Harvest memories

It had been a while since I’d ridden in a mobile barn.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly a barn. But a modern grain combine is approximately the size of a barn. And it’s much comfier than an average livestock shed.

My cousin’s combine was rumbling through the field of corn across the road from our house. I couldn’t resist the chance to hitch a ride aboard a humungous machine that probably cost as much as a Gulfstream jet. 

Climbing the ladder that leads up to the cab reminded me of clambering up the side of a silo. The combine’s ladder seemed to stretch up into the clouds.

The cab itself was a wonderland of air ride, climate-controlled comfort. Electronic doodads and touchscreens occupied every available surface. It looked more like the cockpit of a spaceship than the operator station of a farm implement.

I asked my cousin what all the gizmos do. He replied that he wasn’t quite sure. I inquired about the combine’s autosteer, so he pressed some virtual buttons on a touchscreen and let go of the steering wheel. The monstrous machine continued to gobble gobs of grain with no manual manipulation. For a while, anyway.

The snouts of the corn head began to drift to one side, so my cousin grabbed the wheel and disengaged the autopilot. Neither of us could figure out why the autosteer seemed to have attention deficit disorder. Maybe sunspots were interfering with the satellite reception. Or perhaps, billions of light years away, a black hole burped, creating microscopic ripples in space-time.

As the combine sprinted through the rows of corn, we reminisced about the good old days when we were boys. The days weren’t all that good. Back then, the standard corn harvesting method involved a two-row pull-type picker and small (by today’s standards) wagons. Corn harvest often stretched well past autumn and into the winter. Tractor cabs had not yet been invented, but neither had windchill, so we didn’t think it was very cold.

If everything went swimmingly – if nothing on the cantankerous corn picker broke, if none of the wagons got a flat tire, if raging snow squalls didn’t make it impossible to see the front end of the tractor – a two-man crew could pick approximately as much corn in a day as my cousin’s combine could harvest in minutes.       

I remember raking ear corn out of a steel wagon and into a clattering Kelly Ryan elevator as snow swirled all around. It took Dad and me several days to fill a corn crib that held about 1,000 bushels. 

In the cab of the combine, assorted sensors emitted a variety of beeps and boops. An alarm began to exclaim that the hopper was nearly full, so a grain cart pulled up alongside the combine. A fountain of saffron-hued corn gushed from the threshing machine’s culvert-size auger. It took less than an hour to top off the grain cart, which held about 1,000 bushels.

The field was soon finished. As the combine idled on the headland, I shinnied my way down the ladder. Looking earthward from the top step, I began to wish that I had brought a parachute.

Even though conditions were rugged when I was a kid, Dad made certain that we whippersnappers knew how good we had it. Imagine doing all of this with teams of horses like when I was a kid, he said. Imagine picking acres and acres of corn by hand. Imagine what it’s like for a good day to be hand-picking one wagonload of corn in the morning and one in the afternoon.

I didn’t care to imagine any of that. Like most youngsters, I wanted everything to be space-aged and spiffy. I wanted things like tractors with cabs and corn pickers that didn’t need to be repaired as the icy fingers of a screeching north wind probed for chinks in your outerwear.

The combine ride got me to thinking, so I went to my workshop (a former granary) and found an almost-forgotten artifact: the old corn husking hook that had belonged to Grandpa Nelson.

Jerry's grandpa's corn harvest hook

The hook still looks serviceable, although its leather straps have stiffened with age. A little oil and some rubbing could probably make them supple again.

But there’s one major problem. I’ve never used a husking hook and have only a vague idea regarding how it works. I imagine Grandpa would have been similarly perplexed by the lumbering, computerized behemoth that his grandson was using to harvest corn. 

It would have been a struggle to explain the mysterious inner workings of the combine to Grandpa. Especially the part about the black hole.  

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

                      

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.

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