(The following is re-written from an article I wrote in 2009 when we were grain farming. I didn’t know at that time, two years later we would sell our land and retire. Today as we reflect, the changes in the farming industry are overwhelming. Corporate farms have indeed replaced most of the small farmers. Our equipment I mention in this article is now obsolete.)
“We’re still here trying to get the word out that 330 farmers are quitting every week . . As long as there’s a few farmers out there, we’ll keep fighting for them.” -Willie Nelson
It was a cold dark late September night as our two Massey Combines churned in the field. The moon was draped in clouds and the stars decided it wasn’t worth the effort to break through. My brother-in-law and our son were driving the twin Masseys. Randy was trying to keep up with emptying the grain truck as the combine hoppers, heavy with black canola seed, emptied into the truck box for transporting to the grain bins about a mile away.
We were down to one grain truck, the power steering hose had burst on the big Ford and it sat lifeless and useless somewhere in the canola stubble.
Driving our old meals-on-wheels rusty Chevy pickup, I was on a late night supper run, (yes, the last meal of the day here on the prairies is called SUPPER!) – the coffee hot and the cooler loaded with goodies. Waiting on the second combine to come to the truck to discharge its hopper load, and call the driver over to eat, impatient and edgy Randy, in the passenger seat was downing his second cup of java. I really wanted him to understand that being in the driver’s seat puts me at a huge disadvantage. My stone-deaf right ear faces the passenger seat and I am unable to hear – especially with the noisy combine engines running. I knew my farmer had other things on his mind and didn’t respond. I heard him say, “Drive me down the field to get the grain truck.” That’s the honest truth about what I heard, so away we went in the dark night. I had to ask him to point me to it. The boonies in darkness have no helpful neon road signs. His hands waved directions and I dropped him off and watched him climb into the industrial old grain truck.
I made my way back following the lights of the combine and parked in the same spot. I waited and watched for headlights, taillights – anything that suggested he was following. Ten minutes later he parked beside me and opened the passenger door, “Where did you go? You were supposed to come and get me!” Apparently he wanted to leave the truck at the edge of the field, half a mile away. I hadn’t heard that part.
When the second combine emptied its heavy load and the driver had his supper, Randy, instructing me to follow, then wait for him again, got into the big truck. We would make another attempt to park it so it would be close for the two combine drivers to empty their hopper loads. Off I sped into the night following his taillights.
Back beside me in the passenger seat, the night windy and stirring up dust that obscured combine lights, I had no idea I was headed in the opposite direction till I heard, “Where the heck are you going?” My sense of direction had become higgledy-piggledy in the black night. I turned around as the wheels vibrated over and through the rough field. Anxious about being at the edge of a nearby swamp, suddenly he yelled, “Get off the swath! You’re driving on the swath!” Animated, arms waving directions, he was instructing me to just go back the same way I had come – asinine advice to me attempting to navigate in an obscure, moonless murky field.
Finally and with relief as I drove the dusty back roads towards the lights of home, I burst out laughing. My deafness had caused both of us a lot of tension and dissension. I learned years ago that during harvest time a farmer’s wife requires a sense of humour, serenity and stamina.
I can never really get lost on our land for it is our existence, our essence and Randy was agitated and anxious because that night the farm-clock was ticking. It is a life that continues to evaporate as farmers and farms become corporate and new combines have half a million dollar price tags.
For now it is what we do – which come to think of it, reminds me of something else Willie Nelson said, “All I do is play music and golf – which one do you want me to give up?”