In September, eastern Colorado farmers are still watering the seven-foot tall, deep green circles of corn. It isn’t sweet corn; rather it is the bland corn that will be ground down for cattle to eat. I was born a Nebraska city girl, always longing for the “Little House on the Prairie” pioneer life.
Moving to eastern Colorado provided me with the modern-day version of this pioneer existence. Starting in mid-October, farmers get into a corn-picking frenzy. They drive the combine and grain cart from field to field to find corn that has dried down enough to pick. A week or two before this frenzy, they have driven their pick-ups to the fields to take hand-shells of several cobs of corn to test for the moisture, and pulled the combine in according to these numbers.
It was during this process, that I entered my pioneer farm fantasy for the first time. Rick called me one day to see if I would help with harvest while his cart driver was coaching the local football team. I pulled into the field, and was put in a John Deere tractor attached to a huge brown grain cart. He said, “The yellow handle is the PTO, don’t run the RPM’s over 1200 when you unload, and watch the auger so it doesn’t hit the truck.” This replayed in my brain as I struggled to make sense out of it. I’d never heard of a PTO, but I did understand the edict not to abuse it. My jaw was sore by the end of the day, from the pack of gum I had chewed.
Drive slowly and match the combine’s speed while it unloads 300 bushel(back in the day) of corn into my cart. Looking to make sure I’m driving straight down the rows, inches from the corn head of the combine, and then back at Rick in the combine cab for indications to speed up or slow down, like watching a ping-pong match. Drive as fast as you dare, though, bouncing and bumping down the rows and over the sprinkler tracks to go and dump the cart’s corn onto a waiting truck.
I began to wonder, midway through the day, if farmers ever had to go to the bathroom. I wasn’t about to ask, not wanting to embarrass myself, or expose my ignorance to any truckers. It takes took dumps of the combine bin to fill the grain cart, so I took advantage of one wait, plunging my tractor down the field to the assigned spot. Leaping out the door, undoing my belt at the same time, I gained a new appreciation for shorn off corn stalks.
My day centered in and around the big, bright green tractor. I climbed all over the black rubber tires, taller than me, sat on the long hood, and got to know all the grease zerks underneath up close and personal. As long as the stalks weren’t too tough to pick, we kept on going for ten, twelve, sometimes fourteen hours. By the end of the day, when the glare of the sun in the windows surrounding me finally rested below the horizon, and the moon, so large I thought I could walk to it and touch it, had eased into the eastern sky, we headed home. There was no dinner on my mind, only bed.