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The beauty of the giant combine

By Rick Houser –

I am sure I have previously written about how much I was fascinated by the tractors and equipment that were used as we carried out the jobs that came with farming. I liked to plow and plant corn and really enjoyed setting tobacco. Even more I loved to run the equipment that it took to make hay, and really loved running that hay baler. But just like the summer seemed to grow bigger, so did the equipment.
This point of summer is when the wheat had grown to its fullest and had turned a lovely shade of gold, when we stood near the gate to the wheat field and waited for the combine to arrive. In the 50’s and 60’s, the combine was still being pulled by a tractor and the self-propelled combines had yet to appear in my neighborhood. Dad didn’t raise enough wheat to justify investing in a combine and at the time he didn’t have the tractor that could pull it either, so he would hire this job out to men who custom “combined” all over the countryside. By far the combine was the largest piece of equipment I saw during a year and also by far the most interesting.
The combine was named because that was just what its inventor made it to do, combine three different tasks into one. It would cut the wheat which had been done by a binder previously and it served as a thresher which separated the chafe from the seeds. Lastly, it delivered the wheat straw back onto the ground to either become straw or become a nutrient to the land.
To do all this a combine was anything but petite. When the combine arrived and began to pull into a field, the ability to fit through a gate was almost impossible due to its mammoth size. Once in the field, the operator would pull to the spot where he would begin and by turning on his PTO the combine made a sound unlike anything else I had seen or heard. With a slow loud groan that would begin to gain momentum, the sight  then overcame the sound. For this unique device to do all it was made to do, it was to be run by several pulleys, belts, gears, chains and a couple of pitman rods. All 0f this was almost more than the eyes and ears could consume, but let me tell you I gave it my very best shot. To a little boy, the sights and sounds of the combine were the most awesome thing ever.
Now even with all this admiration, the operator had yet to even begin to harvest the crop. That could only be described as a large tractor pulling a house on wheels, and when all of it was in motion all at once, it had my full and undivided attention. As big and lumbersome as a combine was, it was a sight to behold as it moved across a wheat field with the paddle wheel pulling at the wheat.  The straw dropping out the back looked so soft and shiny golden and as the combine seemed to float across the field I would sit on the back of the truck or just stand there and watch in awe. Probably with mouth open and speechless.
It went without saying that the man who owned and was operating that combine was my idol. To command the biggest piece of equipment with total expertise was a man who deserved total respect. It is safe to say that I made certain that if he motioned for water I was at his side with cool water for the man of the hour. We usually would have a combine on our farm three days to a week so it was wise that I not wander off or miss asking any questions I might have for my window of opportunity was small.
The days of a pull combine have long since passed and today the fields are cared for by self-propelled combines that are so huge they cause the ones I was speaking of to look rather small.  The behemoths of today take up a two-lane highway with little or no problem.  They not only harvest wheat but corn and soybeans. This means they are in the fields in mid-summer and can be there all the way to to late fall, but no matter the size, you need to take a minute when you see one operating in a field and just stop and admire the work. The combine still moves gracefully while it  carries out its task. Like a dragon, it pulls in the crop and when a huge amount of dust is sent out, it can appear to be bellowing smoke.
As I got older, my cousin bought a pull combine and I operated it quite a bit and I will not lie, I loved it. At that time I found out that I was not wrong in feeling the operator was the man in charge and that was the feeling I always got, “beingin charge”.   As a matter of fact I did get to operate a self-propelled combine on soybeans a couple of times. It wasn’t near the size of today’s models but it was the biggest thing I ever operated and again the answer is yes, I enjoyed being at the wheel.
As any farmer will tell you, they control their own destiny as they take on their job of aiming to get the best crop in a year. Along with all the thought and manual labor that goes into farming and getting to the time of harvest, farmers probably felt that they more than deserved to sit like a king high atop the equipment. Whatever the results, to this day I am still fascinated to watch the king of the equipment world on any farm.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at

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