Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Harvest

Hauling tractor and wagons

I got the call from my parents asking if I would be available to help them for a few days down on the farm. I checked my calendar and it was clear for a few days, so I packed a lunch and headed down to the farm. My parents were on the downside of the harvest and were down to the last handful of fields though among that handful were two fields that are the farthest away from the core farm. What that means on a year like this year when the corn was particularly good was that we had a lot of corn to move a long ways to get it stored away for the season. The first field was about a five mile haul and the the second field was closer but still about a four mile haul. Both fields were about 120 acres in size which means that it takes a full two days of harvesting to get them done.

My mom generally runs the combine and a full time hired hand that works for my parents works the catch wagon. His job is to follow my mom around the field and when the combine is full, to keep pace beside her so she can unload without stopping. This speeds up the harvest process considerably and keeps one of the most expensive pieces of equipment running constantly and thus most efficiently. Once a couple combine loads have been caught in the catch wagon, my parent's hired hand will unload it in the wagons that are parked nearby. My job is to keep those wagons close at hand and yet not in the way. When they are full, I hook up to them and pull them from the fields five miles down the road to where the grain bins that we store the grain in are located.

Combine unloading into catch wagon "on the go"
Because my dad generally has more knowledge on what bins the grain goes into and how many wagons are needed to fill up each bin, etc, he usually unloads the wagons I bring in while I take the empties back out to the field for filling. On a long haul such as these two fields, it takes me longer to take the empties out and return with full wagons than it does for my dad to empty the wagons in the bins so he will generally start out with the empties and meet me somewhere on the road coming back with full wagons and we will switch tractors. I will then take his tractor and empty wagons back to the field while he takes my tractor and full wagons back to the bins. With a four person crew, this process works pretty well and keeps us working efficiently.
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It took us two full days of working from dawn to past sunset to get all the corn cut and hauled in from the first field five miles away. The next day we started in on the field that was four miles away, in the complete opposite direction of our core farm and made a good dent. Although my parents had only asked for three days, I volunteered a fourth day to finish that field which we did with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare.

Although not physically demanding most of the time, hauling in grain does take a fair bit of mental focus. You are hauling in very heavy loads over gravel roads so you have to work the shifter, clutch and brakes carefully to prevent yourself from ending up in a ditch buried under tons of metal and grain. Despite the mental focus it takes, it does allow me to cleanse my mind for awhile as I concentrate on the job at hand and forget about the rest of my life for awhile.

Catch wagon emptying load into traveling wagons. I'm always impressed at how well my camera phone works taking photos directly into the sunlight.

11 comments:

sage said...

Great photos and good that you could help out your parents.

Ed said...

Sage - I always enjoy my time on the farm.

Vince said...

Why the transfer from one wagon to the others. Is the coupling between the wagons difficult to connect once they are full ?.
That last shot is really lovely.

Ed said...

Vince - It is hard to see without something for scale, but the catch wagon in the field is very large and takes up the entire road, both lanes, when traveling. Because there are often times many other farmers and ordinary people traveling down the road, it really isn't safe or practical to use it for hauling back and forth from the fields anymore than necessary. The smaller travel wagons take up only one lane and make going back and forth safer for everyone but their smaller wheels make it harder maneuver over rough fields. Also due to their size, it is a harder target to hit from the combine operator perspective who is trying to harvest and unload while never stopping.

Wagon technology has improved a lot in my lifetime. When I was younger, it was hard to back up to them in one go and line up the holes to connect them without two or three attempts. Then they made them with extendable hitches which means you just had to get close (though still in a straight line with the hitch) to get it connected. You only had to get out of the tractor once to put in the hitch pin. These days we have a system that is called quick connect that allows you to hitch up to a wagon and move without every leaving the tractor. This is handy for moving wagons within a field however I still have to get out of the tractor to hook up the road safety lights and disconnect them when I get back to the field and want to switch wagons.

Ed said...

Vince - It is hard to see without something for scale, but the catch wagon in the field is very large and takes up the entire road, both lanes, when traveling. Because there are often times many other farmers and ordinary people traveling down the road, it really isn't safe or practical to use it for hauling back and forth from the fields anymore than necessary. The smaller travel wagons take up only one lane and make going back and forth safer for everyone but their smaller wheels make it harder maneuver over rough fields. Also due to their size, it is a harder target to hit from the combine operator perspective who is trying to harvest and unload while never stopping.

Wagon technology has improved a lot in my lifetime. When I was younger, it was hard to back up to them in one go and line up the holes to connect them without two or three attempts. Then they made them with extendable hitches which means you just had to get close (though still in a straight line with the hitch) to get it connected. You only had to get out of the tractor once to put in the hitch pin. These days we have a system that is called quick connect that allows you to hitch up to a wagon and move without every leaving the tractor. This is handy for moving wagons within a field however I still have to get out of the tractor to hook up the road safety lights and disconnect them when I get back to the field and want to switch wagons.

Kelly said...

I like stuff like this and enjoyed both your photos and your narrative. We've recently sold the last of our farmland over in the Delta (southeast AR) and it's kinda sad. For almost 30 years I've enjoyed going over and watching the equipment at work (plus getting in a little dove or duck hunting at the same time). We mostly grew rice and soybeans.

Ed said...

Kelly - Funny that you mention Delta. I'm good friends with some sisters who I think were from near that area and immigrated up here to my part of Iowa. My parents mostly grow corn and soybeans these days though when I was younger, we also had oats, wheat and hay as well as pork and honeybees. I would like to know about American rice production as I am wholly unfamiliar with it. I am familiar with rice production in the Philippines but I suspect it is a totally different beast.

Kelly said...

Honeybees! My husband and I have both been interested in pursuing that, but on a much smaller scale than I'm sure you're referring to.

We've also grown corn (animal feed?), winter wheat, cotton, and sorghum...but our biggest bases were always rice. I'm not the one in the family with the knowledge about rice production, but I do know at one time (and maybe still so) Arkansas was the largest producer in the US. I still find myself checking labels in the store to make sure I'm buying AR rice. Do they still plant their rice fields by hand in the Philippines like they do in other countries?

We also grew catfish for awhile. Even though I don't care for fish myself, I always tout US grown catfish over imported Tilapia.

Ed said...

Kelly - Yes rice is still planted by hand in the Philippines and before that, the ground is prepared by caribow. It hurts my back just to watch! My parents started raising bees as a hobby and it eventually got out of hand. At their high point they had about 120 hives but it didn't work well with grain farming since the main honey harvest was in the spring and fall when they were planting and harvesting so eventually they sold them.

Leigh said...

Wow, reading this post was like reading a modern version of Ralph Moody. It's nice when it goes like clockwork.

Ed said...

Leigh - I've never read any Ralph Moody but some of his autobiographies look interesting. I'm going to have to check one out.