My hobo-camp had been set-up in a cluster of trees and brush between the Interstate and the frontage road. I intended to stay put for couple of days to give my tired ‘dogs’ a chance to recuperate.
Comfortable and secluded, save for the sound of vehicles racing by, I spread out on my sleeping bag and fell asleep for the night. As a rule, I had become an early riser, going to bed before the sun had even set.
The following morning I awoke half-an-hour before my usual time, hearing a rumbling of at least two machines making sounds I was not familiar with. I slipped to the edge of the grove and peaked out towards the sounds direction and watched as two very large John Deere 9600 Combines drove in tandem from one end of the field across from me to a point that nearly placed them out of sight.
As the sun came up and I finished my bowl of rice and beans, I continued to watch the precision at which the two operators displayed as they chewed up what had been a golden field of wheat. I was as if I were watching a pair of male sage-grouse dance, performing for some yet-unseen female of the species.
Forgetting myself and entranced, I moved out of my position of concealment and crossed the frontage road to continue walking. Soon a truck came driving up, and I figured that by its speed of less than five miles an hour, I’d over stayed my ‘welcome.’
Instead, the man hollered, “You looking for work or simply gawking?”
“I’ll take some work,” I answered.
“Then come on.”
I jumped in the bed of the truck as he turned sharp off the frontage and down a gravel roadway towards two large grain silos and various other buildings including a farm-house. He pulled up in front of the largest building and got out, with me trailing behind.
“Dennis,” he directed to a guy standing by a desk, “Get this fella a respirator and some coveralls. I’m putting him to work.”
“Dennis will take care of you,” the man said. “I’ll be back in a few minute and then I’ll show you what needs doing.”
When the man, I later came to know as Mr. Riley, said work, I had no idea he meant hard-work. He had me in a large contraption which ‘strains’ the wheat grains and moves them to the silo, where the grain’s stored.
As I worked, I learned that the grain came with dust, lots of it. The dust is so fine that it permeated my clothing, thus the coveralls, which didn’t stop it from happening, but rather helped to cut down on amount that filled my pockets and every hook-and-cranny of my jeans, shirt, boots and under clothing and was a danger to a person’s lungs, therefore the need of a respirator.
Every grain is important, so Mr. Riley also had me inside the bed’s emptied columbines ‘vacuuming’ up any and all loose or errant grain. Later, I spent a couple of hours raking and packing down grain the silos
After two days, my body hurt all over. But he and Mrs. Riley fed me and gave place in the barn with a bed to sleep in while I was there. I stayed for the week, which is roughly how long it took to get the crop in from the field.
Near the end of the fourth work day, Mr. Riley offered me the chance to climb in the cab of one of the combines and learn how to drive the beast. In a nutshell — it’s how I’d imagine driving a Mars-rover across that most alien of sandscapes and for a few minutes, I forgot I was but an Earthling.
Having long retrieved my gear from the cluster of trees, I had everything packed up and ready to hit the road that Sunday morning as soon as the sun rose. Having said my goodbye’s the night before and finding a one-hundred dollar bill in my boot, I slurped down a warm cup off coffee, before setting-off across the now-bare fields towards my next destination – whatever and where ever that might be.
As I passed one of the combines, I noticed the sky to the east beginning to pink-up. Dropping my pack, I quickly climbed up the back of the vehicle and plopped my butt atop the cab, dangling my legs over the massive windshield.
From there I watched as the sun went from a sliver over the distant landscape to a full ball in the sky. As I watched, I couldn’t help but marvel at the idea that it was Sunday – a day I didn’t usually travel on – and that I’d jus’ watched a Kansas sunrise while sitting on top of a John Deere 9600 Combine.
“How may people can honestly say they’ve done this before?” I asked myself as felt the sun warming my tanned face.