It’s Kaitlyn again, reporting from the North America custom harvest run. Custom harvesters often work for the same farmers year after year, which allows us to visit the same towns annually. It is not uncommon to hear of a harvester cutting in the same place for a decade or more. We learn the good places to eat, the best fuel stops and of course, the establishments with the coldest drinks. We make friends who often feel like extended family, and every year it feels like we are returning to one of our homes when the wheat ripens in those towns.
Over lunch with the Kulhanek Harvesting crew last week, I learned that Shorty Kulhanek, owner and combine operator, has been on the harvest run “since he was little,” according to his wife, Donna. When I asked Donna what stop was Shorty’s favorite, her answer was a reminder of how many of us grow up in many harvest towns across the Midwest.
“I’d say Potter, Nebraska would be one of Shorty’s favorite stops,” Donna said. “He’s been going there since he was little and he knows everyone. Shorty knows the area and he really enjoys stopping in Potter every year.”
The “like family” reference shows up commonly among harvesters. Shane Shepherd, a truck driver for Shepherd Harvesting, says his favorite stop is Spearman, Texas because he “practically grew up there with all of the same people every summer. Those people are like family to me.”
Our customers mean a lot to harvesters. Harvesters enjoy cutting for good farmers, and it is great when we can keep the same jobs every year. My dad cut for the same farmer in Harper, Kansas for 30 years. When our farmer passed away, it was like losing a member of our extended harvest family.
Laramie DeBock, co-owner and combine operator at DeBock Harvesting, says his first stop on the wheat harvest is also his favorite. “My favorite stop is Olney, Texas,” Laramie said. “It’s our first stop so everybody’s excited to get to the field and our farmers are the nicest guys we work for all year. They are very loyal to us and it’s a great joy to work for them.”
While the people are usually one of the deciding factors of a harvester’s favorite stop, that’s not always the case. Jason Wagner, owner and combine operator for Wagner Harvesting, says, “I like all of the people everywhere I go, but my favorite place is probably Onida, South Dakota because of the big open fields.”
When it comes down to me, I’d say Oakley, Kansas is my favorite stop on the Nelson Farms custom run. I can remember making the trip south with my mom and sister to visit Dad in Oakley when I was little. Staying in our camper was cool as a kid and the campground we stayed at had mini-golf and a pool. Plus if the crew was rained out of the field, we would all go exploring at the Monument Rocks. When I was old enough to go on harvest, we were still staying at the same campground as when I was little. We were also cutting for the same farmer. Every time I pass through that area, I make a stop to see our customer and some of the friends I’ve made there. Oakley is just one of the many homes I have across the states we cut through and I’m sure I’m not the only harvester kid who feels like that.
Perhaps it’s traveling for work or being a part of the harvest – Tell us more about your home-away-from-home experiences and what is special about them.