I hadn’t intended to break a world record. I hadn’t intended to drive one of the 303 combines that simultaneously harvested a single field north of Winkler on August 4. Neither of these things were on my docket. And both of them happened.
“I wonder how many dollars-worth of iron is on this field right now,” said one farmer, the morning of the event. Our quick and dirty cowboy math estimated anywhere between 60 and 80 million dollars.
To observe more than 300 combines on a single field is tantamount to sitting in the front row at an Imax screening. Your eyes can’t receive the whole picture at once. You have to move your head. You have to scan and commit to memory every perceivable block in order to piece the whole, overwhelmingly large picture together.
And, as is always the case when observing such phenomena, you start to get concerned over how on earth you’ll be able to properly communicate this to others. A photo won’t do it.
On Saturday, August 4, a Guinness World Record was broken slightly south of Winkler on a field west of Hwy 32. The record we broke was the most combines simultaneously working on one field for five minutes or more. The previous record was 244.
An arm of Children’s Camps International called Harvest For Kids facilitated the event as fundraiser to — you guessed it — send children to camp. This is a cause the community in which I live heavily supports.
The farmers I spoke with all seemed cool as cucumbers about the whole thing. I was the only one visibly agitated, on edge, skittish.
I’ve been a farmer long enough to know that, while most seemed collected and in control, the same fatalistic thoughts that were plaguing me were also plaguing them. We’ve all had the experience of firing up our machines and biting into that first juicy morsel of wheat only to witness catastrophic machine failure. Okay. It hasn’t happened often. But it has happened. And if it was going to happen again, August 4 at 2 p.m. was when it would, I thought.
The dusty details
The rules were simple: in a quad in front of each group of combines, a volunteer would hold up a sign. One side read stop, which we were instructed meant stop. The other sign read slow, which meant go. We were not to exceed 1.5 mph, as doing so would put the “five minutes or longer” part of the record at risk.
We had to be at our combines at 1:30 p.m. In them by 1:40. Fired up by 1:50. And rotors on, full throttle, by 1:59. Apparently, it’s easy to believe your combine is at full throttle when there are hundreds of roaring harvesters right beside you.
“It’s happened,” organizers told us. “Operators believed they were ready to combine and got plugged up immediately, because they were idling.”
So, after I took the requisite time to internalize the rules, I was ready.
I rushed home to pick up Jamie. She agreed to share in the glory of breaking a world record. It was after 1:00 at this point and we needed to get back to our combine, wading through roadblocks, heavy traffic and lots of pedestrians.
We hovered around the combine a bit before getting in. It was hot, so the thought of air conditioning led us into the cab ahead of schedule.
1:59: we fired up the rotor, gradually brought it up to full throttle and waited for the countdown.
And we were off. Creeping along our short swath. The field was split in two north-south, with a wide middle section for spectators, a tradeshow, bouncy castle, petting zoo and a whole bunch of other family-friendly activities. My parents and siblings were waiting at the other end, cheering us on.
As we got close to the end and it looked like we were going to make it, excitement started to build. I felt all tingly. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
I throttled down, turned off the rotors and picked up my niece.
It was an exhilarating experience and I was honoured my parents asked us to drive.