Collection - Jason Holcomb Custom Harvester oral histories

Identity area

Reference code

Title

Jason Holcomb Custom Harvester oral histories

Date(s)

  • 1980-2010 (Creation)

Level of description

Collection

Extent and medium

18.00 Gigabytes

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

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 in 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 most part 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 primary 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. As children of the first generation of custom harvesters, Geral and Margie Schmidt and other participants 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 related 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.

The project was funded through grants from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, and the Kansas Humanities Council.

Archival history

It received accession number 2016-17.037.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Acqusition Source: Jason P. Holcomb
Acqusition Method: Donation.
Acqusition Date: 20170124

Content and structure area

Scope and content

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, which included interview questions pertaining specifically to Mennonite custom harvesters. Dr. Holcomb received grant funding from the Kansas Humanities Council for the Mennonite project, with sponsorship from the Mennonite Heritage & Agricultural Museum in Goessel, KS, which he used to pay for travel and transcription expenses. 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. Interview questions were in the broad categories of family history and background, labor, origins of custom harvesting as a vocation, the work of custom harvesting, identity and lifestyle, equipment, places along the harvest route, changes in the communities where they harvest, crops harvested, weather, hardships, meals, lodging, relationships, and sense of place. Dr. Holcomb asked Mennonite participants additional questions, including details about their faith, the relationship between faith and their work, pacifism, and the alternative service conscientious objectors performed.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

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

Accruals

System of 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.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

No access restrictions: All materials are open for research.

Conditions governing reproduction

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

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

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Related descriptions

Notes area

Note

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.

Alternative identifier(s)

Archon Collection ID

283

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used

Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Status

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Language(s)

  • English

Script(s)

Sources

Archivist's note

Finding Aid Author: Cynthia A. Harris
Processing Info: Cynthia A. Harris, Library Assistant III, processed the collection and curator David Allen reviewed it, in March 2017.
Publication Date: 2017-03-03

Accession area

Related people and organizations

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Physical storage

  • Box: Box 1