Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Life Without Barb

Day 1,369 without Barb…… I have lost so much weight I look emaciated as I notch another hole and cinch up my belt, delusionally wandering around the farm calling out Barb's name. Daisy and Dakota are fairing a little better, as Daisy has discovered the cat’s litter box and is enjoying “Cat Snacks” and Dakota has become fond of the peas that are spilled on the ground.

I miss Barb. I miss waking up next to her each morning. I miss the touch of her hand, I miss seeing her smiling face, I miss her waking up at 2:30am to let the dogs out, I miss her cooking…..

If you have not figured it out Barb does pretty much everything around here. She is the CEO, COO, CFO, CDW (Chief Dog Walker) of our lives. She does the cooking, cleaning, organizing …. You name it, she does it. One might wonder “If she does all that what does Jim do?” And to that I say…This blog is about Barb, lets not pull the focus away from her… I am the eye candy of this operation and I let her do all those things and not complain about it.

I did not completely starve however as Chris and Holly invited me down for supper a few of times and DeAnne cooked some steak on the grill another!

Farm life is continuing but with the beans not quite ready yet and all the other crops in there is a little lull in the action. Not that there is a lack of things to do, it is just different things than last week. Bob has been out in the field cleaning up slough edges, Chris got the seeder winterized and tucked away. Dylan has been hauling and selling hay. Both Chris and Dylan have been cleaning peas and I have been helping out wherever I am needed….Hauling grain to the elevator, watching the seed cleaner when they have other things to do and harrowing the fields prepping them for next spring.

The whole seed cleaning thing is an interesting process. If you look at this picture closely and start on the right side you will see a tri-axle dump truck in front of a silver bin. One the far side of the truck is a conveyor that takes the peas from the bin and dumps them into the truck. The peas from the truck then spill into the yellow conveyor which dumps them into the cleaner. The cleaner does its thing; shaking, rattling and rolling working out all the weed seeds, grasshoppers, you name it so the only thing coming out the other end is pure peas. This batch of peas had some wild oats in it so that was the majority of what was working out of it. They are allowed to have 1 oat seed per pound of peas for one level of certification and 0 for the next level. It takes about 8 hours to clean one bin (~3500 bushel). One bin they had to do twice to get the peas to spec. Although once it is set up it runs pretty smoothly someone has to sit and watch it all day long and tweak it when needed.

Once the peas are cleaned they exit the cleaner through a conveyor (right center) and is dumped into the yellow conveyor on the left which takes it up to a new bin. The waste or “cleanout” gets dumped into the semi behind the cleaner.

Chris also had to swap out the tires on the sprayer the other day. The basic concept is the same as a car but magnified 10x's. A huge jack is required, the lug nuts are huge, the brake rotor is huge, you have to get the tire into place with a bobcat and tighten the lugs with the biggest torque wrench (to 450 foot pounds) I have ever seen. It was not done with quite the speed of an NASCAR pitstop but it was a lot quicker than one would expect. 
An air jack lifts it off the ground

The new tire is put in place with the bobcat
Lugs are tightened with a 5' torque wrench

Mishaps of the week included be breaking the harrow when both wings folded in when I was going down the field. The resulted in the center section being crushed. It was out of commission for 3 days while we welded it and bent it back into place. 

Bob climbed the harrow like a monkey and started welding!

The scariest mishap goes to Dylan who had a couple of rims blow out on the hay trailer.  That took the better part of a day to get new rims and tires but he was back on the road and made his delivery!

The tire on the right completely blew out and flew off the trailer

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania Barb is enjoying her time with the grandkids. Dylan is playing football so she has been to a few practices and games.

Dylan, Jess and Kendall

Dylan in his uniform

Kendall looking tough and ready for action!

Kendall is just being her adorable (and sometimes sassy) self. Jess and Shane closed on their new house on Monday so Barb got to go over and see that. It is an 1860's farmhouse on 14 acres so they are excited to move into it. They are not going to take possession of it until December and are letting the current 85 year old owner stay there until her new house is ready.

Barb returns tomorrow. The camper is a mess and she will see just how much I missed her! Yesterday when I walked by the dinette something darted out and latched on to my leg. I screamed and kicked at it as it would not let go. When I finally got it off I saw it was a giant hairball from Dakota’s shed hair. I gently placed it back under the dinette. I cannot wait for Barb to meet our newest member of the family!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Images from the Past

 If the old saying “The hair of the dog will cure what ails you” then Barb and I should live forever. Most people think this saying refers to having a drink in the morning to cure a hangover. While that might be true, I bet you didn’t know it originally came from an old folk remedy of treating a dog bite by placing burnt hair of a dog on a dog bite?

In any case if dog hair is good for you, we will live to like 1,000. Anyone that has dogs that shed knows exactly what I mean. No matter how much you clean there is always dog hair everywhere. On our clothes, on the floor, on the table, floating though the camper when the windows are open. I can count at least a dozen on my keyboard as I type this! Do you ever wonder how many dog hairs you ingest in a day? Even though Barb is a clean freak it seems like we pick at least one dog hair out of every meal….and those are the ones we see! They have gotten so they don’t bother me (as much) which is saying a lot as I am somewhat of a freak myself when it comes to germs. But dog hair is just another source protein in our house.  Even though Barb takes out Dakota’s bed from under the table every day or so sometimes there is enough hair under there you would swear she had a puppy!

We love our dogs but ugh! Do they make a non-shedding lab?!?!?

Speaking of dogs. Barb left me once again for her fall trip to see our daughter, leaving the dogs and I to fend for ourselves. Without Barb around to dote over them this is the view I get at every meal……

"Please Papa, may we have a scrap?"

I got a couple of comments/questions on the last blog. One was how we came to be connected with Farmer Bob and his family and are able to do this. This couple works the beet harvest and are looking for something else to do. For those of you who have read the blog for the past few years know that Barb and I have known Chris since the day he was born and have known the rest of the gang since Chris started dating Holly. So we kinda had an in when it comes to helping out here. That being said, I don’t think I have met one farmer out there who is not looking for help. The challenge is connecting two complete strangers and hoping it is a good fit. If someone is seriously interested in working on a farm I would not hesitate to go to one of the larger farms in the area you are looking at and just knock on their door. Farmers are great people and if they are not looking for help chances are they know someone who is.

The other comment I got from someone on the last post was how dumping the grain from the combine into the cart reminded him of when he used to fly in formation and refuel his jet in the air; flying within feet of another aircraft and tethering a fuel line from one plane to another. To that I say yes, it is exactly like that except we are going 3mph instead of 300mph and if there is a mishap in the tractor you do not burst into flames and plummet to the ground. Other than that, they are exactly alike!

On the farm work front I am happy to report that all the peas, canola, wheat and oats have been harvested! That just leaves the beans which will not be ready for a couple more weeks. In the meantime there is a lot of harrowing to do to get the fields ready for next spring. This week's mishaps in harrowing, hey, that would make a great title for a reality show....Mishaps in Harrowing.... Anywho, they included a flat tire and a broken weld. I find it amazing the context RV'ers (and other non-farming folks) take mishaps compared to farmers. In the RV world a flat tire or something else that needs repair is a pretty major event. In the farm world it is just another day. It has actually taught me that little mishaps like this don't need to ruin your day, you just need to take a deep breath and move forward. 

Nothing like having your own on board welder!

But Bob and I did take a day off to go to the Hawk Farm Museum outside of Wolford North Dakota. It is about 2 hours west and a little north. They have a campground/museum right on their farm property with farm equipment dating back over 100 years.

It was very interesting to see how farm equipment has changed over the years. From single spade horse drawn plows, hand thrashers and balers. 

Horse drawn sickle mower with a grain drill in the background

Horse drawn swather 
Some of the items bordered on the truly bizarre. I should have left the tag off this and had people guess what is was. This went in the calf's nose. When the calf tried to nurse, the spikes poked the cow which in turn kicked the calf and prevented it from nursing. Genus! 

Can anyone guess what this is? Give up? It is a horse drawn school bus. Some of these came complete with a small wood burning stoves to keep the kids warm in the winter. 

Once they got to school, their room looked something like this....
There were other building too. Like the General Store, the church and the ever creepy Doll House...

Who can resist just stopping and staring at a 1921 Harley Davidson!
This old push lawn mower sent chills down my spine as I recalled using one of these in our yard as a child. 

It is interesting to see how this old equipment worked and how many of today’s combines use the same basic principle. Except now the combines had 40+’ heads instead of 5’ heads. Farmers of today have it made compared to their ancestors. Bob showed me some of the equipment they had when he was a young lad on the farm and had to suffer through 100° day in open air combines with no AC and covered in dirt. He said he had to cover his mouth and nose because he was in a constant dust storm!

This combine is similar to one Bob used back in the day

Bob too is starting out his own collection of antique farm equipment. He picked up an old thrasher which now proudly resides on a hill within a pasture section. 

He loves old Farmall tractors and now has 3 in his collection.

As well as old cast iron tractor seats. 

Just a few of the seats in Bob's collection
At least that is what I called them and was quickly corrected and told that cast iron seats are actually from horse drawn equipment. The cast iron seats were replaced with stamped steel seats once tractors came into the picture. 

He also has a variety of other antique pieces of equipment which include cultivators, sickle mowers, potato pickers and others. 

The countryside around here is a museum unto itself. You just have to look in the right places. Out in the prairie hidden in the weeds are all sorts of hidden treasures. Bob and I went on a scavenger hunt of our own one day looking for treasures from the bygone era where I got my first cast iron grain drill end as well as a drill meter!

The triangle piece on the end is what we are after!
Drill meter

We also had time to put out a few trail cameras and caught some pretty cool images. Most of them were of deer which are pretty cool but it is the ones of other critters I find just as interesting....

The deer and racoons get together for a secret meeting....

This skunk of course was late for the meeting
This owl was just hanging out on a barrel
A camera curious doe

Then of course you have what are are really hoping to capture on camera!

This guy is just losing his velvet

So with Barb gone for 8 more days, the dogs and I fending for ourselves on what scraps we can find. After two days I already see a problem though. The dog hair is already starting to accumulate. We just might have enough for another dog by the time she gets back. I shall name it Hair Ball!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Harvest Time!

Have you ever found yourself driving down a country road and come across a very slow moving pickup truck going well under the posted speed limit? If you have, it was probably a farmer. To you it may seem like they are never in a hurry to get anywhere, going 45 in a 55. To them they are flying! 

Spending most of their days in a tractor going down the field anywhere from 2-10 miles per hour, going 45 to town is like city people going 80 on the interstate during rush hour! Surely, I am kidding. Most farmers don’t drive that slow but if they are, they are probably checking out the neighbors field conditions and comparing it to theirs. You see, farmers are very prideful competitive and want/hope to be doing a little better than the field down the road. Of course weather, and other factors out of their control have a lot to do with it as well.

By now you have probably figured out that we loaded up the camper and pointed it towards North Dakota this week! The drive up was uneventful. Our route takes us through Sturgis. The rally had ended just a couple days before passing through and they were busy tearing stuff down.

After a 9 hour travel day we arrived at the farm a little after 7:00pm and got all set up. DeAnne came out to greet us but "the boys" were out in the field. A short time later Dylan pulled into the yard and said “You ready to get to work?”. We were not even there 15 minutes and I was off to the field. With just over 5,000 acres to harvest there is no time to dilly dally!

They are busy combining wheat at the moment and I was anxious to get into action! There are basically three roles in harvesting. The combine driver, the cart driver and the truck driver.

(l-r) Big Red (The Case) Ole Yeller' (The New Holland) and the 325 and cart

The combine driver has the most meticulous job cruising up and down the field usually at 1.5–4 mph running the head of the combine within inches of the ground trying to get all the wheat and leave as little stubble as possible. Eyes glued to the ground, they are on the lookout for rocks and other obstructions that could get sucked up into the header and ruin your day. Although it is mainly rocks they are looking for there are other things that somehow find their way into the field. Things you have to wonder how they got there like dead coyotes, car parts and this week included a 1.75 bottle of vodka….in the middle of a wheat field. One cannot help but wonder about the story of that bottle!

The hoppers of the combines will hold between 350 and 400 bushels (21,000-24,000 #’s) of wheat. Once the hopper get almost full the sensors will turn on strobe lights on top of the combine. That is when the cart driver jumps into action and races down the field (at 8-12 mph) to catch up to the combine and empty it on the go. The cart driver has to pull up next to the combine, get within 3-5’ of the header, match speeds and line itself up with the auger that swings out of the combine. Seems simple enough and it is until it isn’t. Go too fast and grain will spill out the back of the cart, go too slow, it will spill out the front, too far away, it spills out the far side. Get too close and run into the header….well, we don’t even want to talk about that.

Just the right distance from the header!

The cart will hold about 1,000 bushels of wheat but you rarely let it get that full. Once it is about ½ full or so you go over to the semi trucks and dump in there. The scale on the cart logs how many pounds are loaded into the semi, which grain bin it is going into back at the farm and how many pounds in total have come off that field.

Cart monitor

The most important thing about dumping into the semi is not to over load it. The road limits in this area are 80,000 #’s so we try to get as close to that as possible.

Dumping into the truck at sunset (hard to keep windows clean!)

Once the truck is full, the truck driver is off to the farm where the big auger is set up at the appropriate bin and it is emptied.

 Once that is done it is back to field to pick up the next truck. It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to turn a truck and get back to the field. By that time the next truck is usually full and waiting. 

When everything is running smoothly, it goes like clockwork and everyone is buzzing along. But this is farm life and not everything always goes smoothly. If one component goes down it affects the entire group. Flat tires on the semi, broken shear bolts on the auger, broken sickles on the header will bring the entire operation to a screeching halt. One time I saw Farmer Bob stop his combine in the middle of the field so I moseyed the cart over there to see what was going on. All I saw was Bob’s feet sticking out from under the combine and bent shards of metal being thrown into the field from some mad creature under it. I did not stop as those feet under the combine did not look too happy. Somehow the fan blades had broken and totally destroyed each other. Luckily the combine is still under warranty and the service truck came right out to the field and fixed it. 5 hours later he was back in business!

These fan blades are supposed to look like the new ones in the box Bob is sitting on!

Another time when Dylan was combining, this "swamp jumped right out in front" of him and he sunk about 3’ into the mud. Luckily the hero cart driver (me) was close by to pull him out and take pictures for prosperity! They just love it when something goes wrong and I am close by with my camera!

In a typical, no issues day they can get about 250 acres done in 10-12 hours. On the perfect day they would run longer than that but the morning and evening dew on the wheat affect the combines so we cannot start until about 10 or 11am and have to quit about the same time at night.

As much as we enjoy being up here we are already missing our home in South Dakota. The week before we left we had made some great progress at Kevin’s place. He made sure to line up as much heavy work for us to do as possible as he was going to be alone for the next several weeks.

The week before we left we put in the deck on the north side of his house....

 and got the post and timber trusses set for his covered porch.

You need a big saw to cut big timbers!

Just about ready for roof decking!

We also scored on a couple of cattle guards I found on Facebook Marketplace! We had been wanting some for quite a while and will install them when we get back.

But that will have to wait a few weeks as for right now we have more crops to harvest and Farmer Bob has removed all the tires from our truck promising to give them back once all the crops are off the field. But for now, it is down the field and off into the sunset!