My high school-aged daughter once got stuck with her friend behind a slow moving farm vehicle on the road to her friend’s house. The friend sighed and said she’d had to wait before behind a “concubine.” She was close to the pronunciation anyway. Some people still call it a “picker” but the main piece of equipment used this fall for getting the crop out of the field is the good old “combine.”
Although I don’t drive a combine, especially down a busy road with impatient teenagers, I like to ride with my husband for a few “rounds” each fall. A round is one pass around the field. He’ll stop at the end of the field and, with a cloud of grain dust swirling around me, I’ll take big steps over the already cut rows of crop to get to the big harvest machine.
It’s a monster, towering about 15 feet in the air and costing more than the average home. I climb up the metal steps and he opens the glass door to let me in out of the dirt and noise.
Inside the cab it’s very quiet and I have a nice space to sit next to him. Then he’ll push a few switches, watch the screen give him the information he wants and the combine will roar to work.
The head of the combine is the big round roller you see on the front. The head draws the crop into the machine and metal teeth cut it off at the base. An auger then grabs the crop and takes it into the depths of the combine where a rotating drum separates the seed from the leaves and stalk. The seed falls through a sieve into an auger that carries it to a hopper at the top of the combine. The leaves and stalk are blown out the back.
Of course, this is all way more complicated than it sounds. The head has to be at the exact height so it scoops up all the crop without scooping up dirt too. You have to go the right speed. If you go too fast, it won’t get separated fast enough and the grain goes out the back with the leaves and stalks. The augers can also get clogged. If you go too slowly, you’re wasting time and fuel and may not get the crop in before a snow that knocks it to the ground. With all these moving parts, there are countless opportunities for breakdown. If it’s really dry out, you also have a chance of fire from all the heat generated from the harvest process alongside combustible grain dust.
Still, it’s a wonderful machine, the combine. When Tom’s dad and my dad harvested as kids, they had to have one machine to pick the grain and another one to shell it. When our grandparents farmed, they had to pick it by hand and then hire someone to come and shell it or them.
If you can, ride a round with a farmer this fall in a combine. You’ll see how that beautiful crop out there makes it from the field to the bin in one wonderful operation.