Thursday, May 29, 2008

Warning - Grain Dust is Explosive

My wife's job takes her all over the panhandle state we live in, and on occasion she'll get to bring the family along for the adventure.

Just yesterday we returned from a few days of work-related R&R centered on the states burgeoning Agritourism industry.

Turns out the wheat harvest for the entire mid-section of the nation begins at or around Frederick, Oklahoma (a mere 17 miles north of the Texas/OK border). History and tradition dictates that the millions of acres of winter planted wheat matures in the southern most section of the nation's wheat belt first.

And since most farmers don't bother spending the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to buy combines and grain trucks, a great number of independent harvesters ("Custom Cutters") descend upon the farmers and their ripening wheat in a race to make the best and most amount of harvesting deals.

Think, "Deadliest Catch," only instead of crab boats on the Bering Sea, you have trailers and converted busloads of harvesters from all over the country (North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas) and around the globe (Saskatchewan, Toronto, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.) with their monstrous combines and 40-foot wide headers in tow.

These groups of nomadic harvesters slowly migrate their way up the nation's mid-section, making deals, cutting the wheat, and delivering the seed to grain elevators, following the ripening wheat from it's southern environs to the northern fields of the Dakota's.

High dollar deals are sealed with handshakes (no kidding), and I've learned that there are so many things that can go wrong with every stage of the wheat harvest, it's amazing to me that even my small town's grocery store has bags of flour for sale and loaves of bread on the aisle.

As luck would have it I was egged into taking a ride up a rickety 60-year old one-man lift to the top of a grain elevator where I pondered the sign on the wall warning against smoking due to the explosive properties of "grain dust."

The day ended in grand style for my family and I as we were invited to climb aboard and plop our citified butts down in the jump seats of two of these monsters, a Case IH Axial-Flow 8010 combine harvester with a 405 hp (@2100 rpm) electronically governed, 10.3 liter 6-cylinder motor with air-to-air aftercooled turbocharger and a 36' header.

Oh, baby.

It was like being in a Robotech (Macross) battloid in Guardian Mode.

Seriously, it was that cool. The operator cab with it's huge windows and plush seats came fully equipped with a powerful A/C, killer amped up stereo system, weather radio, multi-channel communication system, GPS, and a cup holder contraption that Bentley should take note of. Even my 8-year old that was digging the ride from the discomfort of my lap was awe struck and itching to get her hands on the wheel, F-15 fighter like joystick (only with more buttons), and LCD monitor controller interface.

Wifey and PK were grain drag racing us in another identical model a mere wheat row or so over.

When it came time to send out the auger arm to dump our load, the combined skills of our 19-year old harvester operator and accompanying grain truck driver to synchronize their mega-ton rolling beasts for a moving transfer of the precious wheat seed, was truly inspiring - especially for a guy that has trouble parallel parking his 12-foot long import rice runner.

I cut together some clips of our combine ride to make a 15 meg quicktime flick here. It starts out with PK demonstrating by hand what a combine actually does to the wheat once it's cut and collected and is underscored by really cheeseball with a capital "C" music. But if it irritates you just turn the sound down and make loud, rumbly, 10.3 liter diesel motor noises while you watch the vid.

I have to say, after spending the day learning about all things wheat, I may have to relegate rice as second fiddle in the grain hierarchy of my gluttonous mind.

And okay, roaming the country cutting wheat and driving a Transformer-like combine may not be my ideal job description, but then again, there wasn't a pointed-headed boss or florescent light in sight.


Patience said...

Hey! I've actually been to Frederick OK. Spent some time there with long-gone relatives who lived there at the time.

Lovely . . . place. (she lied)

redforkhippie said...

Duuuuuude ... Kenny Chesney's tractor might be sexy, but that combine kicks arse.

OKDad said...

The girls each came home with little red Case tractor die cast toys, which they picked out as souvies for our adventure.

They're not Hot Wheels (which started my love for all things vehicular), but they're a start.