The last harvest

Ernie Thooft fulfills wish to operate combine

Photo by Mike Lamb Scott Thooft has a laugh with his father, Ernie, after he watched him operate a combine during harvesting of soybeans on Wednesday.

MARSHALL — Ernie Thooft and his wife, Kate, were being driven in a car by his granddaughter, Bridgit Harris, to his old farming site 10 miles west of Marshall Wednesday when he spotted the blue tractor in the field.

Off in the distance he could see his son, Scott, standing next to his combine.

“Scott thinks he’s going to be putting me in the bucket (connected to the tractor),” Thooft jokingly said to his wife and granddaughter.

When he got out of the car, that’s exactly what his son tried to do. But his son was going to use the bucket on the tractor to lift his dad up to the driver’s seat of the combine. But Ernie, 82, and suffering from lung cancer and the effects of an aortic aneurysm, would have nothing to do with the lift. Slowly, but surely, Thooft climbed up the stairs, with his son guiding him.

“It’s his last wish,” Harris said. “Grandpa has asked that one of his last things he wanted to do was to ride in this combine to harvest one more time with Scott. That was our goal to make that happen and thanks to everyone we were able to successfully do that.”

As soon as Thooft sat down in front of the controls, the combine took off to harvest soybeans in the field.

“He was combining,” Scott Thooft said. “He said his left arm was getting to where he said, ‘I couldn’t do this all day.’ I was going to have him do the rest of the field. His arm couldn’t take it.” Scott Thooft recalls his dad saying, “it’s quite a combine. You must be able to take a lot of acreage with something like this.'”

According to his wife, they left the farm in 1996 after raising 10 children. Back then he used a 1968 model combine. The combine Ernie Thooft controlled Wednesday is a Class 7 CAT Lexion 570r. It is advertised to be able to harvest 80 bushels of corn in about a minute. That’s 4,800 bushels an hour.

His wife said that’s quite a difference from what her husband is used to working with. She said her husband grew up working the field using a plow pulled by a horse.

“He wasn’t very big — 8 or 9 years old — and he said he had to hang onto the seat of the plow so he didn’t fly off,” Kate Thooft said. “I suppose the horse was so gentle and well-trained.”

When the combine stopped, Ernie Thooft climbed down off the machine and said, “that’s a nice combine.”

“I can’t believe he got up in there by himself,” Harris said. She has been taking care of her grandparents up to last August. They now live at Heritage Pointe Senior Living.

“I mean, just coming here three times we had to stop. Just coming down the stairs we had to stop so he could take a breath. To see his determination, and see him go up and get in there, it’s kind of emotional really. It obviously means something to him to muster up that kind of strength.”

While her husband was in the combine, Kate Thooft reminisced a little. She said they got married in 1958 in Seaforth.

“I grew up on the farm. I’ve always been on the farm. If we were going to have a family, that was the place to be. We raised 10 kids on the farm,” Kate Thooft said.

“We met through one of Ernie’s brothers. There used to be dances at the town hall in Vesta and that’s where my sister met Ernie’s brother. Then his brother brought Ernie to our house. And the very first place we ever went was to the Redwood County Fair.

“And if you had to it all over again, you would do the same foolish things again,” she said. “Except nowadays I don’t know how anybody would ever raise a family of 10 kids. There were good times and tough times.”

Scott Thooft said he’s about two-thirds the way through the soybeans.

“Probably in about two or three days we will have the beans done. Then we will start on the corn I guess,” he said. “We just needed this dry weather I guess to kind of make decent progress. We had a couple nice days here and hopefully we get another couple weeks with weather like this.”