Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Harvest at 110 degrees

If you’ve ever heard about the cushy life of farmers who harvest their fields from the air-conditioned cabs of their combines, and truck drivers doing the same, well, it might be true for BIG farmers, but for average Joes like us, the American Small Farmer, it’s hardly true at all.
Yes cabs of our very old combines are air-conditioned. But … these cabs are designed like mini-glass greenhouses to begin with. If they weren’t air-conditioned, the combine driver would literally fry to death.
Frequently, it’s necessary to open the door a crack, because the outside air IS actually cooler. But then the dust blows in. (Before cabs, farmers used to get emphysema from all the dust.)
If the air-conditioning is working well, it can only keep the inside of the cabs about ten degrees cooler than the outside air. So yesterday, it was 90 degrees in those tiny little glass boxes.
But the truck drivers have it worse. Yesterday, we had a skeleton crew. Our older truck driver, Ken, is out for the rest of the season, due to the fact that he thinks he may be suffering from lyme disease. (He hunts bears in Michigan every fall, which is where he may’ve contracted it. We have no lyme-bearing tics in this area.) Our daughter with the three children also took the day off (and me! not babysitting her kids and puppy).
The truck-driving crew was down to Rosanna and our 21-year-old nephew, Jens. Fortunately, we were harvesting at the River Ranch, where we have home storage (grain bins) and it wasn’t necessary to truck the wheat more than a mile or so. Home storage means that fewer truck drivers are needed to keep up with the output of the combines. Assuming both combines are running. Very often, one or both of them is broke down.
Back to harvesting at 110 degrees: Rosanna drives the Kenworth, which is does not have air-conditioning at all. But the air-conditioning in the other trucks is faulty at best. 
Poor Rosanna, with the heat coming off the truck’s enormous, (Cummins) Diesel engine all day long, the inside of her cab was about 110 degrees
She complained about it, but not as much as you might think. She is a real trooper out in the harvest field, and an excellent semi-driver.
What do you do when you’re working in that kind of heat? 
  • You drink, literally, a gallon of water throughout the day. 
  • And you hop inside your dad’s “air-conditioned cab” whenever possible, to enjoy the mere 90-degree heat. 
  • You also confiscate every lunchbox ice pack that you can find–your own, your dad’s, your brother’s–and press it against your overheated body until the ice in the ice packs melts. 
  • Then you get out the towels you had soaked in water and press them against your skin. The towels are wet, but unfortunately, they’re not cool. 
  • You look forward to when it’s time to unload your truck, so you can get out and stand by the auger at the grain bins and watch while the wheat unloads. (You also need to be proficient at getting your truck in exactly the right spot, running and manipulating a 60′ auger. Rosanna can do it!)
So that’s what harvesting at 110 degrees was like yesterday. Rosanna’s biggest beef was that a half-dozen photographers from Seattle (or somewhere) had discovered the River Ranch Road and were there, taking pictures of the incredible views. But also of the trucks as they passed by them on the dusty, single-lane, sometimes winding road. I guess they were taking pictures of the “wildlife” (combine/truck drivers) in their natural habitat. 
Oh, and Rosanna had never seen the GeoCache that someone had planted behind a tree ten years ago. She opened it up and studied its contents. Unfortunately, there was tree sap all over the openers, and so her hands got pretty sticky.
The dust, the heat, the sap … her energy was still quite sapped (pun intended) this morning as she headed off for work.
But we called in reinforcements … her sister will be out by 11:00 am, and I will be babysitting again … 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Of Harvest, Gardens, Grandkids and Puppies

For our crew, which includes two combine drivers (husband and son) and three or four truck drivers, harvest so far’s been about keeping the combines and trucks running so that the grain can be cut and taken to storage. That’s what it’s always about.
This year, there’s been so many combine breakdowns that if the crop yields are good enough, and our cash flow warrants it, it’s time to upgrade to a newer combine sometime before harvest next year. We’re driving combines that are 20 and 35 years old, and metal fatigue is setting in big time. At least one of the combines breaks down just about every day. What a headache, and hours’ worth of lost production time.
For me this year, harvest has been about babysitting three of our grandchildren while their mother (our daughter) drives one of the semis. Our other daughter is also a truck driver, as well as our nephew and Ken, a retired truck driver who is no relation to us. It is a house full, with MaryAnn and her kids camping out at night on the sofas in the living room and a queen-sized air mattress that sits between the sofa and the TV. Our other daughter has her own bedroom in the basement, as she is living with us for a few months. 

Besides babysitting the kids, I’ve been taking care of the kids’ 6-week old puppy, Ruby, who is a Boston Terrier/Boxer mix. (Well, that was how old she was when harvest started. Now she’s 8 weeks old, and by the time harvest is over, she’ll be 9 weeks old.) The puppy loves and wants to make friends with our cat, but the cat is afraid of the puppy, so the cat hides out most of the time, outside, or on the third floor, or in the basement. 
The puppy is adorable, simply adorable, but I also discovered that she is SUCH A DOG!
Whenever I take her outside to pee, her nose zeros in on all the booby traps in our yard, namely dead mice that the cat caught and left under the shrubs; cat poo; dried up bird carcasses–all of which the puppy has chowed down on. Disgusting!
So when the puppy comes inside, she gets her mouth cleansed with pieces of cooked chicken, pork chops, whatever–and, nonetheless, I warned the kids not to let puppy lick their faces. Oops, looks like puppy’s about ready to lick Felicia’s face. 

Besides the wheat, garbanzos and barley being ripe, so are our gardens. We have two–a traditional field garden and a raised-bed garden, which was something new this year. The raised beds are so overflowing with produce (onions, beets, bush beans, lettuce and carrots), they look like Chia Pets. 

My flowers are also pretty. The rose on the deck is done blooming, but you can’t beat annuals to keep flowering throughout summer until frost. 
I’ll be babysitting most of next week too. It’s been fun (and exhausting) to be “mommy” again. The grandkids have taken to calling me “Mom–I mean, Grandma …” 
With luck, my daughter will get a day off next week and so will I. When that happens, I plan to drive out to the River Ranch and ride with my husband in his combine for a couple of hours … assuming it’s he’s not standing outside of it, welding up a huge crack in the metal or some other annoyance. 
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