HAYS - It was early evening Friday in Ellis County.
Family members finished their meal and went back to the harvest.
Don Werth sat in the van with some of his great-grandchildren. Michelle Werth stood a few feet from the van pointing into the field where her husband Randy circled in the large John Deere combine cutting wheat.
Their 8-year-old grandson Max Gerstner sat next to him. When Randy came around one corner, his son-in-law Derek Gerstner ran the tractor pulling the grain cart beside the combine as its auger extended over the cart unloading grain.
The Werths’ nephew, Travis Kleweno, drove the other combine a distance from Randy. Tim Werth, Randy’s cousin, was at the location as well, ready to take one of the semis to the elevator when its full.
In all, pieces of four generations of the family were in the field — all a part of what is customary during the harvest season.
“In a few more years with these grandkids, I’d really like to get them going and put them on the equipment,” Randy Werth said looking ahead in the field of golden wheat he had yet to cut. “A little at a time. ... In a matter of a few years here, they’ll all be old enough. If they’re interested, we’ll be here.”
What about it, Max? Are you going to be doing this in a few years?
“Yeah,” he says looking up at his grandfather, then turns his attention to the combine header turning over the wheat, cutting it as the large machine moves along.
Decades of family farming together, Randy took over the operations from his father Don around 1999. At 83 years old, Don still gets up into the combine he owns and takes part in the harvest each year. He rarely works as late as the others, but it’s all something he feels no reason to stop. The harvest aspect is something he’s done since he was young. Don joined the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, serving two years with time spent in Germany, then came home and has farmed since.
“I’ll do it for as long as I can go,” Don said of taking part in the harvest. “I don’t help any with the servicing of the equipment. I wouldn’t be any good for that. But I can come out here and help with this.”
In a business not as much family-oriented as it once was, the Werths are an exception to the rule. It’s something of pride they take part in.
Of Don and Charlotte Werth’s four children, Randy is the only one who still works the family-owned land around Ellis County and surrounding area, where they also rent a few fields.
Ryan Werth, Randy and Michelle’s son, will work with them during harvest when he isn’t working his job as a paramedic for EagleMed out of Dodge City. Derek Gerstner is married to the Werths’ daughter, Randi. The only non-family member on the crew is longtime friend Keith Fieler, who has worked with them for a quarter of a century.
“It’s very gratifying to see it passed down,” Charlotte Werth said of many of the family members helping the harvest work.
Michelle watches seven of their nine grandchildren, while she also prepares some of the meals for the crew, runs errands and does all the other necessary help.
Friday afternoon as the kids watched television back at the farmhouse, Michelle cut slices of cantaloupe, watermelon and strawberries she would take out to the field. The kids she watches are 12 and younger. The only two grandchildren she doesn’t watch are in Kansas City with their mother, Jennifer Werth, who is Randy and Michelle’s oldest child. They will be moving to California soon.
“What do you all do for Grandma when you come out for work?” she asks the kids — Dalton Werth, Zoe and Ben Gerstner, who come into the kitchen for the some fruit.
“Water the plants,” said Dalton, 7.
“What else?” Michelle asks.
“Pull weeds,” Dalton said.
It’s a family operation in which everyone who can takes part.
In a year the wheat harvest has been good — much better than it was last summer, thanks in large part to the late spring rains — the Werths are happy to have as much help as possible. What makes it all the better for the first and second generation is it is all something the younger generations are more than willing to be a part of as well.
For Randy, it’s just nice to have the bonus of his father still able to come out and lend a hand.
“It’s really going to be tough once he can’t come out anymore,” Randy said of Don. “It’s nice he still comes out and runs the combine for a couple hours before my nephew takes over. That’s quite a bit for someone his age. He’s doing well. Physically, he’s in good shape.”
Mike writes for The Hays Daily News. To contact Mike, email firstname.lastname@example.org.