When farming sucks.

Sorry folks.  I know the title isn’t super eloquent.  But there’s just no way around it– sometimes, farming sucks.

It’s not always about serene sunsets & pretty pictures…every job has its off days, and farming is no exception.  This just happened to be one of those days.

I had just started cutting that morning when I heard a loud, clunky, clattery kind of noise coming from behind me in the combine somewhere.  (Farmer Farver really appreciates my diagnostic prowess)

My worst fear — ok, other than fire — is that something will break, I’ll miss it, & cause some serious damage to the machine.  Not a way to win friends & influence farmers.

I hit the little yellow ‘stop everything in its tracks’ button, & got out to look around.  Of course, I had no clue what I was looking for….or at really, so I had to make the dreaded S.O.S. call.

It didn’t take my farmer any time at all to find the problem.  A missing straw walker.  It’s the part of the combine that takes the straw after the wheat seed has been gleaned from it and scoots it to the back of the machine to be spit out & spread behind the combine as it rolls through the field.  There are 5 of them on our machines.  This picture is looking up from under the combine and you can see the big black hole where one is missing.

Missing straw walker It only took a few more minutes to find the missing part.  Here’s what a ‘healthy’ straw walker looks like. (Pretty wicked, huh?!)
straw walker from John Deere combine

And, here’s what the ‘not so healthy’ one we found thrown farther back & wedged in the machine looked like.
broken straw walker from John Deere combine
I’m by no means a mechanic– but it didn’t take me long to figure out that this was
a) not good, and
b) not going to be a quick fix.

I was feeling pretty rotten, but the Farmer  was quick to reassure me that it wasn’t anything I did, & really couldn’t be helped.  Sometimes parts just get old, wear out, & break.  Whew!  Gotta love that guy!

So on to the business of getting it fixed.  Since we already determined that I’m not a mechanic, and I’d get half of the names of parts wrong (apparently a doo-hickey isn’t a technical term), let’s just leave it at this.

It’s a dirty, itchy, sweaty job climbing up into the bowels of the combine.  It takes a certain amount of athletic ability– specifically, being able to army crawl… on your back.  And it tries the patience of a saint.  I learned some cool new words that day 🙂
Inside a John Deere combine fixing a breakdown during harvest.
To add insult to injury, part way through this project, our other combine plugged.  ‘Being plugged’ means that for any one of a hundred different reasons, too much crop is brought in the front & the machine isn’t able to process it.

The header (the piece on the front that ‘grabs’ the crop) and the cylinder (the part inside that spins & moved the crop back into the machine) both stop spinning & you have to actually pull the plugged material back out the front of the machine to fix it.

In this case– it was a major plug, & meant tearing apart the whole front of the combine.

Front of John Deere combine torn apart for repairs during harvest on a farm in Montana.

The plug was so major in fact, that Farmer Farver had to use the little saw you can see in the picture up there ↑ and climb up inside the front of the machine to cut the plugged material out of the cylinder. ↓

(Let me just mention at this point, that Uncle Gerry was driving the 2nd combine, and yes, he also pushed the little yellow ‘stops everything in its tracks’ button.  Safety first!)

This was also a dirty, itchy, sweaty job,…but as a bonus, a great shoulder workout (working above your head for hours with a 5# power tool).

And let’s add HOT to that as well, since my farmer was laying on the equivalent of a big metal baking sheet in the heat of a 90 degree day.

I can vouch for that, because for part of the time, I was laying right up there with him.  (A neighbor who stopped while we were up there offered to bring beer if we wanted to just call it ‘date night’.  Farm humor folks!)
Montana farmers during wheat harvest.

So here’s the scene.  Both combines out of commission.  Farmer Farver running back & forth between the two– giving instructions to me & Uncle Gerry–which tools he needs, which bolts to loosen, which parts to take off.  The service pickup parked between the two combines, a path of more parts & tools leading off in either direction.  Rain in the forecast, and storm clouds on the horizon.

Service pickup in a field during Montana wheat harvest. John Deere combines broke down in a field during Montana wheat harvest. It wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t fun.  It wasn’t what anyone would call a great day.

Except that in a way…. it was.  In the strangest way, it was what both of us– the Farmer & I–had signed up for.

The good and the bad.  For better or for worse.  We spent half of the day working together, side-by-side.  Me as the student, him as the teacher.

I think he was proud of me that day.  And I gained a whole new respect for my Farmer.

The man can fix anything.  In the worst conditions.  And he can do it with a sense of humor, being patient with his wife, and with what I can only call an odd reverence for the machines, the crop, the land, & his way of life.

He was born a farmer–with all the joys & trials that brings.

Most people will never know the satisfaction of being exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.  But my Farmer knows,…& I’m grateful every day that he’s sharing that with me and with our kids.

After a run for parts, 6 hours & a case of water later, all the pieces were put back in place (except those few bolts that didn’t seem to have a home!) and both combines were back in service.
Fixing a John Deere combine in a wheat field during harvest in Montana.

We were able to cut for a couple hours before the rain came & the equipment all had to be parked. Combining wheat during harvest 2014 in a field in Montana

And we had that night and part of the next day to regroup. Honestly, I don’t think anyone minded the reprieve.  It was good to have the break, to rest our bodies, & be ready to go hard when the weather cleared.
Equipment in a field during wheat harvest in Montana.

It wasn’t the best day.  But it was the best of days.

Because the truth, is that some days, farming sucks.

But the beauty, is that some days,..by the grace of God,..farming sucks.

How about you?  Have you ever found some of your worst times have a way of becoming some of your best?  We’d love to have you leave us a note in the comments & share them with us.

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Comments (7)

  1. Pingback: Lentil Harvest, DNA and Divinity | Farver Farms

  2. Mandy Thomas

    I felt like I was reading a post that I could have written. I frequently wow my man with inappropriate words to describe mechanical issues. And I’m not sure that I will ever completely understand how any machine really works, no matter how many times he explains it or shows it to me. But as long as you can still make it through the day and be happy with the time you spent with each other then I’d say it’s a good day 🙂

    Reply
    1. Shauna Farver (Post author)

      Mandy, it’s so good to know I’m not the only one a little challenged in the vocabulary department when it comes to farm machinery! Totally with you on understanding how it all works too 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  3. george

    You don’t have a reverser on that combine? Makes those plugs a lot easier to deal with…. However, I’ve been there more than once. We have an old 4400 we use on smaller areas of grain to harvest, and it plugs up sometimes, no reverser. Good times with the pry bar turning the pulley. There’s also a clean out under the machine that makes it easier sometimes. Glad ya’ll got it back out to work tho

    Reply
    1. Shauna Farver (Post author)

      George, reversing seems like it should have been a pretty easy fix for sure! We were able to do that– inches at a time. Used the pry bar & pulley trick too– more inches at a time (and a nasty bruised rib to show for it too 😉 Those pea vines are so gnarly though, they really do a good job of clogging up a machine. Glad to hear you’re still using a 4400– those ‘oldie but goodie’ machines are great for getting into smaller fields, aren’t they? Thanks for reading! -S.

      Reply
  4. Ellen

    Shauna, you are a super writer!! I just love reading these, partly cuz it’s my dear son you’re praising, but you really give a true picture of farming. If I spelled something wrong, i’s cuz I have tears in my eyes.

    Reply
    1. Shauna Farver (Post author)

      Mama Farver, you have every reason to be proud,.. you raised a great man! I’m so glad you like the blog & are enjoying reading it!

      Reply

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