Ron Misener, 54, custom harvester
Misener Family Harvesters, Elk City, Oklahoma
"I'm a typical custom harvester. I have four combines, and we're strictly a family operation. My wife and I got married in 1976. Now we have four daughters and two sons. They all grew up on the floor of a combine, because my wife drove, too. They would be in their car seats on the floor of the cab. They all started driving a combine from 10 or 12 years old.
"We start harvesting on the Red River, on the Texas-Oklahoma border, the third week in May, and we stay in each place a week to 10 days. We harvest spring wheat, oats, malting barley, winter wheat, and as we move north, corn, oats, flax, soybeans, canola, buckwheat. We just stop every 150 miles from Texas to the Canadian border, until almost Thanksgiving. We work 55 to 60 different customers. They're people we've known for years; our families have grown up together. When you pull in, they have put their whole live-lihood into that crop for that year — and we have the privilege to harvest it.
"We'll get to the field around 8:30 in the morning; it takes an hour and a half to get the machines serviced each morning. Then you get all four machines rolling around the field. We unload the grain on the go. A tractor with a grain cart pulls alongside as the combine is still cutting. As long as the wheat's coming in, you are making money. It is like in-flight refueling.
"Sometimes, as evening comes down, I'll stand out there and just relax. It's still, quiet, and a half-mile away, one of the combines will still be making the rounds. It turns and is coming back, it has just turned on the lights, and you can hear the crop moving through the combine. What a great sound that is. You can hear the snip snip snip of wheat and the chopper throwing the straw out. It's a nice big hum. How long do I want to be on the road doing this six months a year? Until I'm 100 years old."
A version of this article appeared in the October 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.