Michael Rustad's Memories

 

The Rustad's Harvesting Party

 

As a child growing up in Northwest Minnesota, I rememberthat all of the town's activities centered around the harvest in late August,early September. Football practice often had to be scheduled in the weehours of the morning to accommodate harvest season. My grandfather, AlfredHagbart Sr. and my father, Rustee, farmed our quarter section and rentedanother quarter section of land from Bob Shantz.

Our farming operation did not have air-conditioned cabsand stereo systems incorporated in the combines. We had a 1935 Ford truckthat was started with a crank. It was an extremely difficult gear shiftand several of the gears were stripped or in bad condition. The truck ranwell because of my Dad's ability to over-haul the ancient engine. Our combinewas a 1942 left-handed Allis-Chalmers combine. I could never get a clearunderstanding of why the tractor was left-handed. One of the consequenceswas that the initial rows of fallen grain had to be moved by hand to enterthe field. This was my job. My grandmother often drove the truck and I oftenkept her company.

It was during the harvest that I developed severe breathingproblems from the intense dust. The truck front-side windows were both brokenso they would not roll up all the way. There was no way to prevent a cloudof dust from entering the truck. It was quite an unpleasant experience.The truck loads of grain were generally augured into the grainery directly.I did not comprehend how dangerous these unguarded augers were until readingaccounts of farm accidents later while studying product liability law. Therewere no warnings of the dangers of unguarded augers. I did not enjoy theharvest period very much as it was a period of high tension and excruciatinglong hours of work which largely fell on my Dad's shoulders. He would worka full day at the Post Office and rush home to work in the fields. I wasnot a gifted farm boy when it came to mechanics, machinery repair etc. Iremember trying to help my Dad get the combine in shape for an upcomingharvest and negligently left a wrench inside. When the combine started thewrench broke every slat and caused us to lose a day's time. My Father wasinfinitely patient but was not pleased with my work.

Lunches in the field had to be grabbed on the run. I remembermy Dad eating corn on the cob while driving the combine. He somehow managedto eat a dozen ears of corn in the course of a lunch in the field and hesimultaneously continued to operate the combine.

Gallons of coffee were consumed by the harvesting crew.My grandfather Rustad was a legendary coffee drinker and I remember himdraining near a 1/2 gallon of coffee out of the jar in the field. That amountof coffee would have stopped the heart of most Americans, but he was a Norwegian-American.

I was always relieved by the end of harvest. I cannot recallmany good harvests. It seemed like something came to ruin the harvest everyyear. There was "rust" that infected the wheat, hail, or too muchor too little rain. My experience with farming convinced me to pay attentionto my studies so I would never again choke from harvest dust.

I often wondered why some of the smaller farmers continuedto farm long after it was profitable. I think that I finally understandwhy decades later. I believe that there must be something inherently satisfyingabout being your own boss and looking forward to a better crop next year.It is like being a Red Sox fan. Maybe, next year the Red Sox will win theWorld Series. However, there is always some natural disaster preventingnext year. In the days before corporate farming, there were many farms likethe Rustad family farm. This meant that the towns of the Red River Valleywere populated by young families with dreams of a better harvest next year.ng families with dreams of a better harvest next year.