverferth Manufacturing Co., Inc., Merit Auctions, Kramer Seed FarmsShelbourne Reynolds and U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc.


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