Our harvest and seeding help this year was my dear friend Stephanie, or Stennie. If you don't remember my introductory post about her, check it out HERE. She was truly our Girl Friday while she was here- helping us out with a variety of tasks, and always with a cheerful smile. Tonight is her last night on the Hi-Line. Tomorrow, we're driving down to Bozeman, then sending her on the plane back to Iowa on an early Saturday morning flight. Stennie was kind enough to write a reflection on her time working and playing with us over the past two months. So, it's Goodbye, Girl Friday, Harvest Help, Dear Friend... Goodbye, Stennie (for now!) Read on...
“Take corners in 2nd gear with a load. A slow idle in 3rd is ok if the truck’s empty. Take the Goldstone Road intersection in 3rd whether empty or full.” I repeated to myself Jeff’s suggestions as I drove the red truck back to Katie and Jeff’s yard from their spring wheat fields north of the correction line. The truck was full: I was hauling about 24,000 pounds of wheat, just harvested. It was up to me to know how to stop the truck with that load, not putting too much faith in the brakes, needing to know when to downshift for the engine to help slow the momentum. Shifting gears in these trucks has been a full upper body movement for me. In the red truck I had to lean forward to shove the gear into 2nd, feeling for it to click a few times as it settles into place.
Happily now, almost two months later, driving the red truck has become much more intuitive. I do still struggle to find 1st gear in Esther and only yesterday did I finally beat my previously max speed of 17 mph in the tandem. Though I can be hard on myself, I want to celebrate what I have learned. At first, each truck’s idiosyncrasies were overwhelming. The red truck was simple: start and stop with a turn of the key. Add a step in Esther: make sure the “engine stop” knob is pushed in before turning the key to start; pull that knob to shut off the engine when done. As for the tandem… start by turning the key, then pushing the black button, then let the air build, then push in the yellow knob to turn off the air brakes … At least now I can successfully move any one of them to where they need to be, albeit some more quickly than others.
|This truck is named Esther.|
I’ve enjoyed driving truck for both harvest and seeding. I appreciated the rhythm of a harvest day, from washing combine windows first thing in the morning to learning to anticipate when the combine driver would have cut enough wheat or barley to need to dump into my truck. I was excited and intimidated to “unload on the go,” which means drive alongside the combine so they could continue cutting while unloading into my truck, but I managed it. Then, once my truck was full, I would have to find my way to whichever bin I was supposed to unload into, driving carefully, gaining confidence in my truck driving skills and mental map of the area with each trip.
Once I reached the grain bin, I would back the truck up to the auger. (I remember one of my first days here I asked Katie what an auger was when she told me we had to help Tom move one. I’m pretty sure her answer was “Oh, you’ll see.” During harvest I’d see them in my sleep, just about.) Once the truck was the proper distance from the auger, I’d turn on the truck’s PTO to tilt its box up. Next, I would turn on the tractor, which powered the auger. Then I’d let the grain flow out of the truck into the auger, whispering up its length and into the bin (see photo). Once the truck was empty, I would head back out to the field for the next load. This cycle would repeat maybe ten times in a full harvest day. Though the tasks were repetitive, it was critical to stay focused and in full awareness, listening for different engine noises and noticing different smells (like from a hot engine) which might indicate a problem.
|Dumping the red truck into the auger.|
And how can I discuss harvest without mentioning the harvest meals? I looked forward to the camaraderie of the whole crew pausing to eat dinner in the field, or pushing til dusk (or darker) and eating late in the house, with huge thanks to Carol and Katie for cooking such delicious feasts. Though we worked some long days, the feeling of support and caring that subtly permeated each day seemed to coalesce into the sharing of the evening meal.
Just about as soon as harvest was wrapping up, winter wheat seeding began. It’s been funny to drive full trucks of seed wheat to the field and empty trucks back to the yard, just the opposite of harvest. I recognize how much more comfortable I am driving the trucks now and how I’ve learned the roads up here in Goldstone country, knowing when to slow down or stay to one side to avoid the biggest potholes and rocks.
|Combine unloading wheat onto the red truck.|
I also have a much greater appreciation for all the rock piles I’ve been driving by all this time, since I’ve done some rock picking now too, moving the biggest rocks that could pose a hazard to the equipment that will be used in the field. Mostly I enjoyed the task, in small doses. When a field seemed never-ending, I tried to remind myself that the rocks are a legacy of the glaciers, which deposited them as they formed this topography and started this soil: the foundation allowing this land to be farmed. Rock picking is also a satisfying job for many reasons. I got to drive the tractor (still an exciting novelty for me!), cruising around the fields and singing along to the radio. I would gauge the relative sizes of the rocks I would pass, trying not to ignore a big one when a good song was playing. When I spotted an especially large one, I practiced maneuvering the bucket of the tractor into place so I could more easily tilt the rock into it. I’d hop down off the tractor and muscle the rock into the bucket. Nothing like some heavy lifting to feel like a good job done, plus, countless rocks later, the satisfaction of dumping the tractor’s full bucket into a pile at the edge of the field and hearing the clatter of the rocks tumble out.
Throughout all my varied jobs here, Tom and Jeff have been excellent teachers. Their patience, trust, and good humor made the work enjoyable. I always appreciated their willingness to take some extra time to answer my questions, telling me why a task is done a certain way or how a tool or machine works.
So far it sounds like I’ve only been working, which is not the case. I also had some fun weekend excursions while here in Montana. I was in Glacier twice, simply a magical place. Katie and I spent an enjoyable (if rainy) weekend in Great Falls; we walked along the river trail, visited Giant Springs and, of course, had a beer at the Sip and Dip (though Piano Pat was gone, so I’m not sure my visit there counts). Brett took me to explore two gems of the Hi-Line: we hiked in the Sweet Grass Hills and floated a stretch of the Marias River. We also squeezed in a quick visit to the Milk River, where I heard elks bugling for the first time!
Another first was the faint whisper of the Northern Lights one evening after a long harvest day. I also loved that the Milky Way was visible on every clear night. Harvey and I (and sometimes Iggy) enjoyed sunset walks most evenings, soaking up the calming vastness of the Hi-Line horizon, reveling in the sound of an exuberant coyote party that would occasionally punctuate the cricket-quiet near dusk. If only the mosquitoes hadn’t just kept coming, even after that snow! There’s that saying about Montana farmers being able to grow excellent wheat on two dews and a mist, which apparently yields a bumper crop of mosquitoes too!
Pesky bugs aside, I have loved my time here staying with Katie and Jeff. I’m so grateful for their generosity and friendship. I have also felt warmly welcomed by everyone I’ve met, each conversation building on to my sense of the beauty of this place, but also making me that much more sad to leave. I will definitely be back to visit… I hear calving season is even more fun than harvest time!