Not many folks can say they’ve been behind the wheel of a combine for more than 70 wheat harvest seasons.
Carroll Porter can, and he’s not intending to scoot over anytime soon.
He’s been in farming and harvesting since he began driving farm equipment for his father and uncles at the age of 6 — driving tractors, combines and even a pickup truck when he was 10 years old.
Carroll was born in Hobart in 1940 and helped his family in their traveling harvesting business. His first job was driving the tractor that pulled the Gleaner-Baldwin pull-type combine, and feeding the horses that pulled the thresher to the fields.
At age 10, Carroll drove a 1950 Chevrolet pickup, following his father and the combines, to Sterling, Colorado, from Hobart. While that may seem outrageous by today’s standards, for Carroll it was just how the times were.
“There wasn’t anyone that could drive it because we had to hire people and we weren’t able to hire that many people,” he said.
“I could only see between the top of the steering wheel and the dash; I couldn’t see above the steering wheel,” he said. “I was lucky I never got caught by a highway patrolman.”
That same year, Carroll began driving a John Deere Model 55 combine full-time for his father when the senior Porter burned his hands fighting a field fire in Kansas. For Carroll, that was the beginning of a love affair.
“I was by myself,” he said. “Nobody came to help drive it, and I worked the same hours as the men.”
Carroll recounted many fond memories of his childhood; perhaps his fondest is a burger stand in Colorado.
“We couldn’t cut past 8:30 p.m. because of the humidity, so then we would go to the A&W root beer stand. I was chasing a little ol’ gal who worked at there and I didn’t end up catching her, but I married a beautiful gal. I got the best one in the country.”
Carroll met that “beautiful gal,” Betty “Beep” Weigandt shortly before joining the Army and moving to Germany. While stationed in Germany he would exchange letters with Betty. Three months after returning from Germany, Carroll asked her to marry him.
After the Army, Carroll attended Oklahoma State University, where he earned his teaching certification and joined his wife in a teaching career. Betty taught home economics for over 30 years and Carroll taught high school science, in Hobart, until retiring after 24 years.
He still worked the farm full-time and drove combines during the summer until Betty received 1,000 acres as part of an inheritance from her late father. While Betty taught, Carroll worked the farm and passed his skill at driving combines to his son, Brett.
“(Brett) is by far better than I am though,” Carroll said with pride. “He’s good — you can’t beat him.”
Brett says there is nothing he would rather do in this world than farm — but that wasn’t always the case.
After college Brett worked in Arizona designing golf courses, but quickly realized his heart wasn’t in it. When Brett told his dad that he wanted to come back to Oklahoma and farm, his father wasn’t thrilled.
“I told Dad I was going to come back and farm and he told me I was stupid,” Brett said. “But I like farming. If something fails, it’s my fault and you learn from your mistakes and grow from it.”
Carroll may have changed his mind about the wisdom of his son’s decision. Brett took over the 1,000 acre farm in 2003 and over the years has expanded his holdings to 10,000 acres. During the harvest season he employs up to 10 people per harvest and, in keeping with the family farm tradition, hosts family members from all over the United States to help with the work.
“Most days, I get up at 5 a.m. and don’t go to bed till midnight,” Brett said. “The older I get and with all the things going on in the world today, I can get on my tractor and do my own thing. It’s my happy place.”
While farming may be in Brett’s blood, his wife, Joy, had to learn the ropes from Betty.
During the harvest season the farmers and their crews work from sunup to sunset and it was up to Betty to make sure they were fed hot meals. Once Brett and Joy took over, Betty taught Joy what it takes to feed a crew of hungry workers.
“Brett’s crew has definitely grown over the years, and all the relatives come in for harvest,” Joy said. “I learned from Beep and I have grown to enjoy feeding them during the harvest.”
The farmer’s life — work from sunup to sunset and beyond, tending the cattle through ice and wind, fighting mud and dust and downpours on the harvest circuit — doesn’t seem to change much. But farming practices change, technology advances, and no one can call a halt to the circle of life. Betty died Sept. 21, 2019, leaving behind a loving family — and a farm to take care of for decades to come.
“This is our first harvest without Beep and it’s been very hard,” said Joy.
Carroll, now 80, says he has no plans to retire from driving combines. As a kid Carroll drove combines because the family needed him, but now he does it because he loves it.
“If you’re raised on a farm and you can survive and deal with all that happens, it’s the greatest life you can have. But you’ve got to do it, you can’t blame anybody but yourself,” Carroll said.