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The roll of harvest in Reno runs deep: Men in the field say wheat ritual's pull is traditional

Amy Bickel
Hutchinson News

From Kansas Agland:

CASTLETON – For Sam Grilliot, it’s harvest time, and that means the old Oliver is lumbering through the wheat field.

More often, you find similar antique combines abandoned in a hedgerow. But for Grilliot, the 50-year-old machine is one of the tools he depends on each year.

So, in an era of half-million-dollar machines complete with global positioning systems, the 1968 Oliver helps bring in the annual harvest – just like when his father, Tom, first bought it used several decades ago.

Tradition, after all, resonates in the fields between Castleton and Pretty Prairie. A third- or fourth-generation Kansas farmer, Grilliot takes a vacation from his job at South Hutchinson’s Agri Center so he can harvest his wheat crop.

His day job is his bread and butter, he said. But his love of farming runs deep: He couldn’t imagine giving it all up.

“It’s in my blood,” Grilliot said as he stood in the field, watching combines unload grain into a truck. “Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth it. But I get out here and cut wheat, and I remember why I like it.”

Wheat country

Harvest is just getting started in Reno County, which is one of the state’s top wheat-producing counties. Grilliot is one of the more than 700 farmers in the county who bring in the crop each year.

On Friday, trucks were trickling in at Mid-Kansas Cooperative’s Castleton branch. Location manager Tim Lesslie said he binned more than 30,000 bushels on Thursday and expected more on Friday.

“It’s dry and heavy,” said Lesslie, noting test weights are above 62 pounds a bushel – or No. 1-grade wheat.

Test cutting continues in other areas. Brad Krone, with the Nickerson branch of the Central Prairie Co-op, said a farmer brought in a sample Thursday but it was still too high in moisture. A few others tried cutting Friday.

He didn’t expect things to go full swing until early next week.

“Everybody gets antsy to go,” he said, noting plentiful rains have muddied up fields.

At Turon Mill in Turon, Colten Katz said a sample Thursday was a little wet, as well.

“My guess is someone will get out of church and decide to try it,” he said.

Katz said that just as harvest gets started, it could shut down, with rain forecast for Monday.

Modern vs. antique

For Grilliot, the harvest anticipation is over.

Grilliot said he used to fret a little more about his wheat crop over its nine months of development. He’d worry about the weather, the prices – and other things he couldn’t control.

“I”m more seasoned, I guess,” he said.

Still, he looks forward to harvest like kids at Christmas. That includes time with family. Two of his brothers will help. One usually drives a truck, which allows Grilliot to drive the family’s other combine – a 1980 New Holland.

Cousin Kevin Hedrick also spends five or six days in the field – driving the old Oliver.

Hedrick is an educator by trade: He’s the principal at Holy Cross Catholic Grade School in Hutchinson. But each wheat harvest for the past dozen years, he has helped Grilliot – looking forward to the change of pace, the meals in the field with his extended family, and driving the Oliver.

They don’t make Oliver combines anymore. White Motor Corp. bought Oliver, eventually phasing out the Oliver brand name. White was acquired by AGCO.

Grilliot’s Oliver cuts at a much slower clip than the nearby gigantic, state-of-the-art 2013 New Holland – with its 35-foot header, GPS system and shiny yellow paint. Agri Center was calibrating the combine in Grilliot’s field for an upcoming farm demonstration.

This Oliver only has an 18-foot header. Moreover, there is no air conditioning. But Hedrick said he loves driving it and finds solitude in the machine.

“It is a good way to relax,” he said of his summertime job. “I love education, but I love being out here. It’s a good way to recharge.”

Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel's agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at abickel@hutchnews.com or by calling (800) 766-3311 Ext. 320