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by The Red, John Fritz
Fall is my second favorite season behind the long days of summer. The calendar reads late September and it’s time to start running beans. This article is about my experiences helping my farm neighbor Ernie Swoveland, along with his grandsons Jeff and Craig Ring, with the soybean harvest in East Central Indiana for the 1999 season.
I did some prep work on the John Deere 6620 combine, in Ernie’s barnyard, before we started at 3:30 PM. I had to replace 2 cutter teeth due to rock damage. The job took about 10 minutes. We also greased approximately 50 grease fittings. I fueled the combine and checked the oil, coolant and hydraulic fluid levels. I also replaced 6 rake fingers that were broken. The 6620 had a 1994 JD 915 grain table that incorporated the plastic rake fingers. They have a tendency to break more frequently than metal ones, but won’t do damage to the cylinder and drum if they go through the combine. The table cuts a 15 foot wide path.
I rode shotgun with Ernie. I had quite a few hours on a JD 4420 but he wanted me to become familiar with the controls and the cockpit before I started “breaking it”. The 6620 is similar to the 4420 so it didn’t take long to figure out how the controls functioned. The main difference between the combines is that the 6620 features the variable speed hydrostatic drive. We used 3rd. gear as our base speed. Then you slowly move the variable lever forward or back to achieve the desired speed, either forward or reverse. You do not have to use the shift lever. This feature is really helpful when you are unloading into the semi-trailer or the hopper wagons. You can move forward or backwards with ease to fill the trailer or wagons.
The instrumentation is comprised of both round dial gauges and digital readouts so we could monitor various functions. It also had a grain monitor that you can select either the straw walkers or the chopper to see if you are throwing grain onto the field. If the needle starts climbing into the green zone, you need to tighten the cylinder. Ground speed wise we were running about 3.3 mph in this particular field. No matter what combine one uses, drum speed and the correct tightness on the cylinder is critical so that you are not leaving grain on the ground. You can also tighten the cylinder too tight and start cracking the beans. At today’s low grain prices, spilling grain could wipe out what slim profits are available. The other main difference is that the unloading augur tube is 3 feet longer. The tube is 12 inches in diameter so it can unload the 175 bushel tank in approximately 2 minutes. The terrain following feature on the grain table was not working, so Ernie had to constantly raise or lower the table as we crossed 2 swills in this field. Apparently one of the grand kids buried the table toes into the ground on a swill because the left main guide was slightly bent. At least that is what Ernie told me. They have fun blaming each other or City Boy John on each other’s mishaps.
Jeff and Craig were out in the field at 5:00 P.M. Ernie and I decided to let them fight over who was going to run the combine the rest of the evening. Jeff had been running combines for 20 years since age 11. I had figured out you don’t argue with him about who is going to run the machine. So I sat in the pickup with the country and western music running in the background as darkness developed. Due to the drought conditions in Indiana, there had been numerous field fires this harvest with many started from hot parts from combines. So I volunteered for fire observation for the evening. Jeff had a cellular phone on the combine and I had mine in the truck. I also had the local fire department telephone number written down just in case we developed a fire we couldn’t control. We had 2 fire extinguishers on the combine this year.
At 6:00 P.M. a rented panel truck pulled behind my barn. Jeff and I went to investigate while Craig ran the combine. It was the seed dealer with Jeff’s winter wheat on board. We unloaded it onto my flat bed wagon in the rear of my barn. Jeff was trying a new planting concept for the winter wheat. Traditionally one plants wheat in the fall and usually harvests the crop in the first week of July. Then some farmers turn around and immediately plant a crop of soybeans. The term is called double cropping. This technique has not worked well for July planted soybeans in Indiana, especially if you have a dry summer. Yields this year on the fall soybean crop will only be around 10 to 15 bushels per acre. Under this test concept, Jeff will disable every other planter on the wheat drill. Instead of planting every 7˝ inches, he will plant every 15 inches. Then in the spring he will plant soybeans between the wheat rows. Theoretically the wheat and soybean yields should develop near normal yields, resulting in better profitability then double cropping the field. Since Jeff is in a test program, he only had to pay for the soybeans. The problem I see with this concept is the maneuvering of the combine while harvesting the wheat. The main tires on the combine are very wide and I foresee damage to the soybeans, especially at the ends of the field.
Harvest came to a halt around 8:00 PM. We had the semi trailer filled and the beanstalks were getting tough. Jeff also had a bunch of soybean stalks ball up and broke almost 50 forks on the table rake. This field had a variety of soybeans that had long vines. Seeing rocks on the ground at night while running was nearly impossible until they were already hitting the cutters. We were lucky and did not pick up any rocks nor break any cutter knives.
I was awake and out of the farmhouse at 6:30 A.M. Saturday. The combine was still in the field adjacent to my farmhouse since we had 10 acres left to run. I checked fluid levels and removed the large paper type air filter. I took it to my garage and blew out the bean dust using my compressor and air gun. Ernie arrived in the field at 7:30 A.M. and we assessed what parts were needed. He went to Muncie to get fuel filters and forks for the table rake. Jeff showed up at 8:00 A.M. and was trying to figure out why the terrain following feature was not working. After checking sensor switches, he noticed the wiring harness on the grain table had been damaged by mice. So we pulled the entire harness out and removed the plastic cabling. We discovered that the eight 18 gauge wires had their insulation completely eaten for about one foot. Jeff had shrink tubing and connectors in his electrical toolbox. By 10:00 A.M., I had the forks replaced and Jeff had the wiring fixed and re-installed. He and brother Craig did a test run making sure the terrain feature was working. The soybeans were too tough to combine, so we worked on Jeff’s planter drill preparing it for winter wheat planting.
Combining began in earnest at 11:30 A.M. Jeff was drilling wheat accompanied by his 7 year old son Taylor. Craig was running the combine and I pulled one loaded hopper wagon at a time back to Ernie’s farm using my 1945 Farmall H. A semi trailer was scheduled to arrive at Ernie’s farm early afternoon. Ernie and I had the field augur set up in the barnyard to unload soybeans into the semi trailer. I have pulled hopper wagons with Ernie’s Farmall M and Super M many times. You can pull two loaded 250 bushel hoppers with either machine easily. Surprisingly the H did a great job pulling one at a time but it was working hard. The exhaust flapper stood vertical and the governor was running flat out. I shifted through the gears until I was in 4th. I did not attempt to pull in road gear. The last time that 1945 Farmall H saw that level of work was 30 years ago. I pulled the 375 bushel hopper wagon with Ernie’s JD 4240. It has the Soundgard cab, power steering, deluxe seat and a radio. It has the quad 4 differential selector with a 4 speeds forward, 2 speeds reverse transmission. One can get spoiled quickly driving that tractor. It has 6,500 hours on it and still runs strong.
The harvest proceeded smoothly during the afternoon. Craig was running the combine and I continued lining up the hopper wagons at the field augur, at the Swoveland Farm. I pulled out my Grandpa’s 1941 H, which Ernie owns, and hooked it to the augur PTO shaft. I let it run for a few minutes to warm it up and to charge the battery. That H has a slight crack in the manifold and does not run very well until it is warmed up. I also made it a point to step in Swoveland’s kitchen and have some of wife Mary’s fine country cooking. She had a variety of “see foods” available. If you go hungry at Swoveland’s, it is your own fault!
The skies clouded up around 4:00 P.M. The forecast had called for some cloudiness but no rain. We had planned to run beans until late evening. Ernie was on the phone trying to track down the semi trailer with no success. The trucker forgot his cell phone so we had no communications. To our surprise it began to rain around 4:30 P.M. I quickly placed the 1941 Farmall H into the shed, and Ernie and I started pulling the hopper wagons into 2 different sheds and barns with my 1945 H and Ernie’s Farmall Super M. I ran the JD 4240 down to the field and hauled the 375 bushel hopper back to the barn. Jeff had just finished drilling wheat and Craig brought the combine back to the house. We were all disappointed about the rain. We knew this was going to be a difficult harvest with not too many dry days forecast for late September and early October. Fortunately the rain stopped by 5:30 P.M. and the forecast was for clearing skies Saturday evening and Sunday.
Sunday morning was clear and quite windy. The forecast was for sunny skies with temperatures in the middle 70s for most of the day. Another front with rain and cooler weather was forecast for the evening. Ernie had Church activities for most of the day so Jeff, Craig and myself were pretty much on our own to bring in the harvest. The semi arrived at 9:00 A.M. Trucker Jerry Fisher maneuvered the semi and Jeff and I ran the field augur and unloaded hoppers. Jerry returned later in the morning and augured another load of beans from the grain bin. It was near capacity. Jeff and I started prepping the combine at 10:00 A.M. and had it ready to go in about an hour. Amazingly there were no parts that had to be replaced. That spooked both of us because the combine usually has some part that needs repaired or replaced. I asked Jeff if this was an omen for a major breakdown today. He did not take that remark too kindly.
We had 3 partially combined fields remaining at Paul Huckaby’s farm to run today for a total of 60 acres. Paul is retired and Ernie cash rented his fields and 2 barns. I spent most of the day carting hopper wagons from one field to another and back to the Swoveland farm using Ernie’s Farmall Super M or the JD 4240. I had Grandpa’s 1941 Farmall H hooked to the grain bin loading augur and I was in charge of auguring the grain into the 5,000 bushel bin. Speaking of using equipment of various eras, I unloaded the 1980s hoppers that I pulled with either the 1978 JD 4240 or the 1950s Farmall Super M. I was running the 1982 grain bin augur with a 1941 Farmall H with hand crank start due to a weak battery!
Another semi arrived in Paul’s 40 acre far west field Sunday afternoon so I staged the empty hopper wagons towards the north end of the field. We had Trucker Donnie place the trailer on a grass path towards the south end. The sunny skies gave away to increasing cloudiness around 4:00 P.M. The temperature also began to fall. By now the combine was running low on fuel. I drove back to the Swoveland farm and filled the fuel tank, in Jeff’s pickup bed, and brought the pickup to the field and filled the combine. We became increasingly concerned that today’s running would get cut short due to rain.
After I filled the combine with fuel, I asked Jeff if I could run it. He responded, “I don’t think Grandpa wants you to run it”, then started laughing. I was in the cockpit ready to go before he decided to say no. Jeff rode shotgun several rounds to give instructions that consisted of “leave the augur tube in until you dump so you don’t hit a tree AGAIN”! It started sprinkling around 7:30 P.M. Craig had shown up in the field after supper, so I took the JD 4240 and the partially filled 375 bushel hopper back to the grain bin at the Swoveland Farm and dumped it. Jeff and Craig had the semi filled by 8:00 P.M. It was starting to rain steady so Jeff and Craig covered the semi-trailer and brought the combine back to the house. We left the empty hoppers in the field and I placed the 1941 Farmall H in the shed. We proceeded to Ernie’s kitchen and helped ourselves to “see food”. We talked about the day’s events and Jeff and Craig were having a hay day picking on me about some of my mishaps on the JD 4420 combine through the years.
I awoke to dense fog Monday morning around 6:30 A.M. I proceeded to the field to check on the semi and the empty hopper wagons. To my surprise the field was very soggy. Apparently it rained steady during the night. I drove the pickup onto the field and almost got stuck. After selecting 4 wheel drive and a lot of throttle, I was able to get back onto the path. Soybean trash on a wet field was slick as driving on ice! Ernie brought the JD 4240 to the field and moved the empty hoppers off the path so the semi wouldn’t get stuck in the combined field. Since we had rain Sunday night, it would probably be Tuesday afternoon before we were able to run the combine again. So I returned to Indianapolis to my office job. My plans were to work in the office Monday through Wednesday, then head to the farm to help run beans on Thursday. The extended forecast called for clear weather Tuesday through Thursday, but rain for Friday.
I arrived at the farm around 9:00 A.M. Thursday. Ernie had the combine, Jeff’s JD 4240 and the 4 largest hoppers stationed on ground 5 miles east of our farms immediately south of the town of Modoc. They were able to run 40 acres of beans Tuesday evening and Wednesday. Today we had 25 acres to run. Our plans were to finish this field, then move all the equipment west about 8 miles to Herman Rodeffer’s farm, which consisted of 100 acres of soybeans in two locations. Jeff and Ernie were being paid by the acre to combine the beans for Herman. Ernie and I began running beans at 10:00 A.M. with Ernie at the controls. As we ran our North/South rounds towards the west, Ernie pointed out how you could see light through some of the bean pods. This field apparently got too dry and the bean pods aborted beans early in their development. The beans were also getting smaller as the meter kept signaling that we needed to tighten the cylinder. Around noon we called the trucker, on my cell phone, to find out that trucker would not arrive until mid-afternoon. So we stopped for a brief lunch, which wife Mary Swoveland had brought to the field. Ernie drove me back to the Swoveland farm and I returned with Ernie’s JD 4240, pulling my hopper and Ernie’s 100 bushel JD hopper. We now had enough hopper capacity to run the combine until late afternoon. By having 2 tractors in the field, we could leave one hooked to the field augur and could pull the hoppers to the augur with the other one, thus saving time loading the trailer.
Trucker Donnie finally arrived around 2:30 P.M. I ran the combine while Ernie pulled the hoppers and Donnie operated the augur and the semi. Loading the semi with the field augur took around 45 minutes.
After the semi departed, we hooked one hopper and the field augur to one tractor, which I drove, hooked two hoppers to the other tractor, which Jeff drove following me, and hooked the largest hopper to Ernie’s pickup who took up the rear of the convoy. By now it was pitch dark, so we headed the convoy west to the Swoveland farm and called it a night. I was leading the convoy and had the JD 4240 running flat out. At about half way through our 5 mile journey, impatient Jeff passed me in his tractor and hoppers like I was tied to a fence post. When I had 1˝ miles to go, Jeff was already parked in the barnyard! As I was returning to my farm for the evening, I had to pull off the road and let the Patterson family and their 5 Gleaner combines and hoppers pass. They were proceeding to the Bookout Homestead, which is ˝ mile southwest of my farm, to run 100 acres of beans. I sat on the farmhouse porch that evening and listened to the hum of their combines.
Friday morning, I backed the truck to my prize rock pile and unloaded my bounty. The sky was real vivid with the sunrise reflecting off the clouds. I then drove down to the Swoveland Farm for morning coffee, toast and teasing. Later on, Ernie and I prepped the combine and hooked up 3 hoppers and the field augur to Jeff’s JD 4240. The weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon. We were hoping to open up two of Herman’s bottomland fields before rain set in. As we were ready to leave the barnyard at 9:00 A.M., it began to sprinkle. So our harvesting plans came to a halt. We spent the rest of the morning greasing the combine and replacing a missing part. I pulled my hopper back to my farm and stored it in the shed. By noon it was raining steadily. I drove down to the Countrymark COOP to look at the weather radar on their computer and to shoot the breeze. I spent Friday afternoon and early evening running around in Randolph County in the pickup. I returned to Indianapolis Saturday since the forecast was for rain all weekend.
Forecast for the week of October 10 was for rain on Wednesday. Jeff and Ernie shelled corn Monday and Tuesday since the beanstalks were wet. Ernie tried running beans at Herman’s on Wednesday but was rained out after 2 hours running. The plans for Thursday through Saturday were to run beans at Herman’s farm. His fields are a challenge because you have to spend so much time moving the equipment from Ernie’s farm to Herman’s two farms. He has 5 fields totaling 100 acres. Ernie and Jeff ran 30 acres late Thursday afternoon and evening.
I arrived around 2:00 P.M. Friday. Ernie had already opened Herman’s 40 acre field and I took over running the combine while Ernie was unloading hoppers into the field augur. For once the semi arrived as promised. Jeff showed up at 3:30 P.M., and took over running while I pulled two empty hoppers into the adjacent 10 acre field. The three fields, totaling 64 acres, were divided by a creek. So I had to pull the hoppers with my pickup on the road. I had a big scare. As I was pulling the two hoppers at 20 MPH up a fairly steep hill, an impatient driver in a small sedan behind me tried to pass. I immediately pulled off to the side of the road. At the same moment, a pickup from the opposite direction appeared on top of the hill and immediately pulled off the opposite side of the road. That small sedan missed hitting the pickup head on by 1 foot. All three of us could have been involved in the collision. Fortunately the hoppers did not jack knife. Jeff finished the 3 fields by 6:00 P.M. and moved onto the last 36 acres of Herman’s second farm 3 miles northwest of our current location. Craig pulled two empty hoppers, with Jeff’s pickup, behind the combine. As Ernie and I retired for the evening, we saw 3 deer stroll through the freshly combined field. Jeff and Craig ran the combine until 10:00 P.M.
The air Saturday morning was very damp and 55 degrees. The forecast was for sunny and mid 70s during the day. I pulled my hopper 5 miles from my farm to Herman’s 36 acre field. Jeff and Craig had filled the two hoppers the previous night but the hopper on the combine was empty. I drove back to Herman’s first farm where Ernie was picking up rocks, waiting for the semi, and gave him a report. There were 3 hoppers with 500 bushels of beans to unload before they could be pulled to the Herman’s second farm. When 10:45 A.M. passed with no semi, Ernie instructed me to head to the other field and start running the combine. Good news was Jeff and Craig were working Saturday morning so I had the combine to myself. I started running at 11:00 A.M. and ran 6 acres taking 2 hours. This was a difficult field to run. It had numerous rocks and the west end of the field was full of foxtail. There were also several spots where the deer had nested. I had to run the combine around 2 ˝ MPH and the drum and cylinder groaned several times. The beanstalks were very tough the first hour. At 1:00 P.M. Ernie showed up with the JD 4240, pulling the field augur, with the semi following. I had a hopper full on the combine, so I dumped my load into the trailer while they set up the augur. The unloading augur hangs much higher on this combine so maneuvering around the trailer was easy. Jeff with 5 year old daughter Darian arrived and took the combine to the last 8 acre field. I drove down the road 3 miles in my pickup and brought back the 3 empty hoppers from Herman’s first farm.
After the semi left I lined up hoppers at the field augur with my pickup in 4 wheel drive low. We only had one tractor on site. The pickup pulled one hopper at a time with no sweat. Craig and Herman showed up in the field, along with Mary Swoveland and lunch. Herman, who is 84 years young, told some great stories while we were eating.
I really enjoy getting out to the farm each fall and helping with the harvest. I really like running the combine after sunset when you are pretty much in solitude. It reminds me of my night flying days in the Air Force 19 years ago. All you see after dark is an occasional car driving by and combines running in nearby fields. I keep the radio tuned to a Country and Western station for company. I have run several times up to mid-night and one night until 2:00 A.M. Time really flies in the evenings on the combine. This is my eighth season helping the neighbors and I am looking forward to many more.