Friday, August 16, 2013

Combine Ride: Harvest on the Palouse

I have lived in the Pullman-Moscow region, which borders the states of Washington and Idaho, for over thirty years now. I have watched the dust swirl up around me surrounding these fair towns as the farmers till and harvest the deep black soil of the Palouse, as the land is known. I have stopped behind them in their large farm vehicles, as they traverse our two-lane roads, halting traffic to make a cumbersome turn. I have traveled through the scenery they create in the fields that changes dramatically from green to golden yellow each year without fail. My husband and I have been privileged to meet and know only a few.
BARLEY (about a foot tall; wheat is much taller)

As a child I lived west of the Cascades, but sometimes took trips with a friend's family through Eastern Washington to Coeur d'Alene Lake. En route, we always passed the fields of wheat and other crops. One of our favorite things to do was to stop and sample a stalk of wheat. We would remove the chaff and chew the wheat kernel, as if it were the best snack in the world. And what did it taste like? Bland, salt free flour of course, but oh what a treat. Ever do that?
Barley up close at dusk (my camera lens was dirty from the harvest dust)
Big teeth!
So imagine my excitement yesterday when my husband and I were invited to ride in a combine harvester on the Ensley farm. They were busy harvesting their barley crop. 


I have to admit I thought of Pixar's movie, Cars, when I saw the big teeth of the combines up close. Remember the scene where Mater and Lightening McQueen scare the 'grazing' tractors and they go belly up in the field? Then Mater warns Lightening to watch out for Frank? Ha! Combine harvesters are huge like that, and I mean HUGE.
Cathy, co-owner with Mike Ensley in front of Ensley Farms harvest truck, which follows behind the combine for grain dumps. The Ensleys currently grow wheat, barley and garbanzo beans.
Big tires! Vince climbing into Mike's combine.
 Here they come!

Dumping the barley
Mike at end of day. Time to shower!

Today farmers sit in air-conditioned and filtered cabs, although there is plenty of dust. Check out Mike's photo on the left! They have talk radios and music to pass the time and use cell phones for communication.
Imagine how it must have been before combines existed (or modern ones with enclosed cabs). I am told that farmers often suffered from emphysema from the heavy dust exposure.

                                       Combines were horse drawn in the "old days."

Jeremy (Mike's son) and my driver. This is a multi-generation farm.
View from inside the cab with Jeremy. It was surprisingly quiet inside.
We could talk easily, but oh was it ever dusty!!

Combines get around 7 miles to the gallon, I am told. The farm uses around 100 gallons a day during harvest. That's me on the bottom step. Thanks for the ride, Jeremy! 

Take a look at my shoes. I was told I would get dirty . . . and I thought I was being careful. My face was gritty with dust, too, as was my camera lens. But what a marvelous once-in-a-life time experience.

Thank you Ensley Farms!!


  1. Sharon, I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself, and thank you for the wonderful post.

  2. I opened this post, enticed by the photos (and the knowledge that your posts are ALWAYS well worth enjoying) and read. Just lovely! I like the patterns of the barley on the hills, the golden light (and I loved the twilight photo). Have you ever read any books by Ivan Doig, set in Montana? My favorite, English Creek, takes place in the 1930's (it's the second in the series but, I think, the best) and it has a chapter describing haying in the high summer. Your post makes me think of that chapter (I enjoyed it every bit as much)! Have a wonderful weekend!
    Diana at About Myself By Myself

  3. Wow, that sounds amazing. It's so cool that you got to experience that. I can't imagine how hard farming must be, even still today with all the technology.

  4. Crikey, those machines are monsters!

    What a great experience :)

  5. Great pictures! You've brought us into a world most of us rarely think about. Makes us appreciate all the hard work of Cathy's family and others. Thanks for a glimpse into the world of farming and harvesting. Very important :-)

  6. Glad you had such a fun adventure! I really enjoyed seeing your wonderful photos!


  7. Hi, really could hear and see the combine in my mind. I loved the historical nature of this post too and learned a lot about what our farmers have gone through to provide food for our tables. Thanks for sharing.

  8. You took some good pictures! I have heard of "the Palouse", but was never sure where it was. Thanks for the info. Loved your reminiscence about chewing a kernel of wheat as a kid. Once, when I was very small, I spent a summer on a farm, and I remember getting a squirt of milk from a cow that was being milked by hand. The milker said "Open your mouth," and I did. He had good aim, too!

  9. Hi, Sharon –

    As you know I recently posted my response to the sunshine award you gave back in May. A blogger from the UK, whom I really like, respect and enjoy, Hillary Melton-Butcher, ( ) saw your site through the link on my blog and went to visit. She wanted to comment, and ran into problems with being rejected, for reasons she couldn't figure out.

    She enjoyed your blog so much, she asked me to post her comment for her, which I'm happy to do. I think you might enjoy it.

    Hi Diana .. sorry to be a pain .. but my comment on Sharon's blog - for some reason has been 'rejected'! .. and I wonder if you could post for me ...

    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Hi Sharon .. I've popped over from Diana's recent post about your site -how very interesting .. and what a great organisation to be involved with.

    I found your notes about the organisation of Congolese 'urban' life .. how refreshing too - just makes so much sense: I hope other African countries take note.

    Good luck with the opening of the eye clinic in a week's time - I'm sure many will be so happy with your help - a magnificent job ...

    Cheers - nice to be here .. Hilary

    Thanks Diana .. if you could post for me .. and it's just been thrown out again ... and let Sharon know .. appreciate your help ...

  10. Hi Diana! Thanks for helping Hilary with her post. It DID post above, but I am not sure why it was difficult at first. I have changed some of my settings and will definitely answer her...

  11. Thanks for sharing the experience with us! I'd love to see all this for myself someday - and even taste that yummy-sounding salt free "flour"!


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