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WHEAT FIRE!!!

Baling wheat straw
Buckin' bales
Fire damage
"Old faithful" cutting alongside a new, powerful combine.

Stoskopf Diaries

June 29, 1997

Dark clouds to the west and a storm on the horizon had Dean scrambling early this morning. Last night, they had filled all the trucks, the grain cart, and combine, but had left the grain cart and combine uncovered when they quit at midnight. The weather forecast didn’t call for rain but we did get an early morning shower. Dean had time to tarp the grain cart and move everything to the edge of the fields before the lightning got bad. Lots of people were scrambling, too, as I watched truck after truck head down the highway for the elevator, trying to beat the storm.

With the grain cart & tractor, they unloaded the combine on the "go" yesterday. The tractor driver positions the grain cart under the combine’s unloading auger, and the tractor and combine drive alongside each other until the combine’s grain tank has been emptied. Since the combine can continue to cut wheat, it really makes a difference in how many bushels get cut - over 4,000 with one combine today. That’s enough for over 290,000 loaves of bread!

Dean’s brother came home today to help with harvest but Lawrence only got to drive one truck to town when they unloaded the grain cart & combine this afternoon. By 7:00 p.m., the wheat had dried out enough Dean could start cutting again. He couldn’t cut too late because the wheat wasn’t any too dry and the humidity level rose quickly once the sun went down.

June 30, 1997

It took all day for the sun to come out and burn off the humidity and dry down the wheat today. Dean finally got back to cutting in late afternoon but Grandpa took over so Dean could go help coach Julie’s last ballgame of the year (and eat watermelon with the girls afterwards). He’s been cutting wheat close to the house that was damaged by both the April freeze and the May hailstorm. It "made the most" (highest yield per acre) that they’ve ever had on that field. They’re anxious to get into the better wheat tomorrow.

July 1, 1997

Seems like each day brings some type of combine repairs. So far, these recent ones have been ones the guys can do themselves in the field - replacing chains, bearings, belts, etc. The repair bill at Millberger -where we go for combine parts - must be adding up!

Today, when I took lunch to the guys, one was running the combine, one was baling the waterway, and one was driving the truck. Lots of activity! We’re looking for custom cutters - custom harvesters - but haven’t been able to hire any yet. They’re cutting wheat from Texas to South Dakota and out to the Colorado border - all at the same time. Usually, there are lots of custom cutters here as Highway 281 - Hoisington’s Main Street - is a major north-south route used by the crews. It’s discouraging to watch crew after crew roll thru town and not stop. There’s a lot of wheat still to be cut in this area.

The 4-H Sheep Project Leaders & older 4-H’ers helped the kids shear their sheep tonight. They should be a lot cooler, which will be good since the temperature hit 102 degrees F. today.

July 2, 1997

12th Day of the 1997 Wheat Harvest! We’ve finally got harvest weather - where the wheat & weather are cooperating and you can start at 10:00 in the morning and cut until midnight or later like Dean did last night. Wheat yields are still very good and our wheat is still No. 1 quality wheat. The smaller grain elevators in the area are starting to fill up. Since most of the railroad lines have been abandoned, most of the grain elevators count on unloading grain into semi-trucks which haul the grain to larger elevators with more storage space. This year, the trucks are in super short supply. The railroad hasn’t delivered the grain cars that have been ordered so the grain elevators are starting to worry about where they’re going to put all the wheat that’s coming in. We’re not even half done yet!

Another adjustment today - the hoist at the grain elevator quit working so all trucks have to be able to unload by themselves. It means we can’t put quite as much wheat on our 34-year-old wheat truck. The truck bed is raised using a steel cable rather than hydraulics and it takes a little more patience and care than the newer trucks.

Lawrence, Dean’s brother, made another trip out to get to ride in the combine and drive the old truck to town. On their way back to Salina, he counted 27 trucks in line at the Dorrance grain elevator. We’ve been fortunate to be able to unload quickly in Hoisington but the lines have been really long at other area elevators.

July 3, 1997

The weather in Kansas changes quickly! This morning, it’s cloudy, windy, and cool. When the kids walked their sheep up the hill to the radio tower, they wore jackets. A high of 80 degrees F. is predicted for today, with chances of showers. Although the wheat stalks are still tough this morning, the wheat kernels are very dry. As long as the guys slow the combine down and allow extra time for the straw to be cut and move thru the machine, they can still cut wheat.

Yesterday’s hot dry weather dried the swathed (cut) alfalfa. If it doesn’t dry out, it will mold or rot or can even catch on fire once it’s rolled up into the big round bales. The trick is to have enough moisture in the leaves so that they won’t fall off the stems as the baler picks it up and rolls or presses it into a bale. The leaves are the most desirable part of the alfalfa. With this morning’s cool weather, John is baling alfalfa while Dean is cutting wheat and Bruce, our summer high-school employee, is driving the wheat truck. Grandpa’s helping out whenever and wherever needed.

I followed 2 custom harvest crews down Main Street coming back from the grain elevator. One was from South Dakota and one was from Saskatchewan, Canada. Both turned west on Highway 4 (Hoisington’s Ninth Street). We do have someone local who has finished his own cutting who will start on one of our fields this morning. That should help take some of the pressure off.

At the grain elevator, I learned that this is Jim’s 29th wheat harvest as the scaleman. Jim is a schoolteacher who comes back each year to stamp the truck weights & record all the information about each load of wheat on a scale ticket. It takes someone sharp to keep track of all the tickets as full trucks roll across the scales and empty trucks come back to be weighed again.

The information about who owns the wheat - not only which farmer but also which farm owner - also has to be recorded accurately for each load of wheat.

July 4, 1997

WHEAT FIRE!!!
We lost 25 acres of wheat in a wheat field fire this afternoon. Luckily, there were no injuries and no equipment was damaged. A bearing went out on a combine and the hot metal dropped into the wheat and started the fire. The combine drivers had fire extinguishers but couldn't get it out before it really got going with a gust of wind. The fire was on the very top of a hill so the flames and smoke were visible for miles.

Luckily, the combine drivers had a cellular telephone and could call 911 right away. The fire departments from Beaver, Claflin, and Hoisington responded. In small towns & rural areas, the firefighters wear pagers and the fire whistles still blow to summon them to fight a fire. Watching these volunteers, you have a great appreciation for their dedication. Dean & I talked to the guys from Beaver who had been cutting wheat and dropped everything to come fight the fire. They were headed back to their own wheat fields when the fire was out.

At the time the fire started, Dean had his combine stuck in the mud in another field. They were pulling it out with the tractor. The swather had just broken down, too, so it wasn't the best of afternoons. Before he quit cutting for 4th of July fireworks, Dean cut the wheat field just across the highway from the house. It was all for seed wheat and he left the wheat straw to bale.

The 4th of July fireworks at our house weren't near as dramatic as the afternoon fire. Between our kids and the neighbor's kids, they put on a show and had fun. Dean's parents came out, too. We sat and watched all the fireworks going off in town and around the countryside, as well as the big fireworks show at Great Bend, 17 miles away. We couldn't see the ground show but the aerial display was fantastic.

July 5, 1997

We packed a lot into today. Dean got started cutting early but picked up a rock with the combine header while talking to me about lunch on the radio. The rock broke some "fingers" that had to be repaired and replaced. While they were working on that and Dean’s dad was making another parts run to Millberger, it sprinkled.

Dean had hoped that one of our neighbors would finish cutting his own wheat and be over to help this afternoon but Alan called and his combine’s "wobble box" was broke and he wouldn’t be able to get his combine repaired until at least mid-afternoon. Farmers have their own farm lingo just like all the other professions.

Dean used the small square baler to bale the wheat straw right across the highway from the house. When we’re calving, we use the straw bales in the barn to help keep the calves warmer and drier. We also build our doghouse out of straw bales. They’re also used in nativity scenes at Christmastime, to mulch gardens, and to keep pets warm in winter. Very few people still have the small square balers or mess with straw bales. It’s time consuming, and "bucking" bales is hot, itchy work. The high school boys decided they preferred going to the weight-lifting room to get ready for football this fall. We did get 3 trailer loads picked up and under cover before the rain hit.

Wayne and I went back and checked out where the fire was the day before. The guys used the tractor and disc to cut up the ground around the smoldering bales so that the fire couldn’t go anywhere else. We stopped to take pictures of the combines that were finishing up cutting our wheat on the field next to the one that burned. It was fun to watch the old, small combine cutting with the larger combines.

The Hoisington grain elevator filled up this evening - just as the rain hit. The grain elevators in Boyd, Claflin, and several other area communities had filled up and there were wheat trucks coming to Hoisington from everywhere. The lines of trucks at the elevator were long it took a long time to get unloaded and back to the wheat field. The elevator manager stayed at the elevator all night and unloaded wheat into semi-trucks so that there would be room for more wheat tomorrow.


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