Why I Am the Way I Am – Part 1

I received an email from a gentleman in August asking me if I’d consider doing a presentation about custom harvesting at a meeting (involving agricultural engineers) at the AG CONNECT show the end of January. I remember where I was and what I was doing the very instant I received this email. Why? Because it instantly made me sick to my stomach thinking about talking in front of anyone, let alone educated engineers!  I was sitting in the buddy seat of the combine with Jim in Montana. I read the email to him and his next words were, “Maybe you should see if Jon would do it”. Incentive enough to reconsider the idea that I couldn’t do it and show Mr. Jim I COULD do it. I was hoping for a little encouragement but he probably knew how I was feeling (terrified) and was trying to make it better the only way he knew how. I thought about it for a while before I answered with my “yes, I think I can do this”. I decided God had opened this door for me and I needed to walk through it. The end of January is nearly upon us! Where did that time go? It seemed like such a long time before I would have to worry about it. I knew Matt (my brother) was coming for Christmas so I asked him if he could stop by Dad’s Quonset and pick up Grandma’s old pictures as he was headed East. It would give us something to do while we were sitting here over the holidays. We didn’t take much time to look through the albums but long enough to find some really great photographs representing the beginnings of our nomadic way of life.

rp_charley_koch_1918-796x1280.jpgMy Great Grandpa Charles Koch is the one with the black hat. Grandpa was my harvest Grandma’s dad. I LOVED that man!

charley_koch_1918_2-jpgThat’s Grandpa in the black hat. I wish I knew what they were doing. I know they’re in a wheat field but were they custom harvesting for a neighbor? on the road?

al1929combine-1Now I’ll begin with the beginnings of me and why I am the way I am. My harvest Grandpa (Elvin) is behind the wheel of the Farmall Tractor. This was taken in 1929 which would have made Grandpa 17 years old. The pull-type combine is a Rumely and the man standing there is his brother-in-law. Grandpa and his brother, Lowell (Bucky), used this combine for their first adventures into the world of custom harvesting. Grandpa’s first experiences with custom harvesting, though, had him in Minnesota picking corn by hand.


                            img_1352I had no idea when I found this old beauty last summer she was just like the one Grandpa would have had as his next step from the Rumely pull-type.  The model of this stately machine is a Massey-Harris 27. Grandpa and Bucky used a machine like this to custom cut in Kansas.

rp_543819_448931578494274_1864423293_n.jpgThis is Grandpa in front of his Massey-Harris 82. Dad and I decided the year must be about 1957 just prior to heading south.  I see chains around the front tire but I have to wonder how in the world that combine didn’t fall off the truck! Dad shared some of his memories of going with Grandpa in 1958 and 1959 (while in high school). He said they slept in the box of the truck on a half load of wheat. He remembered one day it rained all day and they spent the entire day under the truck.  What would they have done if it rained more than a day?  When they did the South Dakota harvest, there were harvester camps with public showers set up. It was usually late when they got in from the field and they would be covered with dirt from the day. Rather than wait in line for their shower, they bathed in the river. Their eyes filled with so much dirt each day, they could hardly open them in the mornings. The M-H 82 had a 45 bushel grain bin and a 14′ header. Dad said he remembered once it took nearly a full day to get the header off the combine for repairs.

grandma-001This is my harvest Grandma (Pauline). I found a postcard among the pictures that was written by her to her mom in 1963. She wrote about how she had been helping Grandpa and she had just got all the ironing done. Bless her heart – ironing. 🙂 She also informed my Great Grandma that she had decided she would start going full-time the next summer.  How I wish I could sit down with her and Grandpa and learn more about their early days of harvest! Finding a picture of the person always taking the pictures was pretty difficult!

1968-001The next model of combine Grandpa had was the Massey Ferguson 410. He had four of them. I’m not sure who this is – a hired man, no doubt. This picture was taken in 1968. I included this in my presentation because it represents Grandpa and Grandma’s persistence and love of the industry. 1967 was a tough year for them and would have been reason enough to call it quits. They were away from home (probably in Oklahoma) when they received word of a major flood in Grand Island which filled their basement with water. They had to go home to clean that up. Later that summer, a hired man rolled one of their combines. He must have been ok as I don’t remember them talking about anything other than the death of the combine. The final straw for them that year was Grandpa being admitted to the hospital in Omaha with bleeding stomach ulcers. He was so sick he nearly died. I remember Grandpa being in the hospital and knowing that he was really bad. The one thing he “craved” and was allowed to have…a beer. Do you suppose doctors would allow such a thing now? With all that tried their will and their marriage (I’m sure) that summer, it didn’t bring them down enough to ever consider quitting-they were back on the road next summer. I think I must have inherited their character trait of being persistent. It flat-out has to be proven to me that it’s not going to work before I give up!

hancock-harvest-1971_002-001Both of these pictures were taken the summer of 1971.

hancock-harvest-1971_001I LOVE this picture! It’s a perfect example of how important harvest has been to us throughout our lives. That’s me in the back of this pickup between my two younger brothers, Mark and Matt. My Dad is looking out the passenger window and Grandpa is in the driver’s seat.  I was nine, Mark would have been seven and Matt was four.  A couple of my favorite combine memories  include standing next to Grandpa in the cab of the combine while he was picking corn-there was no “buddy” seat. I loved watching the corn “dance” in the header – it was hypnotizing. Another great memory was being small enough to crawl on the ledge behind the combine seat and take a nap. Nothing better than having the hum and movement of the combine lull you into a deep sleep! I grew up knowing Grandma and Grandpa would be gone during the summer months. Grandma was always so good about sending us a box of goodies throughout the summer. I can still feel the anticipation of seeing that box and wondering what great items she had sent just for us! When Grandma asked me if I’d like to join them the summer of 1974, I JUMPED on the idea. I’ll turn that part of my story into Part 2.

28 comments on “Why I Am the Way I Am – Part 1

  1. I can’t wait for you to get to the part where you come to harvest for us! Miss you Tracy! I am sure you will give a great presentation!

  2. No need for nerves. You will do a GREAT job. Let me know when you are talking— I will try to be there.

  3. Margaret says:

    I looked at the 1957 picture of the combine chained onto the very short flatbed of that truck and thought “how did it ever stay on and what about going around a corner??” Loved looking back at those pictures of the early combines…and glad we don’t have to use them. New Claas coming in May! 🙂 Margaret

    P.S. 19* and snowing here in the “banana belt” of Southwestern Idaho!! Burrrrrrrr!

  4. ndjmom says:

    You will do fine, in fact more than fine. All you do is tell your story and the passion will come rolling out.

  5. Cuz jenn says:

    I think I’m going to love this blog series. 😉 keep up the great work Tracy!

  6. Ethan says:

    My oh my, that is a deep history in harvest. The ways of the past are so interesting to me. But I cannot imagine loading a combine in such a way or a combine that small. Our combine alone is 14 feet wide! Can’t imagine a header that size. Or a grain tank only holding 45 bushels when they hold 300 now. My great uncle has a vast amount of stories (my grandpa passed away before I could hear his stories). My great uncle tells of when he drove the ol Massy-Harris self propelled and would open up fields first in order for the two pull-types they had to start cutting. Another of his stories was when the new combines and a tractor were delivered by train. Hours could be spent just sitting and listing to him. I have a lot of respect for the people of the past for enduring such hardships, such as you described. But they didn’t know it to be any other way.

    Do u have any tips for us getting into the business of custom cutting? My prospectful partner and I are STRONGLY considering (with the approval of our parents because of our age) taking the plunge to start the business, staying local for now. Both of us have desired this for quite some time and feel now is the time to go for it. We have been given advice to start early in order to build the company up to where it is good sized when we get out of school. But at the same time, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Failure is NOT an option.
    Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    • Start small and build. Don’t go for all the latest and greatest equipment to begin. As I said before, if I were you, I’d sit down and talk to Anthony about things and learn from his experience. Another thing – don’t say you’re going to do something if you don’t mean it. There’s a lot of harvesters that will keep a farmer thinking he’ll be there yesterday when, in fact, there’s no way. Be honest and build your business based on integrity and good characater. Don’t be afraid to associate with others in the business. They may be your competition but they’ll be your best friend when they have a job they need help with. I wish you luck, Ethan! If you have support from your family – go for it!

      • Ethan says:

        I haven’t talked to Anthony yet because I havent seen him for quite some time. My prospective partner, on the other hand, lives near him and knows him pretty good…
        Thank you for your time. I have a feeling my dream is gonna come true this year.

        • I think Anthony could probably give you some great tips. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get down and just keep on keeping on! Please keep me posted how things are progressing for you!

  7. Anthony Barrett says:

    I love listening to stories from harvest past. I have heard several like your from friends and family. They say those were the good ole days but sometimes you have to wonder how! They were not afraid of work that’s for sure!

    I am sure you will do fine telling you story. Have fun.

    • Thanks, Anthony, for your vote of confidence! I certainly appreciate it 🙂 It’s just always a little scary doing something for the first time. I’m sure after it’s over, I’ll wonder what the heck I was nervous about! I can’t even imagine the amount of hard work my Grandpa had to do in his younger days. But, they didn’t know anything different. My Dad recently told me Grandpa wasn’t afraid to try anything. Maybe I’m a little like him.

      Thanks for checking in!

  8. Tony says:

    What amazing history. Fantastic! You are very lucky to have that in your life. As for the public speaking…I was in a band many years ago, the singer was this guy who the women went nuts over, he’d sing and they weren’t even listening to him, just watching him. Anyways, he got too big for his own head and quit, leaving us hanging with a show to do two weeks later. Everybody looks at me like I’m the next candidate to fill this guys shoes. I’m an average looking guy with a voice that never really sang, just ‘backed-up’ the singer. I was (excuse the expression) crapping myself, literally sick to my stomach I was going to be the singer in front of a crowd of 500+ mostly screaming women that were expecting “ken, barbies husband’. Instead, they got me, the average looking guy who stood up there and ended up kicking serious butt and getting it done way better than the other guy could have ever dreamed of. Moral of the story, it was the beginning of a new road the band took and although the band broke up years later, I often drawn on that experience to face new challenges in life head on, to believe in myself, and most importantly, to listen to and trust God, he often opens new doors for us and sometimes we are apprehensive about walking through. Believe in yourself. Look at those pictures and think of how proud your grandfather and all of your family would be of you taking the family history even further, and through it all, know that God is walking right next to you, and very often, carrying you as well. Be strong and courageous…

  9. Tony says:

    PS: and if its something you just really feel uncomfortable with, it’s alright not to do it as well. Whatever the case, I wish you luck in your decision. Tony

    • Thank you, Tony, for the encouraging words and the story behind them! I do view this as an opportunity given by God.That’s why I decided I HAD to do it. I’ve created a power point that will be easy to talk about and I know once I’m there and realize I’m not going to die, I’ll be fine. I’m sure most people feel the same way going into something like this (I hope). It’s a story not many people know or even realize is out there so I’m looking forward to sharing it. And, like you said, it’ll be another teachable moment for me – lean on God for the strength and wisdom that only He can give. Whether or not this goes beyond the 25 minutes I have at this meeting or not, I’m going to try to look at it as something that was given to me for a reason.
      P.S. I really enjoy your blog!

      • Tony says:

        Thank you very much. Another story behind my story…my blog…that’s me overcoming my fear on a daily basis and getting out there in front of the world, watching and hoping for that door that God opens for me to move forward from health adversity to something that matters not only to me but maybe to someone else. My goal is to remain positive through life, to keep my posts positive, always encouraging and motivating for people to live each moment going out into the world, finding subjects to appreciate and inspire them to live fully the life God has given to them. To see something be it large or small and look at it in a different way. Not sure if it’s coming off that way, but its what I’m trying to accomplish. lol. Thank you for visiting so often. Tony

        • You are showing a lot of people what they’re missing by not taking time “to smell the roses”. That was one of my Grandma’s favorite sayings. The other one…One Day at a Time! She taught me so much about life! I wonder if she even realized she was doing it. I never feel anything negative with your posts and didn’t even realize you were dealing with a health issue. Sort of your “thorn”, I guess, huh? I’m sure God’s using it for a specific reason and one day you can look back at it and understand the why’s. Prayers for you, Tony! Keep doing what you’re doing!

          • Tony says:

            Thank you for your inspiring words! Will do! My dream by the way…to write a motivating book and speak about it, hopefully inspiring others to overcome adversity and ‘Live Life’, One day at a time! Wish me luck, and if its meant to be, I hope God speaks loudly, kind of hard of hearing sometimes from all of that loud music back in the day. lol

          • You’ll feel it from way down deep inside you and it won’t go away until you do something about it! I do wish you luck! And…turn up those hearing ears!!
            Keep me posted.

          • Tony says:

            Thank you. I’ll be listening hard.

        • I, too, am hoping that whatever the next step is for me is one that will be something I know God has presented itself for a reason. Make sense? I’m learning to be patient and wait on His time. Sometimes not so easy to do.

  10. […] early days of harvest by visiting my NebraskaWheatie.com blog and reading posts such as this one, “Why I Am the Way I Am”. This is the reason that when I finally got back to the wheat field and the combine, I was in […]

  11. […] early days of harvest by visiting my NebraskaWheatie.com blog and reading posts such as this one, “Why I Am the Way I Am”. This is the reason that when I finally got back to the wheat field and the combine, I was in […]

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