National Geographic : 1972 Aug
clock and the other on the clouds. Rain or hail can destroy a crop as it stands in the field. When it is ripe, farmers want it cut immediately, but many cannot afford to keep expensive machines that would sit idle 11 months of the year. So they hire "custom cutters" like Max Louder and his crew. "I figure when one of my combines is run ning, it brings me 25 cents a minute, besides moving a farmer's crop closer to storage so he'll ask me back next year," says Max, a 46 year-old Kansan with a boyish grin and the slim-hipped build of a cowboy. In the combiners' race against time, ac tion focuses on the rumbling machines that shave a 20-foot path through a field at an average speed of three miles an hour. In front of the operator's enclosed cab the recipro cating cutter bar snicks off the wheat and the churning paddle reel lays the severed stalks onto the broad platform. An auger carries them into a metal maw, where a high-speed cylinder knocks the grain loose. Finally, the Breadbasket trail begins in Texas, where an early spring first ripens the hard red winter wheat that was planted the previous fall. No other harvest touches so many American tables; the high-protein grain pro duces most of the Nation's daily bread. The Max Louder family of Man kato, Kansas, and their seven crew members launch their harvest near Munday and migrate steadily north west. Late July finds the custom cut ters on a highway near Casper, Wy oming (left), moving from one job to another, their combines perched atop grain-hauling trucks. Only rice rivals wheat among the world's food crops, and only the So viet Union grows more wheat than the United States.