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Harvest Tales - Sedgwick County 01

Harvest stories submitted by Kansans for the online exhibit, Wheat People. Submit your own at KansasMuseum@kshs.org.

JoEllen Forward Greenlee

A Proud Farmer's Daughter

I grew up on a farm west of Clearwater in Sedgwick County. This is the farm where my great grandparents located after arriving from Ohio in 1886. In the summer of 1953, as wheat harvest approached, it was decided that I would be given the responsibility of driving the new Chevrolet truck. The truck had an amazing lift that could raise the truck bed thus emptying its contents. This was quite different from the “antique” Chevrolet truck that my older sister had driven. She sat on gunny sacks placed on the bare springs of the seat and the air conditioning comprised of holes in the floor boards and windows that could not be rolled up. And once at the elevator, the entire truck would be raised to empty the wheat. She never missed an opportunity to let me know how privileged I was!

I had completed drivers education during my recent freshman year in high school, although it did not involve a large farm truck. My father was confident in my abilities but my mother was somewhat anxious due to my diminutive stature weighing in at barely 100 pounds and measuring just over 5 feet tall. The trust my Dad placed in me, however, gave me great confidence in my abilities. After some practice driving runs and instructions from my patient father I was ready to participate in the rapidly approaching wheat harvest.

Our farm included approximately 400 acres of wheat to be harvested each summer. When the harvesting started I would park the truck in the wheat field waiting to be summoned to the proper place when the bin of the Gleaner combine was full. After several bins of grain had been dumped into the bed of the truck I would start on the 12 mile journey to the grain elevator in Conway Springs near the Sumner County border. Occasionally the truck load of wheat and I were sent to the small hamlet of Millerton or to Clearwater three miles away. After the harvest was complete, I and the John Deere tractor were tasked with preparing the ground for planting in the fall. My mother insisted that I have an umbrella for shade which was a bright John Deere yellow. Luckily for me, school started before the wheat planting season began because my father was a real stickler for straight rows. He was a pro and I was not!

I continued to help with the wheat harvest during the summers of my remaining high school years and after my first year of college. Due to my father’s failing health, I would occasionally drive the truck even after my marriage. It was a family affair as my husband helped with the plowing in the evening after he got off work from his job in Wichita.

In 1961 after my father suffered his second stroke, custom cutters were hired to harvest the wheat. The problem now was how to get the plowing done in time for the wheat planting. Unbeknown to my father the neighbors had a plan. On a sunny August morning 52 tractors and plows appeared in the wheat fields. In two and a half hours the neighborhood farmers had turned under 245 acres of wheat stubble. Not to be out done by the neighborhood men, the ladies provided lunch which consisted of 21 fried chickens, 19 assorted pies, a baby bathtub full of potato salad, sliced tomatoes, potato chips, bread and butter sandwiches, 25 gallons of iced tea, four gallons of coffee and plenty of fresh well water. One farm neighbor summed up the plow-in by saying “Isn’t this what neighbors are for?” My father, always the optimist, commented “This will give me a chance to regain my strength and maybe I can work the farm again.” My father’s hope was not to be realized and it was necessary to turn the farming over to the cousins. He, however, until his last days remained a proud farmer. I am also proud to be a farmer’s daughter. I believe the trust my father placed in me gave me the confidence and determination to conclude that girls can do anything!

"Harvest Tales" is part of the online exhibit, Wheat People:  Celebrating Kansas Harvest.