Monday, October 31, 2016

Pumpkins Everywhere

My long time readers will remember that I owned a pumpkin business for many years and used all my profits from that to put myself through six years of college. (I didn't get an advanced degree, it just took me six year!) I've posted several pictures over the years but never had one of the pumpkin patch itself (I think) until now. I found it in a tray of my parents slides that I've been scanning into digital format. Behold!

In it you can see the beginning of harvest as my brother and I started picking and rowing the pumpkins. This picture was in our early years of the operation when we mostly sold to roadside produce stands and the truck in the picture belonged to one of our customers. As we got older and wiser, we hired high school kids looking for fundraisers to come pick pumpkins for an evening after school. We could get a lot more people helping for not very much money. I'm glad they never figured that one out. Even with all the people, we always rowed our pumpkins and then in the later years would drive the semi trailers between the rows and again using high school labor, load two rows into the back of the semi as the driver slowly moved through the field.

We started off with a bumper crop out of our regular garden one year which then grew to a quarter of an acre which grew to three acres, then five as in these pictures and eventually ten acres in our final couple years. We also branched out and grew sweetcorn, popcorn and ornamental gourds and pumpkins as well. In the picture below you can see the trailer that (I'm guessing my dad) the person taking the photo used to get a scale of the five acre plot.

Finally below, you can see the stock trailer that this particular customer used to transport pumpkins to his various roadside stands. Notice the stacking method my brother and I used to preserve the stems. We laid the first row on their sides and then subsequent layers with the stems pointing down through the cracks in the layers below. One reason we got more business than our competitors was because our stacking method allowed us to get more pumpkins in a load while still preserving the stems so they could be used as jack-o-lantern handles.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Break Time

The afternoon we finished harvesting soybeans, my Dad and brother said they were going to get things switched over so we could start corn the following morning and gave me the rest of the afternoon off. I got home in time to take my daughter to her Girl Scout meeting in the park and since it was such a beautiful day, I elected to find a bench along the old river channel and catch up on some reading. Instead, I found myself admiring the scenery across the channel more than I read.

Unfortunately, all I had was my cellphone with me which although it takes great pictures, it doesn't handle zooming very well. On my side of the river, there were lots of distractions to shoot around. On the opposite side of the channel behind all those trees is a business area of town and not so attractive. I tried zooming in to get a nicely composed picture that didn't have my side distractions or the other side ugliness and get a pixelized picture in return. I would have been better off trying to focus on the area I desired, take a overall shop and crop it later. Even better, I would have taken the shot using my SLR back home.

Such is life. It was incredibly relaxing and helped my body to charge up for the last push to get the corn harvested.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Harvest: Part Six

One of many sunsets I saw from the cab of my tractor
 Soybean harvest was quite different than corn harvest in many ways. First was that it was a really strange harvest season for them. We had high humidity in the mornings of around 80% that would last until noon before the humidity levels would lower below 60%. This is important because soybeans absorb the moisture easily and you can't dry them down for storage like you can corn without causing them to split and be worth a lot less than whole soybeans. When soybeans split, they dry up and lose their oils that make them valuable. This meant that we couldn't get going until eleven or noon most days with harvest. We were still very busy doing other things all morning but due to the slow start, we felt that when the humidity was low enough to harvest, we had to go all out for as long as we could. This meant long hours and working sometimes until the early hours of the morning.

Another big difference is that my Dad hired the soybeans to be custom harvested. We still ran our combine but there were two other combines going as well and I had to catch the soybeans from all three of them so that they never had to stop. It was such long hours and work with such intensity, especially at night when you had to have a photographic memory of what wagon/combine/ditch/fence row was where, I often spent my few sleeping hours racked with dreams about running the catch wagon. Many times the dreams were so intense that I would wake up and it would take me several minutes to convince myself that I was home in bed and not running behind and spilling soybeans everywhere.

Eagles nest high in the tree overlooking the soybean field and nearby pond
 As you can expect, with three combines going at once, we covered a lot of ground often times harvesting 200 acres a day. One day we did a record of 280 acres but one day when two of the three combines were broken down for much of the day, we only got 120 acres done. Still, unlike corn which took us nearly four weeks to harvest, soybeans took just a week, a 108 hour work week. When we wrapped up soybeans and started in on the last 140 acres of corn, it felt darn right relaxing.

We ran out of grain bins before we ran out of fields and had to continually ship grain to local elevators where we pay to store it there until it is sold. Even in the end, with other farmers in the same situation, the semis were all tied up and we couldn't get anything hauled. We had to just sell everything in our wagons that wouldn't fit in the bins so that we could have enough freed up to finish the last 20 acres of corn, which still sits in wagons for the time being. I'm guessing we will end up hauling it to town ourselves to store it if a semi doesn't become available in the next few days.

Soybean stubble

Monday, October 24, 2016

Victory Lap

This past Saturday was bright, cloudless and mild. It was the perfect day. We had finished up harvesting soybeans a few days earlier and harvested corn on the farthest farm which means for a long haul for so much corn. The haulers got behind which slowed us down in the field but it had to be done and so we kept plugging away. On Friday, we finished our long haul field and moved Mom back home for good from Hope Lodge Cancer Center. She still has one more treatment and will probably of had it by the time most of you read this, but we are driving up and back as a family to celebrate the milestone.

As it worked out, we  had 20 acres corn left on Saturday on Mom's farm. We normally name farms for whom we bought them from but Mom bought this farm without my Dad's input, though he approved, so we named it Mom's farm in honor of her. She started in shelling corn and was down to the last eight rows by 11:40. I told a half truth to my mom and asked her to wait at the far end for another 15 or so minutes until my wife arrived to take a picture of the last trip through the field with the combine for 2016. My mom agreed and 20 minutes later didn't notice the huge caravan of vehicles that slipped into the entrance at the far end of the field and parked down over a dip in the terrain out of sight. I told my Mom that my wife was ready and we shelled the last eight rows of corn.

My Mom figured out something was up halfway through the field when she could start seeing a whole bunch of cars parked at the end of the field. All the friends and family who have spent the last six weeks helping my Mom, helping my Dad with the harvest and just support our family during this time were there for a picnic. Many were still harvesting their crops but gave up a couple hours because it was just the right thing to do. Tears flowed freely. I saw my Dad crying for the third time in my life.

Although the crops are safely in the bins and Mom is moving on to a new stage of her life of waiting and periodic checking to see if the cancer returns, there is still a few loose ends to wrap up. Mom still needs her final treatment and then in a few weeks, a follow-up MRI to inspect the hole in her brain where the cancer was. I will probably continue to help my father do some of the dirt work for a couple weeks but hopefully won't keep the long tiresome hours. I have a myriad of stuff stacked up around the home that just didn't get done and I can't put off any longer. I hope to get caught up soon. I have the next couple days off though so I hope to get some new posts written to fill in what I haven't had a chance to write about yet and buy me some time to come up with some new posts, perhaps non-farm/cancer related.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Out of Posts

I just noticed, that my uploaded posts that I have written ahead of time have cycled through and posted. I have no more written. Fortunately, I am almost done with harvest. Soybeans are done and corn is down to the last 74 acres. In fact, I was on the computer to answer and email right quick before heading out and just quickly happened to see what was happening over here on my blog. I'll try to get some writing done this weekend and fill you in on what has been happening with my life this last month.

P.S. For those in the know, Mom is having her second to last treatment this morning and is moving home to the farm today. Monday is her last treatment and we are all going up with her to it and then celebrate afterwards. Thanks for all the prayers and well wishes I have received for her. I'll tell you more on that later too.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016


During the last three weeks, I have put in a lot of 14 to 16 hour days by the time you count the one hour of driving each way I do to get down and back from the farm. I don't mind the drive so much because it gives me time to gear up or wind down depending on which side of the day I'm on and I've been traveling those roads my entire life. Half of my journey is down a road between two county seats and gets quite a bit of traffic. The other half of my journey stretches out through a couple rural towns in the corners of their respective counties and gets very little traffic. The driving styles along both roads couldn't be more different.

I'm guessing if I averaged out every incident, I've had at least two to three cars (per day) pull out in front of me to the point where I have to hit my brakes to avoid hitting them on the busier half road of my journey. In the three weeks that I have been making the drive, I've come across about one wreck a week where two cars have recently been involved in a wreck. Almost every single time where I've had to hit my brakes, had the person just waited two more seconds until I had passed, they had a clear stretch behind me to turn onto the road and accelerate at their leisure. Looking back through my driving career, this to me seems like a fairly new phenomenon.

I'm guessing it has a lot to do with our increasingly busy lives where we are always in a hurry to go from one place to another. I also think that when you drive among a lot of traffic daily, you (collectively) tend to absorb everyone else's driving styles and that tends to get more aggressive all the time. The route where all these cars pull out in front of me (and I presume others) is also hilly and only two lanes. However, every couple miles there are passing lanes going up the larger hills to allow faster traffic to overtake slower traffic. Again, I see lots of aggressive driving where people driving slowly do not pull over to allow someone to overtake them or drive slow until the passing lanes begins and accelerates to not allow people to pass them until they make it back to just a single lane where they slow down again. Pretty soon there is a long stream of traffic following them and tailgating occurs in the mild form or full blown road rage occurs in the aggressive form.

I for the most part just follow knowing that getting around someone or letting someone around me is only going to change either of our commute times to the other county seat by a minute at most. Many times I have seen someone tailgating me until the first pullover in which they can get by me only to still have them in site when we reach the other county seat 20 miles down the road.

The last twenty miles of my journey to the farm has almost no traffic and I've yet to have someone pull out in front of me or see any forms of aggressive driving on it. Someday if I live out my dream to build a home somewhere to retire in, I'm storing up this knowledge because I certainly don't want to live along a road where I have to deal with aggressive drivers hurting and sometimes killing each other for the sake of getting to work a minute sooner.

Monday, October 17, 2016

3020 Conversion

Although not a picture of the 3020 my Dad bought for $1000 sight unseen that had been stored in a barn for a couple dozen years, it looks identical, or at least did until I got my hands on it. During the rainy day we had awhile back and another more recently, I have been working to convert the 3020 from a 24V electrical system to the standard 12V electrical system so that we can use the tractor to run augers on the farm. Unfortunately due to the length of time it has been taking, lack of rainy days and a fast progressing harvest, it might be next year before it actually runs an auger.

The 24V 3020 was known for one thing, dash fires caused by electrical malfunctions. It is rare to find one that hasn't been converted especially since the one my Dad bought is just two years shy of turning 50 years old!

When we started on this project, I thought it would be as simple as swapping out the batteries and changing around a few wires but that turned out not to be the case. The starter had to be replaced to have equivalent starting power on a lower voltage. This was accomplished by making the starter bigger which intruded into the fuel filter area which meant a new fuel filter mount and fuel lines. One odd thing about this tractor is the fuel filter is on the opposite side of the fuel pump which meant some delicate work to get the new lines routed. I ended up doing that twice since the first fuel lines my Dad bought were for the wrong model year and they changed them between years.

On the other side of the tractor, I had to replace the generator with a modern alternator to charge up 12V batteries instead of 24V batteries. The bracket that came with the kit looked like it had been built by a high school kid in his first welding class and was crooked at could be. I ended up torching the welds off of everything and rewelding the bracket from scratch. It now looks sturdy and holds the alternator properly so the belts line up.

This tractor has two 12V batteries hooked in series to run it. My Dad initially bought two 6V batteries to hook in series to convert it to a 12V (total) system. However, when I started hooking up wires, I realized that all the gauges and lights were 12V. They ran from one battery before but if I did that the same this time, they would have half the voltage required. It was looking like I was going to have to completely rewire everything to get it to work. He had bought the 6V batteries thinking that keeping them wired in series would be easier and cheaper since most his other tractors also use 6V batteries. However, using two 12V batteries wired in parallel (meaning the total system is still 12V), would allow all the lights, gauges and such to be wired off one battery as it currently is while still allowing us to convert to 12V system wide and eliminate the fire inducing (and very expensive) components in the dash.

I should mention that all the parts in the conversion cost about $300 or $400, while replacing the components in the dash that cause the fires (and did so in the one we bought sometime in the past) cost several thousand dollars to replace.

So the new batteries should arrive today and I'm hoping with another morning, I can finish wiring up everything and give it a try. We also changed out the fuel and oil filters with their corresponding fluids along with new crankcase fluid and new radiator fluid. Although we have a couple nice days starting tomorrow, there is more rain in the forecast for later in the week. I'm kind of anxious to see if all my tinkering will make this thing work.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Harvest: Part Five

We made good progress on corn harvest but decided to put it on hold for awhile. We have just a few acres of corn left on Mom's farm, named for her since she bought the farm without any input from my Dad, because we don't have any place to store the shelled corn if we were to combine it. We are waiting for semi's to haul some out of the stuffed corn bins to make room for the last of it. We also have around 120 acres or so on our farthest north farm that we farm for someone else. We generally harvest it last to save them money by not having to dry the corn down so much and also it is our farthest haul to get it dried and stored into bins. It is much easier to haul it when you aren't having to drive by twenty other farmers also hauling grain down the same roads. When the traffic dies down, there will be plenty of time to haul the last of it home.

So we started on the soybean harvest. We have just as many acres of soybeans as corn but harvest it quite different. While the corn has been averaging anywhere from 220 to 250 bushels per acre, the soybeans are probably around 60 to 80 bushels to acre. Both are bumper crops for this area but with soybeans yielding around three times less than corn, you would think it makes the job easier. Nope. We hire a custom harvesting outfit to help out so we most of the time have three combines (ours plus two others) working in the field at a time, sometimes four. Me being the designated catch wagon has to drive around like crazy unloading all the combines on the go so they never have to stop and transfer the soybeans to waiting wagons. It is pretty intense much of the time and requires a lot of concentration to keep all the combines straight so I will know which one will require unloading next, which direction we can unload in since combines can only unload from one side which must be pointed away from crops, get there in time and put the grain in the correct wagons. With custom harvesters who get paid by the acre, they like to go when the going is good and will work late into the night. This means that I must also carry a visual map of the field (in my head) we are working on so that I can navigate in the darkness and surmise where the empty wagons were dropped so I can find them and remember which wagons are full or have some grain in them in case we need to haul them in before an impending rain.

I find that my brain has to be so focused, that I have a hard time shutting it off at night (or early morning) when the rest of my exhausted body drops into bed for a few hours of sleep before starting over again. My dreams are filled with running the catch cart in the dark and always being confused. Fortunately, we had a light rain that kept us out of the fields for a day and a half which allowed me time to recuperate and type this into the computer for you all. We probably covered 350 acres of soybeans out of the 1000+ we had in two days so with three combines, it moves fast. Hopefully we get another handful of days to get the rest of them in so we can switch back and finish the last of the corn and be done. I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Harvest: Part Four

Five o'clock one evening I found myself admiring the shadows growing in the corn field and that is when it hit me. There is the adage about the five o'clock shadow referring to man's beard stubble starting to show up and here I am seeing a field of stubble at five o'clock. When you are alone in a cabin of a tractor all day long (and then some) for weeks on end, your mind starts to grab at straws for things to think about. Fortunately most of our cabbed tractors do have radios so I've done a fair sight of listening to NPR, pledge drive and all, these last few weeks.

We had to quit early one evening to celebrate my Mom's halfway through treatment milestone with some pizza when she got back to the farm one weekend. Thus I helped my Dad unload the last two wagons of grain for the day and nabbed this picture. Our smaller wagons hold about 540 bushels of grain each and we pull them in pairs. Our largest wagons hold 640 bushels of grain and we pull them in one by one. My grain cart in comparison can hold nearly 1200 bushels of grain. Our modern augers have an articulating portion that swings around in an arc which makes unloading the grain fairly straight forward. You just pull the wagon up near the auger and swing the red part underneath the shoot and unload. Back in my youth, the business end was fixed which meant that you had to get the wagon in exactly the right place. Doing paired wagons back then was for the highly skilled people only because you had to back up both wagons after unloading the first in the pair and then get the second wagon just right from the steering wheel of a tractor thirty feet away at that point.

Although I don't have any overall pictures of the 12V conversion on the 3020 tractor my dad bout for $1000 out of a barn site unseen, I did find this picture of the 24V wiring to the starter assembly that I took for future reference. I had to replace the starter with a 12V one and thought perhaps a picture of the old wiring might come in useful. Since I haven't yet had time to wrap up that project and wire the 12V starter that I already installed, I haven't determined if I will need this picture or not. Because the new starter is longer, it interferes with the fuel filter which means I have to install a different fuel filter complete with new lines. I also had to put on a new alternator, new batteries and because we could, a new seat. If we get this conversion done and the tractor starts up, it will serve out life as an auger tractor powering the screws that lift the grain from the wagon into the top of the grain bins.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Harvest: Part Three

This farm was the second one my father bought in his early years of farming. It is one continuous field over around 120 acres and always intimidates me when ever I'm starting something in it even though it isn't our biggest field. At about the 100 acre mark, there is a giant cottonwood tree out in the middle of the field and we just left it be and farm around it. I have memories more than 25 years old of sitting under the shade of that tree on an open tractor eating my lunch and enjoying the stillness for awhile before getting back to field cultivating that I had been doing.

These days, we rarely do any field work on open tractors. Partly because we are smarter and realize that all that dust and noise aren't particularly healthy for you and also, as our farm got bigger, so to did our equipment to keep up. Bigger tractors to pull bigger pieces of equipment meant there was room for a cab. Thus when running the catch cart, this is my view a good share of the day and the only time I am stationary. It takes me just about a minute to fill up that wagon with grain before it is pulled in by my father in the tractor hooked to the front of that wagon. Then I am off again to drive beside the combine and catch grain on the move so that it never has to stop.

Eventually after two days, we got the field around the cottonwood tree clear of corn and I couldn't resist taking a picture of two of the wagons full of corn sitting nearby.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Harvest: Part Two

Typical fall site, sky and fields of corn

I'm still alive and kicking but have been harvesting nonstop until Yesterday and today. Today the rains will probably keep us out of the field until perhaps noon. Yesterday they kept us out all day but that doesn't mean we didn't work. I spent all day converting a barn find 3020 John Deere tractor to 12V from it's factory 24V system and making it run again. The original 24V system was prone to dash fires which is why they went away from that system and made conversion kits. I might have finished it but we got the wrong fuel lines and had to reorder them.

At night, my dreams are filled with this scene, endless rows of corn.

My mom is doing great. She has 22 of 34 treatments under her belt and still feels normal except for the loss of her hair. She did a preemptive strike and shaved off her hair like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane and totally rocks the do. Still every time I hug her she still feels fragile to me. I guess it is part of the process of learning to live with the fact that even the strongest among us eventually die. But she isn't gone yet by any means. In fact, her mid way MRI showed no signs of tumor and the cavity where the original tumor was is collapsing which is another sign that the tumor has left. Although there is no cure, we still hope that she might beat the odds. It is also put us in the position where we have met dozens of people living many years with Glioblastoma, which is what Mom's cancer will eventually morph into.

Loads of grain

Out of the 1000+ acres of corn we started with, as of this writing we are down to only 230 acres left. The end feels closer. We still have 1000+ acres of soybeans left to harvest but we have hired a custom harvester to help us. With his three combines and our one, we should rip through the soybeans in less than a week, good weather provided. I'm hoping with two more weeks of good weather, we can be done with harvest and focus on two things that matter most, Mom and fall dirt work!

Looking back at the family farm

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Harvest: Part One

Farming has been taking up my life for the last few weeks which I hope explains my lack of comments on your blogs. I do get most of them read if I have a few minutes of downtime via my cellphone but it sucks to try and compose a comment in limited time so just know that I enjoy reading them.

Because my mom is still undergoing radiation and chemo and she normally drives the combine, my dad has trained a part time hired man to drive it in her place during the week. (My mom still drives it on weekends!) The hired man normally drives the grain catch cart most harvests so I have stepped up to fill that position. It means running back and forth through the field to catch the grain from the combine so it never has to stop. Not only is it the most costly piece of equipment to run and thus to lower the costs, we try to keep it running efficiently, it also determines the length of harvest. The faster it gets through the fields, the faster we get the grain safely into storage bins.

Once I am full, I haul ass down to the end of the field where my father leaves empty grain wagons and I fill them up as quickly as possible and then zoom back to the combine before it needs to unload again. Due to the bumper nature of this year's crop, that means it must unload twice a round instead of the normal once a round or every other round in leaner years. My dad has been hauling the grain in from the fields and putting it into the correct dryer bins to get dried down for winter storage. He hasn't been keeping up on even our closest fields but enough that we don't run out of wagons to fill until late in the day. Fortunately for the remaining fields much father away, my brother from the south has arrived for the next five weeks to help haul the wagons in from the field. Due to me constantly being on the move, it means many pictures such as the above two are taken on the move and through a dirty windshield. However, when adjustments are needed on the combine to efficiently thresh the corn in changing conditions, I do get out of the cab of my tractor to smell the flowers and snap a photo.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Self Segregation

While back, our town had an art walk down Main street and a Latino festival coinciding side by side. The art walk has been going on for years but has been declining to the point that it now spans only part of a block and only in one row, versus multiple blocks with multiple rows in the past. I think a lot of this has to do with our county being the poorest county in the state and there just isn't money there to support luxury items like original artwork to hang on your walls. I don't help because though I have the money for such things, I prefer to put my own artwork up on my walls over that of someone else. Anyway, there was a steady dribble of people walking through the handful of stalls selling original art and when compared to the block next to this one, it was a pretty white European crowd.

We crossed the intersection to the next block of Main street and the Latino festival, the first year in that location, was going strong. There were three times as many people there and although there were a smattering of us white European (and pacific rim Asians) among the crowd, it was for the large part, a Latino crowd. While the art walk required cash to buy anything, at the Latino festival, everything except for a few food vendors was free. Because there was more things to do there, we spent the majority of our time with the Latino crowd.

It got me to pondering why we tend to self segregate ourselves as a community rather than integrate and enjoy the multitude of cultures around us? Language is probably the biggest reason as the sound stage out of frame to the left was completely in Spanish of which I have forgotten more than I remember by a factor of 20. However, I still enjoy watching the performances even if I have no idea what they represented.

I don't think that is the only reason because having lived twenty miles away in a town with more cultural diversity than any other town in the nation, everyone tended to co-mingle just fine at community events. So I wondered if it has partly to do with education. My former town graduated nearly 100% of their students every year. My current town just celebrated the fact that they now graduate 89% of the students now, up from 75% of the students a decade earlier. I am blown away that one in ten kids don't graduate from high school anywhere in this country.

I guess I'm at a loss for reasons but self segregation in this town anyway is still very much alive. For those who don't abide by it, there are some perks. A friend of mine clued me in to a little shop that makes fresh corn tortillas daily. I stopped by and bought a stack of 25 or 30 so tortillas (they only sell by the pound and I got one pound worth) for a measly one dollar. They tasted like heaven on earth that evening for supper and cost a small fraction of what I pay for in the store. Seeing we had so many, we didn't get them all eaten and the following day, they tasted only slightly better than what I have got from the supermarket. So I have realize that tortillas you buy in the supermarket are only stale cousins to fresh ones. I'll never buy another non-freshly made corn tortilla again.