Wheat Harvest, Douglas County, Washington

Wheat Harvest, Douglas County, Washington


In August I was in Washington State to celebrate the 100th birthday of my former father-in-law. I arrived the day before the big occasion and took the time to check out an airplane that interests me in Yakima, and to catch up with family on the East side of the mountains.

I stayed overnight with my brother Denny and family, drank a few beers and told some of the old lies. The next morning I visited with two of my aunts before heading back to the coast.

The Friday afternoon I arrived I went out to the home place. My brother Sid runs the ranch now, and I headed out to the fields to check on the wheat harvest. Harvest, when I was a kid, was a big event, and went on for about three weeks at our place, and because Douglas County slopes downhill to the South, I usually worked for my uncles who had land in the south, then worked for my Dad, then often for farmers in the later harvest to the north of us.

Working for Dad, I started as a truck driver when I was twelve, fill-in because I was too young to drive on the highway. At sixteen, driver's license in hand, I was old enough to drive to the grain elevator. I spent a few years driving Cat for the old John Deere pull combines. Our harvest crews in those days operated two John Deeres (2 men each), two self-propelled Massey-Harris combines (1 man each), and three or four trucks. Harvest was hard work, but it felt like a celebration to me, much more social than most of my life. My Mother and one of my aunts alternated bringing a hot lunch out to the field six days a week, and we men sat under the shade of two trucks, drank a cold beer, then had a big lunch before going back to work until it either got dark, or if the weather was a bit humid, the wheat got too tough to thrash. Riding home standing in the back of a truck in the twilight with the dust hanging in the still evening air, remains a vivid and warm memory.

In contrast, today my brother cuts wheat with a single big machine. He says the young woman who began driving truck for him several years ago is better at handling the complex new combine, so now he drives the trucks to the grain elevator. Instead of going aroud the field in decreasing rectangles, he plants the wheat so the combine can go back and forth on one side of the field. The truck sits at one point and the combine operator drives up, unloads the tank, and pulls back into the field.

In a banner year like this one, Sid gets back to the field just in time to park the now empty truck, and take the newly filled one to the elevator. It's a lot more efficient, but it still seems strange to me as I recall the way it was in the "old days."



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