All Aboard Harvest | Brian Jones – Jones Harvesting
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Brian Jones – Jones Harvesting

For 35 years, Jones Harvesting, based near Greenfield, Iowa, has made an annual trek from Oklahoma to North Dakota, harvesting golden fields of wheat for farmers who have become like family to the Jones family.

Brian Jones is a second generation custom harvester, having joined his parents, Glen and Vernelle Jones, his sister Brenda Hamer, her husband Cameron and their four young boys; and his uncle, David Rahn on the crew.

“I enjoy the traveling a lot,” said Brian, who said every place is different, as is every year. One thing remains constant, and that is the families for whom the Jones bring in the crop. “We have a couple of farmers we’ve worked for for 34 years,” he said.

The harvest run is like visiting family members, he added. They attend church, shop the aisles in the local grocery stores, and eat at the same restaurants each year. The Jones family has spent enough time in these communities that they feel like they belong there.

“If you add up the time we’ve spent in those individual stops, it seems like years that we’ve been there,” he said.

The Jones crew makes stops in Thomas, Oklahoma; Minneola and Sublette, Kansas; Big Springs, Nebraska; Onida, South Dakota and Strasburg, North Dakota. Strasburg, Brian points out, is the birthplace of Lawrence Welk. The crew harvests wheat on acreage that traces back to the band leader, he added.

The Joneses run a John Deere and Case combine, plus supporting equipment.

When not harvesting, the Joneses operate a 4th generation farm in Adair County, Iowa, where they raise corn, soybeans and have a cowherd. Brian is active in the Iowa Farm Bureau.

With another harvest season behind us, it’s difficult to not look back and feel we spent our summer in the Land of Oz. Our adventure started in Oklahoma, a state with dirt as red as ruby slippers. We followed the yellow brick harvest road to Kansas where we were swept up in a tornado of activity. It carried us to South Dakota, the drought there as relentless as the Wicked Witch of the West. Then, as if carried home by flying monkeys, the shortest harvest we’ve ever experienced in 39 years is over.

The stories and photos we share are

Greenfield, Iowa–This morning I woke up in a queen-sized bed, the sun peeking through the blinds. It's 10 a.m. and I groggily drag myself out of bed. Out the window all I see is green ... green lawn, green corn, green soybeans and green alfalfa. It's hazy and humid, the grass still soaking wet from overnight with fog in low-lying areas. I stumble my way to the kitchen and start a pot of coffee, the complete silence only broken by the loud ticking of the wall clock. I take a long, hot shower, losing track of

Onida, South Dakota–Like athletes who have been training for the Olympics, the crew has been training all summer long for a victory lap. We have come around the final bend, and we see the last few acres of this summer's harvest come into view. We've been working tirelessly day after day, racing to cross that harvest finish line. We've guaranteed ourselves a spot on the podium, but will we bring home the gold?

The grain cart follows us around, waiting to see that mound of golden grain appear atop the grain tank.  Long rows stretch on for

Onida, South Dakota–What’s your favorite type of show to watch? Is it a mystery or a romance? Perhaps a comedy or science fiction? How about a reality show, maybe one that stars custom wheat harvesters that rarely get a day off because it never rains?  

I think I’ve seen this episode before, and apparently it’s so popular they are airing it again here in South Dakota. I’m not sure how much I liked it the first or second time, and after watching it again for the third time I’m reminded exactly why. The run time is too long, the

As the combines make their way through the field we chase a lot of wildlife out from the wheat. I can't help but feel a little bad, forcing them from the shelter and shade of their temporary home. The wheat rustles in strange zig zag paths, giving up the location of whatever is hiding beneath the golden canopy. When you reach the end of your pass the mystery of what you've been stalking is finally solved. Usually it's a jack rabbit, suddenly panicked and darting around like it doesn't know where to go or what to

Near Dodge City, Kansas–Have you ever been in a shootout? You know, like in a gun fight on one of those old Western TV movies? The crew has arrived here just south of Dodge City, Kansas. Of course this area is known for its Wild West history, made famous by outlaws that challenged John Wayne to a duel on Hollywood’s silver screen. It seems we’ve been facing off against some Wild West weather almost every day since we arrived in Kansas. The move from Oklahoma to Minneola, Kansas, is hot and windy, the type of weather southwest Kansas is famous

Thomas, Oklahoma–If you measure success by the number of consecutive days you harvest, the crew is totally winning in Oklahoma. We are having ideal weather here in Thomas, the wind and sun are pushing temperatures into the upper 90s and even into the 100s. Sometimes green wheat and rain are a constant headache, but not this harvest so far. This year we may have won that war, but the crew is starting to battle fatigue. We have harvested all but one of the 12 days since we arrived. An unexpected cold front developed a fast-moving storm that brought three

Thomas, Oklahoma–Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living. Boy, you can say that again. While that famous song might describe some people's work schedule, it certainly isn't the schedule of a custom harvester. The crew went to the field the very next day after arriving in Oklahoma, and we haven't had a moment of down time since. Working 9 to 5 has been a fantasy here in Thomas, and the crew's 14-plus hour work days have translated into a 100-hour work week.

The crew is tired. I won't

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

Greenfield, Iowa—We may be counting down to the final day at home, but the stress level seems to be going up. Without question, the worst part of wheat harvest is the “getting ready to leave” part. You never know which one of the bazillion things you have to do should be completed first, and once you finally pick a task it only takes a few minutes to realize you should be doing something else.  


It ends up a juggling act of sorts, often with too many balls in the air at once. School is winding down with last