Farm Journal: how long it takes to drive a combine across the North Country

Heading across the St. Lawrence on the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton.

Heading across the St. Lawrence on the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton.

This is part of a series of farmers writing about life on the farm , week to week, through the season. Courtney Grimes-Sutton is co-owner of Mace Chasm Farm in Keeseville. Read all of Courtney’s journal entries here. And you should check out her really fun Facebook page.

September stories…
A storm to the north, a storm to the south, but all is quiet here on Mace Chasm Rd. The lightning to the north is flashing every couple of seconds, showcasing cloud shapes in luminous shades of purple. The storms didn’t arrive for tea time the way NOAA predicted, or for supper as the mobile weather predicted. Which is good, because we didn’t have supper – for ourselves or for any wayfaring storms. We were cleaning too many beans to have supper!
That’s right – the picker picks! She picks like she missed it. It took Asa a week of work, and we spent a thousand dollars on parts, but she’s sprung to life – and boy are there beans for her to pick. Rows and rows of ripe beans.
She leaves some out there in the field. I found myself wishing I knew where to go to invite the gleaners in. If anyone wants to make dilly beans, or freeze edamame, come on out – come pick! There’s enough there. The ones close to the soil, or the plants that were missed at the end of the row, where we have to lift the header to begin to turn.  Otherwise, they’ll be disc-ed back into the soil, which will gladly eat them.
Yellow beans, green beans, purple flat beans, Edamame beans! Beautiful beans. We planted so many after the rains finally stopped back when.

The cleaning table is the barn. It’s not a fancy one, like we ought to have – we made it quickly, just for this harvest.

Ahh – there’s the thunder to the west… I guess the storm will be here for the night. Here it is.  Better unplug this computer as there are too many eggs in the basket.

* * * Power went out * * *

There is another new-to-us piece of equipment here on the farm in recent weeks. An Allis-Chalmers pull-type combine – a 72 with an auger head, rather than a canvas conveyor like the 66. This machine was made in the 60s. I found it for sale in Wooler, Ontario – two of them, actually – one for parts, double tarped, and one field ready, barn-kept. The farmer that I bought them from was a meticulous, thorough, mechanically inclined kind of a guy – just exactly who I want to buy equipment from.

Every winter he nailed boards up over the open side of this equipment lean-to to keep the snow out – I greatly admired that detail. He & his father, who had bought the combine new back when, were grain farmers – they used the machine to grow & clean clover seed & oats, mostly. There’s a big Quaker Oats factory in the nearby town of Peterborough, with smokestacks that emit clouds that smell of cookies. Our combine probably harvested oats for the Quaker factory.

How’d we get that awkwardly sized combine home from Ontario without breaking the bank, you might ask?  We did not hire a low-boy trailer with a wide-load truck to haul it. We did not take it painstakingly apart to fit it on a trailer. We backed up to it, hitched up, and drove home at 30 mph. Our friends, Nate & Chad, hitched up to the second combine to tow it home to their new farm in Reber.

We had to hit the road at first light in the morning, because it would be a long drive home. Those guys had come better prepared than we had, with magnetic indicator lights for the back of the combine, and a book on tape.  They drove behind us the whole way. We took back roads through nice country, stopping every 25 minutes to grease our wheels (bushings, not bearings…) and stretch. Sixteen hours later we blew a tire just north of Plattsburgh at dusk, in blinding rain, and constant lightning.

We waited for the storm to relax, but it didn’t. We tried what options we had, but eventually dropped the jack and left the machine there for the night. In the morning I had a different old tire mounted on the rim, and brought her the rest of the way home, where she fit just perfectly in our equipment shed, and watched as the hogs hogged down the spelt crop. We just didn’t have the time to harvest & dry the grain crop, and the pigs seemed to enjoy the task.

I promised some work for her (the combine) next year.

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  1. There is a certain joy that comes from driving a semi-legal load across the County, or State, or in your case, the international border. I hauled many loads of timber, all the way across the county, on an illegal trailer, and managed to work out a perfect (and scenic) smugglers route that never let me down. Sometimes stickin' it to the man is what it's all about.

  2. omg! Erick (my boss) once had me drive our Case combine with a 15 foot head from Brooktondale to Auburn so we could leave it at the dealership and they'd fix and sell it. it took me five hours and I ended up in downtown Auburn , and I ended up going through the main street in the city during rush hour and being dumped onto the highway hard shoulder. it took probably ten years off my life (but it's a great story).