Purchase photos

The last harvest

6/16/2012

By MIKE CORN

Son of the late C.W. "Bill" Corn

RIVERSIDE -- Neither heat nor an abundance of dust or wheat chaff could keep Irvin Koerner from his appointed rounds in the harvest field, never mind it was his 83rd birthday.

It didn't matter that he was running an open-cab combine older than his "fourth-born son" who, as the mechanic in the group, got the right to run -- and fix, when it broke down -- the only combine with air conditioning.

"It fits this old man right to a T," Koerner said of the 54-year-old combine.

A third combine was being driven by grandson Kevin Koerner, whose brother, Joey Koerner, a Hays chiropractor, ferried grain in a pair of un-airconditioned to the elevator.

Despite the dust caked on Koerner's hat, striped bib overalls or his face -- protected only by a blue dust mask -- his main concern Monday was that he didn't forget to thank the people helping him in what was his last harvest.

It's not that his 1958 John Deere 55 broke down just as his crew was wrapping up the last field before heading home to cut a small patch of wheat.

Koerner is retiring from farming, handing over the operation to his son-in-law, Adam Showalter from Alexander.

"He married our daughter Janice," Koerner said. "They had five children."

Out of a family of four boys and seven girls, he's the only one farming.

"I had one interested for a while, but he decided to do something else," he said.

He also had to thank Helen, his wife of nearly 64 years.

For Koerner, after all, it is all about family.

And tradition.

It's the same for his harvest crew.

"I come out every year," son Greg said of taking vacation from his job as a machinist and mechanic in Scott City. "This is my relaxing, working vacation."

Now 51, Greg Koerner said he's been at it for years.

"Ever since I was a little kid looking under the steering wheel," he said of not being big enough to see over the steering wheel.

Grandson Joey said he's been coming out to help out in the harvest field for about 18 years.

"It's a little tradition," he said.

He worked at his "normal job" in the morning before heading down to the southern reaches of Ness County to join in the harvest. He's a chiropractor in Hays.

Like his father, Greg Koerner doesn't have a single thing against the old machines.

"The old machines," he said, "they're easy to fix."

The 6620 he was running, far from new itself, isn't so easy.

"I don't get to drive it," Irvin Koerner said of the newer machine.

Despite a breakdown in the machine he was running, Koerner was happy with the field.

"I think it was averaging 30" bushels per acre, he said. But, it had a 10 percent hail loss and high wind before harvest.

With only a small patch of wheat left to be cut, Koerner was looking forward to turning over the operation.

"I'm just going to live on the farm and tinker around," he said. "Help the kids if I'm able."

As for the 1958 John Deere combine?

"It was as good machine," he said. "They made it to last."