Fifty harvests ago, long before air conditioned combines, before internet job boards, before he spent more than 30 years in a classroom, Norman Forssberg was just a married man needing a summer job.
Happenstance, he calls it from atop a combine, his weathered hand steering a machine across Pratt County’s amber terrain.
Fifty harvests ago, Forssberg, was the new teacher in a new town. He and his wife moved next to no other than the local barber.
Who, of course, in a farming community like Pratt, knows a bit about everything.
“I was visiting with him in the yard and told him I was kind of looking for some summer work – that I had done construction, grown up on a farm,” said Forssburg. “The next day Carter (Barker) came into the barber shop to see if anyone knew where he could find some help driving his combine for the remainder of the harvest.
The rest, of course, is history. Fifty harvests later, the 74-year-old is still circling the Barker farm fields this June for Carter’s son Gary.
Maybe it’s the food that has kept him at it, he said with a chuckle, noting Gary’s wife, Ruth Ann, and Carter’s wife Marjorie, always serve a hot meal at noon.
On this day, on the menu was smothered steak, mashed potatoes, rolls, relishes, beets and fruit salad, along with dessert.
“You can’t beat the eating we get out here during harvest,” he said. “The cooks feed us well.”
Forssberg, however, is not a stranger to the farm fields. He grew up on a farm in Phillips County. He eventually ventured to the University of Kansas, got a teaching degree. He taught at a couple different schools before he moved his family to Pratt, Kansas.
He spent the next 30-some years teaching math at Pratt USD 382. His summers, however, were spent helping the Barkers – especially during wheat harvest.
He retired from teaching in 1999. But not from the combine.
“I still look forward to each year,” he said of wheat harvest. “But I don’t think I want to go back to teaching.”
He doesn’t listen to the radio. He just listens to the sound of the machine and the wheat going through the header.
Gary Barker calls him a math whiz of the field, proclaiming Forssberg, who drives a combine without any yield monitors or precision tools, figures the bushels per acre of a field by watching the grains pour into the bin.
Not quite, says Forssberg with a chuckle. But notes that if it takes 20 minutes to fill up the combine bin, “It’s pretty good wheat.”
“A good wheat crop always makes it even more enjoyable,” he said of harvest.