Our grain harvest began the first week of August as we joined with our Palouse River neighbor Joe DeLong to cut our crop of Crimson Turkey (“Turkey Red”) wheat at his farm. The DeLong place is located several miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm between the communities of Endicott and St. John. We’ve been working with Joe for several years as he takes meticulous care of his land and is a master mechanic whose magic touch keeps equipment of almost any vintage purring like new. Below is a picture of the first round in the Turkey wheat with Joe at the helm of his Model 453 International Combine. (The “header” is the detachable assembly in front of the combine with sickle cutting bar and rotating reel that feeds the grain back into the machines threshing mechanisms.) Crimson Turkey is a high quality hard red winter bread wheat indigenous to the Black Sea’s Crimean Peninsula. Flanking the strip of ripe grain is a lower stand of green oats that Joe will use for livestock feed, and above is a colorful hillside of Sonoran Gold soft white spring wheat which should be ready to harvest in about two more weeks. The latter is one of the earliest grains raised in the Pacific Northwest as period accounts trace its origins to at least the 1850s after seed stock had likely found its way north from California. Sonoran is a Mediterranean landrace wheat that was introduced by the Spanish to Mexico as early as the 16th century and eventually became a staple of Southwest cuisine for flour tortillas, Indian frybread, and numerous other flavorful foods.
The picture below was taken this past spring when colorful native “sunflower” balsamroot set the hillside overlooking our Palouse Colony Farm ablaze in vibrant yellow and greens. The brown summer-fallow field covering the lower flat now hosts a fine crop of golden Scots Bere barley, the “grain that gave beer its name.” This ancient variety has grown in the northern British Isles since at least the 4th century AD when it was likely introduced by Roman legionnaires sent north to occupy the region.
Although we transport our grain to a cleaning and storage facility in the rural community of Thornton about eighteen miles northeast of the farm, grain handling modernization has recently come to our nearby hometown Endicott. In the early 1880s, Endicott was platted by the Oregon Improvement Company, a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railroad, on its strategic branch line that tapped the fertile Palouse grain district along a route from the main NPRR transcontinental line at Palouse Junction (present Connell, Washington) eastward to Endicott, Colfax, and eventually Pullman and Moscow. A complicated network of feeder lines then tapped the northern and southern parts of the region. Construction of the central line, known in the late 1800s as the Columbia & Palouse, led to use of heavier rail than along other tracks which came to be an important factor many decades later for upgrading regional grain shipping operations.
With the merger of local farmer Endicott and St. John grain storage cooperatives in recent years into a larger entity known as Whitgro, a decision was made to construct a new storage and train loading facility in Endicott since the line there had been constructed with rail weight capable of carrying 110-car unit trains. The project called for construction of seven new immense steel grain silos to be located adjacent to a series of several other larger ones which brought total capacity in Endicott to approximately 3,100,000 bushels. The new storage facility was designed for rapid one-day loading of the trains which are capable of holding 100 tons of grain per car for a combined unit capacity of 420,000 bushels. Grain is trucked to town from farms and other elevators in all directions for shipment downline to tiny Hooper and then on to Portland for shipment worldwide. Work commenced on the enormous project last fall and the facility became operational just in time for this year’s bountiful harvest. The two R. R. Hutchison photographs below show grain storage at Endicott about 1910 when men worked long hours to carefully arrange 110 pound sacks along the railroad in tall stacks and in wide wooden flat-houses. Makes one grateful for trucks and augers.