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Jason Holcomb Custom Harvester oral histories


Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

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Jason Holcomb Custom Harvester oral histories, 1980-2010 | Morse Department of Special Collections

By Cynthia A. Harris

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Collection Overview

Title: Jason Holcomb Custom Harvester oral histories, 1980-2010Add to your cart.

Primary Creator: Holcomb, Jason

Extent: 18.0 Gigabytes

Arrangement: The arrangement has been kept in the original order created by Jason Holcomb.  The collection includes six (6) DVDs containing WAV format interview audio files, PDF format transcripts of the interviews, PDF files of published articles, and scanned photo image files of interviewees with photo indexes between 2008 and 2010.  An index was created for eight (8) interviews in cooperation with the MHAM.

Date Acquired: 01/24/2017

Subjects: Kansas life and culture - Agriculture and rural life

Languages: English

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection contains oral histories of custom harvesters operating in Kansas and surrounding states. Twenty-five interviews of individuals and couples, some from Mennonite families, were conducted between 2008 and 2010 by Jason P. Holcomb, Associate Professor of Geography, Morehead State University, Morehead, KY, in an oral history project partially funded by the Kansas Humanities Council and the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum (MHAM).

This collection consists of 58.7 hours of audio files and the accompanying transcripts of oral history interviews with custom harvesters. Those interviewed were all from the United States except for one participant from Saskatchewan, Canada. American participants were from Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, or North Dakota. The time period discussed in the interviews ranges from pre-World War II to 2010 with first-person accounts of harvest from the 1950s to 2010. All persons interviewed were retired or working custom harvesters, yet the project has a distinct group of interviews, 21.5 hours in length, exclusively with Mennonite custom harvesters. The interviews with Mennonite custom harvesters began when Mr. Schmidt recommended interviewing Waldo and Doris Froese of Inman, KS, one of the communities in the Mennonite settlement area of south-central Kansas. Other communities include Buhler and Moundridge. Dr. Holcomb then recruited others in this area for a separate project that included interview questions pertaining specifically to Mennonite custom harvesters. Dr. Holcomb received grant funding from the Kansas Humanities Council, with sponsorship from the Mennonite Heritage & Agricultural Museum in Goessel, KS, which he used to pay for travel and transcription expenses for these interviews. There is a subject index of the transcripts of the interviews with Mennonites.

Dr. Holcomb obtained 244 complimentary photos and news articles from participants to augment the interviews. Photos were either from the personal collections of those interviewed or were taken by the research team. There are two photo keys that provide captions for the photos. All interviews were conducted between 2008 and 2010.  Questions asked fell into broad categories of family history and background, geography and sense of place, harvester identity and lifestyle, equipment, labor, and, in the case of the Mennonite participants, details about faith and the relationships between faith and the work of custom harvesting, pacifism, and conscientious objector status.

DVD 1 is comprised of Deeds of Gifts, scans of photographs and documents, transcripts and Jason Holcomb’s Oral History K-State Donation.  DVD1 contains two folders.  Folder one is about Waldo Froese and folder two is about Geral and Margie Schmidt.  DVD 3 contains digital wave files of interviews with Keith Albrecht, Jan Altendorf, Leon Bulgin, Keith and Della Dirks, Randy Ediger, Melvin and Vivian Eyster and Archie Franz.  Dvd 4 contains digital wave files of interviews with Rick Farris, Rick and Gary Farris, Larry Hancock, Tom Herberg and Meyer, Irene Hoffman, Perry and Candice Hoffman, Brent Johnson, Joyce Johnson, and Mike Matajcek.  DVD 5 contains digital wave files of interviews with Ken and Pam Pauls, Linda Pauls, Gerry Rattei, Orval Regier, Henry Stock, and Forrest Tupper. DVD 6 contains a digital wave file interview with Les White.

Biographical Note

Custom grain harvesters in the Great Plains own harvesting machinery and typically move their combines and other equipment to Texas or Oklahoma in May or early June to begin the wheat harvest season, and then move north as the wheat ripens, ending the wheat harvest season in North Dakota, Montana, or Canada. Custom harvesters are also known as custom combiners, and many now harvest fall crops as well. They own combines, trucks, tractors, grain carts, and bunkhouses (travel trailers), and move all the equipment from place to place to harvest for farmers that do not have their own harvesting equipment. Most live their own bunkhouses, while some stay in motels along the harvest route. Custom harvesting began at a smaller scale with the pull-type combine before World War II, taking the machines out of state to harvest wheat. The invention of the self-propelled combine allowed owners to more easily move the machines long distance to harvest wheat and other crops in multiple states. In the United States most of this type of custom harvesting work is done in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. Custom harvesters also work in Canada in the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

The seeds of this project began in 2008 when Dr. Jason Holcomb, the project interviewer, recorded the oral histories of Geral and Margie Schmidt, owners of Schmidt Harvesting in Sterling, KS. Dr. Holcomb worked for Schmidt Harvesting for all or part of most of the summers between 1988 and 2004 while he completed degrees in geography at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University and even after he started his work as a geography professor at Morehead State University in Morehead, KY. The Schmidt’s retirement from custom harvesting in 2006 provided the impetus to record their personal experiences, as both Geral and Margie were children of custom harvesters and thus spent much of their lives doing the work of harvesting crops and living this unique lifestyle. Mr. Schmidt suggested other custom harvesting families in the vicinity of Sterling to interview, and from there the project grew to include custom harvesters from multiple states. Dr. Holcomb recruited additional oral history participants by contacting members of the United States Custom Harvesters, Inc. Some interviews were recorded in 2008 or 2009 while the largest number were recorded when Dr. Holcomb was on sabbatical in 2010. Many of those interviewed were retired while others were still working in the harvesting business.

The goal of this project was to document the experiences of people with firsthand knowledge of the origins of custom harvesting in the first generation of custom harvesters after World War II, and how it developed in subsequent decades. Geral and Margie Schmidt and other participants were/are children of the first generation of custom harvesters and remember those early days. The project permanently preserves the memories of people who have taken part in this very important part of Great Plains agriculture. Another valuable resource completed by the Inman Museum Association is titled Sixty years of custom harvesting on the Great Plains: Oral histories, and is available at McPherson College’s Miller Library in McPherson, KS.

Subject/Index Terms

Kansas life and culture - Agriculture and rural life

Administrative Information

Repository: Morse Department of Special Collections

Access Restrictions: No access restrictions: All materials are open for research.

Use Restrictions: The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Physical Access Note: Original materials available during open hours of repository and any digitized materials that are online are available with Internet access.

Technical Access Note: Collection contains materials that are not accessible without proper technology.

Acquisition Source: Jason P. Holcomb

Acquisition Method: Donation.

Appraisal Information: Acquired because it documents oral histories of custom harvester families in Kansas.

Preferred Citation: [Item title], [item date], Jason Holcomb Custom Harvester Oral Histories, Box [number], Folder [number or title], Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.

Processing Information: Cynthia A. Harris, Library Assistant III, processed the collection and curator David Allen reviewed it, in March 2017.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by DVD:

[DVD 1],
[DVD 2],
[DVD 3],
[DVD 4],
[DVD 5],
[DVD 6],

DVD 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Deeds of Gift - 17.8 MB, 2008-2010Add to your cart.

Deeds of Gift Mennonites.pdf - 7.69 MB

Deeds of Gift Non-Mennonite.pdf - 10.2 MB

Folder 2: Photo Scans and Documents - 209 MB, 1980-2010Add to your cart.

1. Farris Pictures, 38 photographs plus photo key - 20.2 MB

2. Harvest Scanning Gerry Rattei Folder - 38.9 MB

(a)  1st Class magazine article "The sharpest harvest fleet in the West"

(b)  Massey Ferguson Ad, letter to editor from Freddie Streit (June 11, 1980), "Proven Technology Keeps MF in Top Spot Among Custom Cutters" by Glenn S. Hensley

(c) Perryton TX Herald article, "Harvest in full swing," June 24, 1990

(d) Yorkton This Week article, "Custom Combining...The Rattei brothers have come all the way from Texas to work here" by Jeff Rud, September 15, 1982

(e) Potter County News, September 2005, newspaper photograph of the charred remains of a John Deer Combine

(f) Potter County News article, "Fire Department Responds to 12 Fires in 15 Days," August 2, 1990

(g) scan0016.jpg, The Hoven Review article "Harvest in Full Swing," August 7, 1986

3. K-State Donation Mennonite Heritage Ag Museum Pic - 124 MB                             

(a) Photograph Key (156 KB)

(b) Keith Albrecht, 14 photos

(c) Keith Dirks, 37 photos

(d) Massey Harris 21A, 3 photos

(e) Orval Regier, 18 photos

(f) Pauls, 36 photos

(g) Randy Ediger, 35 photos

(h) Schmidt's, 26 photos

(i) Waldo Froese, 12 photos

4. Photos Of Interviews from collection of Jason Holcomb - 22.8 MB         

9 photographs (2010): Gerry Rattei, Kenny Pauls, Mike Matejcek, Candice & Perry Hoffman, Slim Meyer & Tom Herberg, Keith & Della Dirks, Mary & Keith Albrecht, Melvin & Vivian Eyster, Mrs. Altendorf, Elmer & Jan Altendorf

5. Harvest Tree pdf - 72.1 KB                                                                                     

A chart created to show connections between Mennonite custom harvesters who participated in or were mentioned in the Kansas Humanities Council/Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum (MHAM) oral histories

6. Washita County Enterprise article, "Harvest Memories...Things have changed a lot in the past 50+ years," by Flo Richardson, June 19, 2008 - 2.42 MB

Folder 3: Transcripts - 7.36 MB, 2008-2010Add to your cart.
K-State Donation.pdf, (7.36 MB), MHAM intro and index (308 KB), 25 transcripts:Keith & Mary Albrecht (292 KB), Elmer & Jan Altendorf (304 KB), Leon & Jada Bulgin (179), Keith & Della Dirks (253 KB), Randy Ediger (163 KB), Melvin & Vivian Eyster (277 KB), Gary & Rick Farris (411 KB), Rick Farris (245 KB), Archie Franz (331 KB), Waldo & Doris Froese (529 KB), Larry Hancock (261 KB), Tom Herberg & Slim Meyer (366 KB), Irene Hoffman (181 KB), Perry & Candice Hoffman (291 KB), Brent Johnson (222 KB), Joyce Johnson (178 KB), Mike Matejcek (182 KB), Kenny & Pam Pauls (154 KB), Linda Pauls (173 KB), Gerry Rattei (422 KB), Orval & Leana  Regier (236 KB), Geral & Margie Schmidt (731 KB), Henry Stock (187 KB), Forrest Tupper (359 KB), Les White (291 KB)
Folder 4: Jason Holcomb Oral History K-State Donation - 20.2 KB, 2008-2010Add to your cart.
Excel Spreadsheet listing the items donated to K-State.

Browse by DVD:

[DVD 1],
[DVD 2],
[DVD 3],
[DVD 4],
[DVD 5],
[DVD 6],

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