The last day of harvest is bittersweet.  Like the native vine with striking orange berries, it is crusty and brilliant all at the same time.

The Last Day of Harvest is Bittersweet as hardships and joys are intermingled like frost and sunshine.   Susanne heading to the combine on the last day of harvest.

We finished combining corn last Friday afternoon. In the morning, frost covered the top leaves of the stalks and the seed heads of wildflowers and weeds. The wind from the West created less of a windchill than I had imagined it would.
The sun shattered the long shadows of autumn and melted a brown slurry on the pathways the wagons and other equipment had forged in the fields. The deer, hidden all summer, were exposed as they gleaned the trampled corn stalks. The patch of Tamarack in the gully shone like a range of golden mountains, even after the sky had clouded over.
Snow and rain loomed in the extended weather forecast as our area’s farmers counted down the acres to “done”.

“Joe’s done. Is Bill done yet?” are common short conversations this time of year.

Being done is the goal.

Crop quality and quantity is just a fact at this point. There is nothing left to do: no fertilizing or spraying or cultivating, praying or hoping can change the trajectory of your farming ambitions at this point. Just get “done”.

Harvest is Bittersweet

During harvest, my job is to run the combine. Manfred, who really is the farmer in this operation, does everything else.

This year, we have a new-to-us combine. It is a bit larger but similar model to our previous unit. The cab controls are familiar and, to my delight, the heating system is more reliable and responds better to my on-demand needs. The heads, that vary in style depending on the crop you are harvesting, are longer and take a wider swath of crops than our last combine.

This combine and its grain head, an elongated spinning wheel, arrived only a few days before soybean harvest in the fall. Manfred was not entirely happy with the combination but a dearth of decent quality equipment for our size of farming operation made compromise a necessity. He was concerned that the grain head was too big for the combine and the model didn’t have many five-star reviews.

We travelled to the dealership and saw the combine and the head run together, since they had come from two different farmers. It worked fine, so we bought them both.

Everything looked good upon arrival. Once it was hooked up in the yard, Manfred started it. The sounds and sights of grinding metal, flying metal and crunching metal led to an immediate shut down. For some reason, the long auger tube was moving and shearing off the metal fingers that stuck out down its length. After purchases from three different farm machinery equipment dealers to get enough, 20 fingers were replaced. A sheared-off bolt was replaced and adjustments made.

Following another successful run-up, we headed for a test run in the field. One thing that we had been told was that sometimes this length of auger would warp a little when it sat for awhile. We were cautioned that it would clank and bang a bit on start up, but once warmed-up would operate smoothly.

As we headed into the field, Manfred engaged the header. It started to spin. Immediately, the gnashing and smashing of metal sounded. Above the din, Manfred yelled “I don’t think I’m going to like this header”.  Then we noticed metal fingers flinging themselves like skipping stones out the front of the machine.

Shut down.

Frustrated, furious and forlorn we wondered what could be wrong. Twenty of the new fingers needed to be replaced again, but more importantly, the source of the problem had to be found.

Manfred looked over the machine and a neighbouring farmer stopped by. They stared at the scrapings on the bottom face of the head and looked up, down and all around the auger. That’s when they noticed that the auger fins were hitting the back of the head at the same time the fingers were being dismembered.

Finally, they realized that the head was not attached to the combine correctly. It wasn’t noticeable, but the bar on the back of the header was 5 inches wide and the cradle that it sat in was 6 inches wide. All was good until the header was put into the position to combine and then it slipped back causing the fins and the fingers to be pushed forward to smash against the metal bottom of the header.

Manfred made a couple of shims, stuck them in the cradle and we were ready to go.

What had seemed catastrophic was a simple fix. The combine took us through the soybean and corn harvest with the smallest of adjustments.

The eight row corn head matched up with the rows made by the eight-row planter. Once I was set on the same pattern, the corn stalks slid easily between the snouts and the cobs were gobbled up by the auger and rotor.

The Last Day of Harvest is Bittersweet

By the final day, we had organized ourselves into a well-choreographed routine.

As the last rows disappeared, a doe and fawn stepped out of the pines along the edge of the field. Only a hundred feet away from them, I turned the combine toward the farm yard. The fawn bent to nibble on a dropped cob of corn. The doe watched as the big, red, dangerous thing moved noisily away from them. She had seen this happen before. And all had been well.

The last day of harvest is bittersweet.
(The dealership where we purchased the combine was extremely supportive and responsive through the whole process, it was a joy to work with them.)