How Grandpa Got in the Combine

Explanation resolves mystery of popular December issue photo.

Published on: Dec 19, 2007

OK, it's time to let the world know how the 89-year old farmer, crippled with arthritis and confined to a walker, made it into the state-of-the-art combine cab for a special ride this past fall. The 'old farmer' was Robert Bechman, dad of Indiana Prairie Farmer editor Tom J. Bechman. The farmer with the combine was John Kretzmeier of Fowler.

The story 'Old farmer rides again' appeared in the December Front Porch column inside Indiana Prairie Farmer. The article recounts what it meant for this elderly farmer, who retired from active farming in 1986, to take a half-hour ride inside a modern combine.

"When I retired and the last time I was in a combine, we were running a three-row corn head on an older Gleaner combine," Bechman recalls. He farmed limited crop acreage and specialized first in milking Holsteins, then later in raising Holstein heifers for others to milk.

Imagine he must have felt like Buck Rogers going to the moon sitting next to Kretzmeier, atop the John Deere rotary combine equipped with a twelve-row, fold-up North Star corn head and state-of-the-art Insight yield monitoring and display technology. Kretzmeier doesn't even leave his seat to fold or unfold the combine head. In folded position he can move down the road safely.

Bechman had harvested 190-plus bushel corn before, with the old Gleaner, not long before he retired. But he had never seen the proof displayed in real time, on a colored screen. Yield monitors didn't come onto the scene until the first models, crude by today's standards, appeared around 1992. "Seeing a 200-bushel yield pop up there was kind of neat," he says.

The mystery left unresolved in the sometimes humorous but factual Front Porch story was exactly how the old farmer got into the new combine in the first place. While clues were sprinkled through the article, a flurry of inquiries made it clear that not everyone solved the riddle. So here it is: he ascended to his lofty perch and glorious ride without moving a muscle, sitting comfortably and securely in a chair, mounted onto a manure loader bucket.

His son, Dave, Otterbein, owner of Ag First Reality and Farm Management, initiated the idea to get his dad into the combine. Kretzmeier was shelling corn on land owned by he and his wife, Janet, assistant to new Purdue University Extension director Chuck Hibberd, when his dad took his ride.

It was Dave that figured out how to bolt a secure platform onto the loader bucket, and then fasten a chair onto the platform. Perhaps his only mistake was not telling his wife he was borrowing her sewing room chair, until after she saw his dad make his ascent. Dave, a skilled operator of farm equipment in his own right, ran the controls of the loader. All grandpa had to do was step onto the combine platform, once the loader platform was even with the combine platform. He had an escort on the loader platform at all times.

Why not reveal it plainly in the story? Despite Dave's efforts at taking out the risk, the method still likely wouldn't pass muster with Bill Field, Purdue University safety specialist. And it's one of those 'don't try this at home' practices that doesn't need glorifying.

Could this ride be reenacted next fall? Just wait and see!