Wheat harvest never grows old for Ed Hein, who’s seen his share over 92 years of farm living.
“Oh, I look forward to harvest,” he said with a smile during a lunch break with the family cutting crew last Wednesday afternoon.
Son Dean, who now manages the family farm following his father’s attempt to retire two years ago, quickly interjects: “He lives for harvest.”
More than an observer, Ed remains in the thick of it all. He still operates one of the two combines the Heins use to bring in the golden grain from the field.
“I like harvest when Dean and I can be in the same field,” Ed said, which was the case on Wednesday.
Advancing years have brought inevitable changes. These days, he welcomes the steadying hand of a family member as he navigates the path to and from his 7720 Titan 2 John Deere combine over uneven wheat ground.
“These last couple of years my legs have gone bad, and I’ve had new knees and new hips,” he said.
That said, Ed hopes to continue his harvest role as long as health permits.
“Before harvest I asked Dean, do you want me out in that field?” Ed said, adding with a smile: “Sometimes he’s scared what I’m going to do. But we get along really good.”
Over the decades, Ed has experienced firsthand the huge mechanical advances in cutting wheat. One of his early memories is the Allis Chalmers pull-type machine, complete with a 5-foot header and 15-bushel bin, that he pulled behind his International Farmall M tractor.
In 1955, Ed bought a self-propelled John Deere with a 12-foot header.
“That got me by for a couple of years, then I bought a 14-foot, which was real big with rubber tires on it,” he said.
In 1966 he bought a new John Deere 6600 that featured a diesel engine and an air-conditioned cab.
Ed joked that when his current machine—the 7720 Titan 2—quits working, so will he.
“When it quits, I quit,” in Ed’s own words.
Prior to Thursday night’s storm, the 2017 harvest has been one of the best, with an average of 60-65 bushels per acre.
But Ed recalls some tough times, too. In 1951, the wheat crop flooded out, and the following four years were devastated by drought. To generate income for the family, Ed signed on to help construct the cooperative elevator in Hillsboro.
The Hein harvest has always been a family event. In earlier years, while Ed drove the combine and wife Margaret drove the grain trucks to and from the elevator—without the modern luxuries of air-conditioning and power steering, of course.
“I don’t know how we did it back then,” Ed said with a shake of his head.
But they found a way to make it work. The couple will celebrate 69 years of marriage in August.
The advancement in machinery and philosophy has enabled modern farm families to cover more acres than Ed could have imagined back in the 1950s.
But that doesn’t mean wheat farming is a sure bet to be successful. Does Ed have advice for the current generation?
“I know what I think, but I’m not sure I should say it,” he said. “The price of machinery, as high as it is, and with the price of grain, they have to be real careful what they do.”
Meanwhile, Ed knows his harvest experiences may be limited, but he wants to enjoy each one as long as he is able.
“It’s in my blood,” he said. “I like to cut wheat once a year and I look forward to that. Because then we have something to sell.”