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Bringing a combine home

Feb 28, 2012 - By Richard Klein

A year ago, my son Garrett and I were standing at a farm auction near Worland. We had come to look at a combine that was listed on the sale bill.

It was almost 10 years old but had seen very few hours of use. It had been stored in a shed, and the plastic was still on the back of the seat.

On the drive north to Worland, we had set a limit on how high we should bid. But after seeing what good shape the machine was in, I mentally adjusted the amount a bit higher.

After the bidding began, the price finally rose to a point where I was getting uncomfortable. At that point there was only one other bidder. He had a cell phone to his ear. I finally made my last bid, and the auctioneer went back to the fellow with the cell phone for the next bid. The bidder looked perplexed, but shook his head no, and at last I heard what I had been waiting for: "SOLD."

I had paid what the machine was worth, no great bargain. But I was pleased the machine was in Worland, not some distant dealership like Great Falls, Mont.

The reason we had been looking for a combine was our alfalfa seed crop. My son and I have been trying to figure out how to raise alfalfa seed. It has been a steep learning curve, and we are nowhere near the top of it yet.

It is not an easy crop to grow because of the requirement for leaf cutter bees, weed concerns, and a harvest that happens at a time of year when we are already busy.

Our farm's financial health has been resting on a three-legged stool for a number of years: sugar beets, malt barley and alfalfa hay. We would like to add a few more legs, and alfalfa seed is a crop that appeals to me for several reasons.

A pound of alfalfa seed is worth perhaps $1.80. A pound of malt barley is worth 14 cents, a pound of alfalfa hay 8 cents. A pound of beets? A nickel.

Our three main crops produce many pounds per acre, but the freight bill to get them to market is very high. Hauling a seed crop to market is a much easier affair because we are not selling that many pounds.

During the past two years, we have learned first and foremost that grasshoppers really like eating the bloom off alfalfa plants. There has been precious little alfalfa seed to haul anywhere.

It had been a cold day at the auction, and we found the warmest place to be was in the combine cab. The large expanse of glass acted like a greenhouse, collecting heat from the sun's warmth. While we waited for some of the congestion to clear out, the fellow I had been bidding against climbed up the combine's stairs and opened the door.

"You wouldn't like to earn a quick two thousand dollars would you?"

He wanted to buy the combine.

I declined the offer, and he shook his head and said, "Damn cell phone cut out. I couldn't ask the boss if I should keep bidding or not."

For the first time, I appreciated what is often poor cell phone service in rural Wyoming.

We decided the quickest way to get the combine home from Worland was to drive it. My son drove the combine to the co-op in Worland for a full tank of diesel fuel and then headed south. I had driven to the Shell station on the south side of Thermopolis where I planned to meet Garrett and escort him through Wind River canyon. As I sat there waiting, I noticed a highway patrolman sitting in his car at the highway department building. I drove over and got out of my truck. He rolled down his window, and I explained my son and I were driving a combine from Worland to Pavillion.

I asked him what the safest way was to get through the tunnels in the canyon. The patrolman looked at the darkening sky and asked if I thought we were going home tonight.

When I said yes, he explained that if I tried driving a combine through Wind River Canyon in the dark, he would throw me in jail.

I guess, in a way, that was a helpful piece of information.

The next morning Garrett and I drove back over to Thermopolis. It had been a cold night and we were relieved when the combine engine started. hen we arrived at the tunnels on the south side of Wind River Canyon, we met a professional flagger the highway patrolman had recommended the preceding evening.

In his regulation bright orange, reflective vest, the flagger stopped traffic on the other side of the tunnels while Garrett drove the large machine through.

After watching the numbers of crazy drivers risk their lives (and others') by passing on yellow lines in an attempt to get somewhere a few seconds sooner, I thought the bill for the flagger might be the best hundred dollars I had ever spent.

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