By T. H. Hand
Editor's Note: This article, which is entirely fictitious, is offered for all those who enjoy one of rural America's favorite pastimes—watching the neighbor's farm.
We descend on the field across the fence from where you are working and harvest in four hours what you hope to accomplish in an entire day. Two monster combines, an 800-bu. grain cart, and three tandem-axle straight trucks play tag across the field, never slowing, never stopping, pushing, pushing, pushing so hard that the stalk choppers on the backs of the combines are still spitting cobs and shucks when they pull onto the road, headed for the next field.
We're the Biggses. We farm umpteen-thousand acres, have the newest, biggest equipment, and are the talk of the coffee shop in town. Everybody talks about how many acres we cover in a day, how well organized we are and how easily we get over all our ground. Well, folks, I'm here to reveal some of our secrets and let you know that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.
Let's take last Saturday as an example. According to the coffee shop crowd, we harvested 200 acres of corn that day, and had more than half that ground chisel plowed before midnight.
While the acreage count is accurate, how we accomplished it is a whole ‘nother story. Like every other farmer in the country, we'd been putting in 16-hour days all week, and were worn pretty thin by Saturday morning.
Daddy Biggs was checking the dryer when Junior and Bubba Biggs, his two thirty-ish sons, rolled in at 6:00 a.m. Junior was accompanied by his wife Babs, who drives one of our straight trucks. Bubba was accompanied by his usual Saturday morning hangover and a large ice chest, which he heaved up into the cab of the big four-wheel-drive tractor that had virtually been his home for the past three weeks.
Daddy Biggs had discovered that an igniter on the continuous-flow dryer had malfunctioned, and that the holding tank, rather than being empty and ready to receive a full day's harvest, was still brim full. The three men met in the middle of the driveway for a brief, yet spirited conference, where they discussed the wisdom of having bought a dryer from a dealer located 150 miles away. (Daddy had got a heck of a deal on the system.) After recalling that he had wanted to buy the dryer system from a local dealer, Junior reminded his father and brother that he and Babs had to leave at 10:30 a.m. to go to the university homecoming game. Bubba snorted, then pointedly reminded everyone that he was going to be done chisel plowing by the time the muzzleloader season for deer opened, even if he had to run over the combines and grain cart to do it.
Daddy stomped off to call the local dryer dealer to see if he could sweet-talk the needed parts out of him, while Junior hurried off to service Babs's truck. Babs had made it very clear that she was a truck driver, not a truck mechanic, and dirty, disgusting chores like checking the oil, filling the gas tanks and checking tire pressures were not part of her job description.
Just as Junior finished prepping Babs's truck, Grandpa and Grandma Biggs arrived. Dressed nearly alike in overalls, hooded sweatshirts, and seed corn caps, they looked like a pair of portly identical twins. They had farmed side by side for more than 50 years, thoroughly enjoyed their loud and frequent arguments. Each fall, they eagerly came out of retirement to drive truck and offer free advice on how the farm should be run.
I, the lowly hired hand and grain cart driver, had driven my rig home when we quit shortly after midnight the night before. After five hours sleep I had slowly crawled back into the cab of my tractor and driven to the home place.
Daddy Biggs was explaining that we would have to haul to town until he could locate repair parts for the dryer. One of his landlords had contracted his share of the crop to the co-op, so we would move all the equipment five miles down the road to that farm and work there all day. Babs loudly reminded everyone that she and Junior were leaving at 10:30 a.m. for the football game, and that Grandpa would have to run one of the combines.
When Grandpa grumbled he didn't know how to run such a complicated piece of equipment, Grandma volunteered to run it if it was too much for "the old weenie” to handle. They were still arguing when the rest of the Biggses started out the driveway to the field.
The two combines quickly opened up the new field, and I was soon busy shuttling between combines and trucks. The 12-mile round trip to town meant the trucks quickly fell behind the combines. Daddy Biggs eventually came on the radio complaining that the drivers needed to move a little faster. When I saw Grandpa top the hill of the gravel road at about 65 miles an hour, I knew Daddy had said the wrong thing.
Grandpa almost made the driveway into the field. It's not often you see a tandem-axle straight truck broad-sliding down a gravel road. When the dust settled, the right rear duals were in the ditch, with the rear axles high-centered on the edge of the driveway. The only damage was to Grandpa's stomach, which was unsettled for a few minutes by the chaw of chewing tobacco he swallowed during all the excitement.
Fortunately, Bubba was coming down the road with the big tractor and chisel plow, and was able to drag the truck onto level ground with the drag-line chain he always carries looped over the three-point hitch. Nobody noticed that a shank of his chisel plow dug up an old steel post as he backed up to hook onto Grandpa's truck.
Neither did Babs as she wheeled her truck into the driveway. It probably made a pretty loud popping sound when that fence post punctured the inside rear dual on her truck. Apparently she couldn't hear it over the noise of the motivation tape she was listening to in an effort to better prepare herself for the high-paying career in real estate for which she was studying.
By this time both combines and the grain cart were full. While I filled Babs, Grandpa wheeled his truck into the field to where the combines sat stranded. After filling Babs, I turned my tractor toward the combines and noticed a faint bluish haze surrounding Grandpa's truck. Junior must have noticed it too, because he bailed out of his combine cab with fire extinguisher in hand, headed for the truck.
Grandpa, unaware of the burning cornstalks wrapped around the truck's exhaust system, blissfully made a wide turn across the field and headed for town, leaving a trail of burning cornstalks in his wake.
While Junior and Daddy stomped and extinguished the biggest of the first, I ran the tires of the tractor and grain cart over the smaller spots and finally got everything out. Soon the combines were humming again and I was headed back to the end rows where Grandma waited for another load.
Just as I finished filling Grandma, Babs called from the co-op to say the guy opening tailgates had told her she had a flat tire.
So Junior called and told Grandma to wait so he could catch a ride to town with her to rescue Babs, and, besides, it was time for them to leave. He left his combine sitting on the end rows, and on the way to town used the radio to give Grandpa detailed operating instructions. Even though Grandpa kept saying "Uh-huh” and "Yep, I've got it,” nobody believed he had a clue about what Junior was telling him.
Grandpa parked his truck on the end rows and resolutely crawled into the cab of the combine. I saw the header go up and down a few times, experimentally, then the whole machine lurched forward, headed for the standing corn.
So now we had one truck driver (Grandma) for two trucks, and a third truck stranded at the co-op with a flat tire. Daddy roared up to the end rows, dumped his load into the truck, jumped into the truck cab and headed for town.
An hour later he was back, followed by the newly repaired truck. It had only taken a $20 "tip” to get the grease monkey at the local tire shop to fix Daddy's tire ahead of all the other farmers' tires waiting for repair.
While he was impatiently waiting for the tire to be repaired, Daddy had recruited a new truck driver from the cribbage crowd at the local coffee shop. Nate was a retired farmer, reasonably qualified to drive a truck, and happy to get a chance to work with a "big, organized operation like the Biggses.'”
Unfortunately, I don't have room to detail all the afternoon's activities, which included a broken unloading auger drive chain on Daddy's combine, a ruptured hydraulic hose on the chisel plow and Nate damaging the overhead door at the co-op when he forgot to lower his box after dumping his load.
Yes, the Biggses did harvest 200 acres of corn that Saturday, and yes, Bubba did chisel plow more than half of that acreage before he finally emptied his ice chest sometime early Sunday morning. And yes, if you had been watching from a field across the fence it probably would have looked very organized and very efficient.
But now you've heard what really goes on. So the next time we pull into a field next to yours, grab your Thermos, pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the show!
Farm Journal, January 1993