Tough Times in Harvest

I just got fired from the job. It’s no surprise and no disappointment. To the contrary, I saw it coming for a while and I’m glad to get out of here and move onto something fun. Let me go over what happened the past weeks though. Me and the farmer who runs the place don’t really get along that well (he mainly just doesn’t like me) and I might vent a bit about it, but at least I hope it provides you with some entertainment!

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That up there is most probably the main reason why he had it in for me from the start. The damaged side was laying on the ground beforehand. I mentioned the “truck mishap” in my previous post briefly, but didn’t feel like explaining or showing too much of it then. Yes, I was driving that truck, the boss was next to me, telling me to go faster despite me having a full 15 minutes of hands-on experience with it. His explanation on driving a truck was, as is typical for him, very brief, omitting some key details that I realized myself afterwards and he was not willing to answer any question I might have had. I actually drove it fine by myself just before that, taking it easy, going slow to get a feel for it. But he wasn’t having any of that, his response to me saying I wasn’t comfortable with it was “I don’t fucking care, I need to get there fast!”. So then this happened, on my second day on the job.

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After the crazy long first week, we got quite a bit of rain and finally got some time off. Since we eat so much cereal for breakfast, we were running out of supplies so it was pretty welcome.

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On the way to town we passed some Emu’s in the fields. They can run up to 45km/h and we kept up with them in the car for a while. It was really quite special.

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I’m glad I got to work with Chris & Mike though, we get along really well and have become good friends. Chris up there had lost his hat months ago, so when I found an old, faded and greasy John Deere cap in my room, I gave it to him. He now proudly wears it every day.

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After the rain harvest picked up again. We switched to chickpeas instead of wheat, as Darrel, the boss seemed really keen on it. I guess the over triple price-per-tonne compared to wheat has something to do with that. Chickpeas are much slower to harvest though, at between 1.5 to 2.5 tonne per hectare they come in at half the rate of wheat.

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That meant I had to drive back to the silos much less, instead of 45minutes per truck, it takes at least one and a half hour to fill a truck. So you sit around and wait. I started noticing things like how the flies all calm down and start sitting on my windshield around 6pm, which is nice because then they don’t bother me anymore.

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When we had another day off, we decided to go swimming near the borehole. It’s a large underground pump that brings up water which we use to fill a big concrete swimming tank. The water does smell a bit like volcanoes, or bad eggs, whichever you prefer.

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At the borehole, I took some pictures of us by putting the camera on the roof of the car. And then forgot it when we drove off. I realized I lost the camera a few hours later, when I was in bed. I drove backed and looked for it in the dark, went again the next morning and me and the boys looked for it that evening again, but couldn’t find it. The road we lost it on was a dirt road leading to another farm that sawe at least a few vehicles per hour, so I figured somebody found it and picked it up. I didn’t want to be without a camera for long, so I found an identical one online for much less than I paid for this one.
A week later, the day after my new camera arrived, a guy in a pickup truck stopped and after some smalltalk, asked us if any of us had lost a camera. He recognized the truck and tractor from the pictures on it. So now I have two cameras. One as backup I guess?

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When we got back to harvesting chickpeas, me and Chris, who sits around waiting just as much as me, found out time went by much quicker while playing Pokemon on our cellphones. Poor Mike has no time for that, he has to drive the harvester constantly just like before. We made sure to put away our phones every time Darrel showed up for a random surprise inspection (he really likes doing those, sometimes coming in through an alternative route so we don’t see him coming). Still he started getting angry at me for “sitting around doing nothing” in the truck, while waiting for it to fill up. He didn’t seem to mind Chris sitting around just as much though.
He started coming up with lots of menial things to try and keep me busy. Like requiring me to check the tire pressure on all 22 tires, every two hours. To identify problems early and avoid disasters. Meanwhile his own truck had two tires with steel belts showing and shreds of rubber peeling off. He said he knew about it. Then his tire blew a day later. I had to help change it.

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Harvesting chickpeas is actually even slower because there’s a big fire risk with the dust created by harvesting chickpeas, requiring the harvester to be cleaned every two hours. There’s an acid in there that can combust easily, something we’ve seen and smelled a few times. The first time it started smoking the boys sprayed it down with water, then when Darrel showed up he didn’t believe them there was smoke and told them to just sweep away the smoking dust with a little brush, as to not damage the harvester with water. The next time it smoked they used a brush and Darrel got angry they didn’t use water. Poor Mike doesn’t even know what to do anymore when it happens now!

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There’s no trash collection out here, so we just have to chuck it in some old barrels and burn it every few weeks. Chris used a little too much gasoline to light it, so he sent burning trash flying all over in a fireball, lighting the dry grass on fire around it. He ran in to get us help extinguish it, which we managed before Darrel noticed.

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One thing that really got to me, was the off days when the crops were too wet to harvest and we just did odd jobs. Things like fixing the harvester, maintaining the truck, all sorts of mechanical maintenance. Stuff I normally like and am at least half decent at. Darrel seemed convinced in advance that I was an idiot, and didn’t even let me get near anything. Instead, while the boys were helping him out, I had to sweep the floors and clean the windows on the vehicles. That didn’t take long so he’d resort to just sending me home while the boys kept working, as to avoid having to pay me for nothing. Moments like that really required me to keep my lips together very tightly…

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On one of our trips to town, we noticed just as we were about to leave that the tire on the Hilux, which is used for work (towing the compressor), was ripped to shreds. The boys had taken it out to the borehole for some late night swimming (I opted for sleeping instead) and had not noticed that the tire had gone flat. We changed to a spare and argued about who was going to tell Darrel about it. We all agreed it should not be me, and he didn’t even seem to mind that much when they told him.

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I usually let the boys drive the 50km to town, as I didn’t want to be the one driving when something would go wrong. Darrel kept talking about how I was such an awful, dangerous driver, driving like an Italian, etc. Meanwhile I didn’t always feel to comfortable with Chris or Mike on the wheel, as they drive a bit more … “spirited” than I would. We also had to wash down the car after getting back a few times due to them having a bit too much fun in the mud between the fields.

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Moree is a small town, so by the third visit we had pretty much seen and visited every store and attraction. Here’s a picture of a dual-cab, six-wheel-drive Landcruiser ute carrying and ATV that we came across at the camping store. I guess you only see that in outback Australia.

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During harvest we keep a close eye on the sky, hoping for rain. Rain means wet crops, which means we might get a day off. Things are so vast here that there’s no reliable weather forecast for this location, it can be different over a few km’s. This cloud front looked promising, but the showers passed right around us, leaving us dry in between.

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Meanwhile I really got the hang of the truck. I found out it has 500 horsepower thanks to a turbocharger and a supercharger, yikes! I actually started liking driving the truck, it was clear what I had to do and he would never ride along with me in the cab anymore. The comments about my “unsafe” driving also became (a bit) less.

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Much more difficult however, was trying to figure out where to park it every time we would start a new field. He would of course never tell me clearly and if I tried to figure it out, he’d come up with some new rule or guideline that I had carelessly broken. The nights were the hardest. He’d want me to park relative to where we were harvesting. During the day I can see the 40cm difference in crop height and the tracks in the field, but out in the pitch dark, with 3 out of 8 working lights I had a hard time seeing much. Especially if it was behind me, where I have no lights, unlike Chris and Mike’s vehicles that are bristling with high powered lights in all directions. When I told him that he started shouting he’d never heard such bullshit before, that I should stop being lazy and maybe consider fixing some lights. I guess he forgot I tried to do that a week before and that he told me to stop doing so because I “don’t need those”.

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We switched from chickpeas to wheat for a few days and things got a bit more intense for me. Since just the harvester uses 500 liters of diesel per day we ran out of diesel fuel. This truck is what the Australian fuel delivery guy drives. Nice.

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The last few days I started thinking about if he was even going to want to keep me around after harvest. Considering his dislike for me and the fact he didn’t even want me around for odd jobs, I figured I wouldn’t have much time left here. Luckily I had been thinking of a plan for a few weeks already, looking forward to the day I’d get out of here. So when today, when I parked the truck 50 meters too far forward sending him into another tantrum that must have been the drop for him, I didn’t feel upset or surprised at all.

I held out for as long as I could, as most people advised me to. It’s been pretty crazy and I don’t hold a grudge against him. I can laugh about it, it’s mostly just too silly. They could turn this in to a pretty entertaining TV show I think, like those on Discovery channels with the truckers, loggers and fishermen.

So now I’m getting ready for the next adventure!

4 replies
  1. André B.
    André B. says:

    Great update as always! Fantastic pictures.
    I would watch that show, by the way. It would, however, have to feature ‘Major Darrel’ and ‘Private Corijn’…
    I’m excited to hear what happens next!

    Reply

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