Have you ever wanted to travel across the United States? My grandpa Verle Peterson has been lucky enough to do this. He currently resides on our farmstead with his wife Sandy Peterson, five miles east of Crookston. He is tall, wears glasses and most every morning you can find him at RBJ’s laughing and telling stories with his friends over coffee. My grandpa is kind and has a strong Christian faith. His life motto is “trust your faith.” In 1959, at the age of 21, my grandpa was doing custom combining. He had skipped spring quarter at the University of Minnesota St. Paul to leave with a group of men for Texas by May 20, 1959.

    Have you ever wanted to travel across the United States? My grandpa Verle Peterson has been lucky enough to do this. He currently resides on our farmstead with his wife Sandy Peterson, five miles east of Crookston. He is tall, wears glasses and most every morning you can find him at RBJ’s laughing and telling stories with his friends over coffee. My grandpa is kind and has a strong Christian faith. His life motto is “trust your faith.” In 1959, at the age of 21, my grandpa was doing custom combining. He had skipped spring quarter at the University of Minnesota St. Paul to leave with a group of men for Texas by May 20, 1959.

     The wheat they combined in Texas grows in the winter and was mature enough by the end of May to the first week of June when they harvested it. Northern wheat matures later in the summer, so they were able to move north to combine as the wheat became ready to harvest. The custom combining crew had a school bus which they turned into sleeping quarters and even had a kitchen space. Five of the men brought trucks including my grandpa who used his dad’s truck. They would load their combines in the back of their trucks with 14ft headers sitting crossways above the cab of the truck. When they would pickup to leave for the next location, they would have to take the sides of the truck box off the trucks and store them underneath the combines.

    They could only drive during daylight hours due to regulations and every time they moved from state to the next state, they had to clean off the combines with an air compressor. This happened when they crossed a state border, the authorities had to inspect the combines to make sure they were clean and weren’t carrying seeds, straw, etc. from state to state. On their way down to Texas, they stopped in Fredrick, Oklahoma waiting to go to the next state. That night they heard warning alarms for a tornado. But the combining crew thought it was for some type of fire because that’s what typically happens in Minnesota. They did not realize this was a REAL tornado warning. They stayed in their bus thinking nothing of taking any shelter. But the next morning they looked around at the damage the tornado had done. Obviously not a fire.

    My grandpa and his combining crew finally made it to Vernon, Texas where the owners of the machines got farmers to commit to giving them work. They would set up their school bus in the yard of the people they were working for. It would be right next to the water supply so they could fill up wash tubs and set them out to sit in the sun all day. When they were done working for the day, they had nice warm water to clean themselves off in the evening.

    When they left Vernon, Texas they moved into Oklahoma where they had to wait to combine because the ground was too wet due to some rain. They hadn’t known how much rain the field had gotten, so they went in with the combines and got them stuck. They needed to use the heaviest truck they had to pull the combines out backwards because there weren’t any tractors around to pull them out. After Oklahoma, they went to Liberal, Kansas where my grandpa Verle had his 21st birthday. Then after Liberal, Kansas they went back down to the panhandle of Texas which has higher elevation in Texas.

    Since my grandpa had his dad’s truck, he only drove truck and not combines. The combines at the time were all open station which means there was no cab. They drove 400 miles to Macook, Nebraska but half of their group went to another state and had taken their bus with sleeping quarters with them. Verle and his group had to sleep in a wood granary owned by the men they were working for. When Verle and his group had no work or it had been raining so they couldn’t work, they would find their way into trouble. After Nebraska, they rode up to South Dakota. In South Dakota the seeds of the wheat were too wet to go to the elevator so they would dump the wheat onto the ground and it would sit out in the sun for a month. After that month, they had people from the Native American reservations who would then haul it to the elevator. After South Dakota, they drove up to central Montana but were not able to find work there. Then they went home just in time to combine their wheat here in Minnesota.

    This was only the beginning of my grandpa’s farming career as he and his brother farmed around the Crookston and Fisher area until they retired. My grandpa in his retirement continues to enjoy helping his son around the farm when he can. Recently my grandparents went to McCook, Nebraska to see the old granary that my grandpa stayed in and also visited with the owner of the land. Most of the men involved both in their group and the farmers that they worked with are now part of history. There are also a lot of differences from 1959 to the present. One combine now will harvest as much as four combines did in 1959. The world still needs probably more than ever all the wheat that can be produced to feed an ever expanding global population.