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Sunday, Sep. 21, 2014

A wheat field is like a golden sea.

Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012, at 9:41 PM

Ever drive past a wheat field and wonder what's involved in operating that combine? Maybe not, but I'll tell you anyway. The year after high school graduation and again after my freshman year at college, I was in harvest crews around the Texas Panhandle and then through Texas, Colorado, Nebraska and Montana, ending up near Canada in the summer of 1966.

The second soiree was on a Massey-Ferguson with a 327-cubic-inch engine, an occasionally air-conditioned cab and a 20-foot header. We'd wait until 9 or 10 a.m. to let the sun dry the wheat and work to 11 or midnight, getting as much done as we could because rain would stop us cold. The other driver and I averaged cutting 400 acres a day.

It's not just a matter of setting the header at a certain height and placidly going around. You waggle the spout to get a truck and unload the 80-bushel hopper on the go, making sure not to spill any wheat, oats or barley, and constantly adjust the header so you don't miss any or get too much stalk and grind the machinery. While quite rackety, there is a certain high howl when the combine is running right and you may be able to tell when something is going wrong and get the field mechanic to fix it before it breaks down and causes a longer delay.

Working aslant on terraces is tricky because you have to keep the sickles in the wheat on the high side and not dig the ground on the low. Moving on a road may necessitate backing into the ditch to let traffic pass, and balancing the combine on a truckbed to move to another town is a hazardous task that I was happy never to be called on for.

A essential skill is getting through a gate from a shorn field to a fresh one. You back into the gate on the far left side, lock the left front wheel and swing the header through backwards. I did that enough that I could do it on the fly. At times a follysome youth, I once drove in road gear across a bridge with a truck coming and a couple of feet clearance on each side. Thank you, Lord.

I never tired of harvest and sometimes fantasize about going again. It was enjoyable when night fell and the engine ran easier with a deeper tone. The best times were going into a new field so big you could not go all the way around without signaling for a truck. A wheat field is like a golden sea with the heads waving buoyantly. The voyagers of olden times must have felt something similar as they left the dock and the wind caught their sails.



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