A farmer for a fortnight

This fall, after living 73 years in a farming community, I finally did some farming.

Real farmers will probably be amused at this column, or may just shake their heads and look elsewhere in this paper for something to read that’s interesting.

For me, though, it was a big deal.

For a two-week period that ended this past Monday, I drove the auger wagon for a farmer friend.

I didn’t really know what an auger wagon was when we started.

The Boss, my employer, had to give me a few dry runs before we began the corn harvest. I was pretty jerky at the tractor controls for a few days, and even after I started to gain confidence, I never really mastered the tractor clutch smoothly.

For townies like myself, who don’t know exactly what the auger wagon does (you know who you are), here’s the deal: The Boss drove the combine, which harvests and shells the corn, filling up the hopper section of the machine. Another member of the team — I’ll call him The Trucker — drove the semi that hauls the corn to the co-op elevator.

To get the corn from the combine to the semi, which is parked at the field entrance near the road, the auger wagon is the middle vehicle.

The combine empties the corn into the wagon somewhere out in the field, and the driver (me) of the tractor to which the auger wagon is attached then hauls the wagon back to the semi. That way The Boss can keep the combine busy in the field without having to drive back and forth to the semi.

The harvest is later than normal this year, and the fields have been somewhat muddy because of the fall rains, so the more acres that can be harvested as fast as possible, the better.

The Boss explained that in a standard year, when the ground is dry, the auger wagon can follow along beside the combine, maximizing the number of acres that can be harvested in a day.

Two reasons that didn’t happen for The Boss this year:

• The fields had wet spots that might have bogged down the auger wagon, which in our case could hold two combine-loads of corn.

The fully loaded wagon could have got stuck in the wet spots; in that case, a separate, larger tractor would have to be chained up to the front of the auger wagon tractor to pull it out of the mudhole. That takes time.

• In addition, I wasn’t skilled enough to drive at the same speed as the combine on a continuous basis.

So instead, The Boss pointed out a high spot in the field where I was to park, and when his combine was full, he would drive over to me and dump the load of corn into my wagon. I would then haul it to where The Trucker was waiting at the field entrance, engage the auger, open the auger gate, empty the load into the truck with the auger (operated from the tractor cab), close the gate, disengage the auger, and return to whatever spot in the field The Boss directed.

We communicated from his vehicle to mine by cellphone.

Kathy had made me promise not to leave the tractor cab while the power takeoff that activated the auger was in operation. So I didn’t. She brought lunch to the three of us every noon, partly because she’s a kind person and partly because she wanted to make sure that I wasn’t injured.

I got stuck in the mud three times.

The Boss, who showed more patience than I thought was warranted, just waved it off, went back to where the larger tractor was, brought it back, and chained the two tractors together. He then drove the large tractor, The Trucker drove my auger wagon tractor, and they pulled my rig out of the mud.

The two of them explained that it’s all part of the harvest, and that most everyone else was probably getting stuck at times as well. I have no way of knowing if that was true or not, but I jumped at the chance to believe it.

The semi could hold three combine-loads of corn. The auger wagon, as I mentioned earlier, could hold two. So the procedure was for The Boss to dump two separate loads from the combine into my wagon, whereupon I would take the wagon to the semi and offload the double load into it. Then I returned to the field, The Boss would dump one more load onto me, and I would take it to the semi again.

But at that point, The Trucker would empty the final load from the wagon into the semi. That’s because it takes a certain level of basic skill with the auger wagon to “top off” the final load into the semi, filling it evenly across the top. That wasn’t my strong point (see the “jerky” reference earlier in this column).
Anyway, the system worked reasonably well. I gained confidence each workday, and by the end of the two weeks the process seemed almost routine.

When I was putting out newspapers in my former life, I was usually amused at the wonder people showed when they watched me pasting up the front page, or “counting” units to fit a headline into the available column space, or editing a story down by a few lines to fit into a news hole.

It was second nature, an almost automatic part of the job.

I suspect farmers reading this piece feel the same way about my comments, and they should.

But for me, it was a very rewarding couple of weeks — working outside, watching the corn rows disappear and feeling a small part of a very big chunk of the most important sector of Greene County’s economic life.

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

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