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'If the combine stops, that's time that you're wasting'
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Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Matt DeBlock harvests corn from a portion of his family-owned and operated farmland Oct. 12, 2010, in Viola.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Susan DeBlock drives the grain cart near her son, Matt DeBlock, while he harvests corn in a John Deere combine harvester Oct. 12, 2010, on a portion of their land in Viola. Ms. DeBlock stays near the combine so it can dump corn into the cart while on the move.
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Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Victor DeBlock closes the top of a semi-truck after his wife, Susan, filled it with freshly harvested corn Oct. 12, 2010, in Viola. The DeBlock family works 15-hour days for about 30 to 35 days to complete their harvest of a little over 4,000 acres.
ALEDO -- Matt DeBlock quickly opened his soup container and returned his hand to the wheel. The bowl of soup rested in his lap as his right hand shifted the semi into gear.

"Aw, c'mon. We had chili last night," the Aledo farmer said, glancing down at his lunch. He crunched a few tortilla chips into the bowl and took a bite.

This multitasking lunch "break" is how Mr. DeBlock eats lunch and dinner every day during harvest season, he said, stealing a few fast bites between the fields and grain facilities.

Once in a while, he would screw the lid on the container and resume the meal later while he unloaded grain.

Mr. DeBlock and his wife, Kim, farm their own acreage as well as a family operation with his father, Victor, his mother, Susan, and his brother, John.

On this particular day, his father was driving the combine, his mom was driving a tractor pulling a grain cart, his brother was spreading nitrogen and fertilizer onto one of the family's fields and Mr. DeBlock was picking up grain from the field his parents were harvesting and driving it to the grain bins.

John's wife, Angie, does her part, too, by making lunches and dinners for everyone, Mr. DeBlock said.

He also gets to spend time with his two daughters, Kaitlynn, 5, and Macy, 3, as they sometimes ride with him in the truck.

Mr. DeBlock said the family got started "a little late" on this particular morning, about 6:30 a.m., because they didn't get home from harvesting the night before until around 11:30 p.m. Fall work days usually run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"The morning came quick," he said, and then laughed.

Days typically begin with livestock chores and equipment maintenance. Mr. DeBlock said the combine holds about a day's worth of fuel, and at the end of the night, it's usually empty. Fueling and maintenance take about an hour and a half, and then the group will drive to the next field, Mr. DeBlock said.

He works as fast as he can between the field and the grain facilities because he said his dad never stops the combine. "If the combine stops, that's time that you're wasting," he said.

His mom came over the hill in a tractor, pulling a grain cart filled with what she gathered from the combine. When the grain cart is full, she drives to a semi to transfer the grain, and then drives back down the field to follow the combine.

Mr. DeBlock would drop off an empty semi, hop into the one his mother just filled and take it to a grain facility. By the time he returned, the other semi would be full, and so the cycle would repeat.

"This is kind of what I do all day," Mr. DeBlock said.

He said some farmers go to offices to meet with sales representatives, but he holds meetings on the go, he said. "My office is whatever I'm driving -- a corn planter, combine. My office is that cell phone I've got," he said.

He drove to drop a load of grain at his personal grain facility. He pulled the truck over a metal grate, hopped down and turned a crank that opened the belly of the truck, spilling 1,000 bushels -- about 56,000 pounds -- of rich, golden corn kernels into a 14-foot-deep pit.

The grain sank like quicksand and traveled up an auger that dumped it into a grain bin.

About four minutes later, he was done.

The facility was built a year ago with newer technology, he said. At the family farm, dumping the same load of grain takes between 10 and 15 minutes, he said, adding that the extra time adds up. "With a 10-, 11-minute difference, add that per 20 trips per day -- that's another three and a half hours of just waiting time," he said.

He climbed back into the semi and headed back to the farm, knowing a semi full of grain was waiting for him. He said semis can hold 1,000 bushels of corn, or five acres' worth, and each takes about 20 minutes of harvesting to fill.

All together, the family's harvest takes roughly two months, he said. "You lose days for weather, and we don't work Sundays," he said. But Monday through Saturday in the fall, the crew works 12- to 16- hour days, he said.

He said his body never gets used to working like that, but knowing that the grueling hours won't last the entire year makes it easier. For instance, once during planting season, he drove the planter for nearly a 24-hour shift. "That's not right," he said.

"Coffee and Mountain Dew become your best friends," he said.

"Our livelihood so depends on factors that are outside of our control," he said. "We handle a lot of variables that, when you're given the right conditions, you have to maximize every hour.

"You know you are helping yourself."

There's a bit of variety throughout the year as to what needs to be done. Throughout January and February, days run from about 7:30 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., he said. "Those are really the only two months where there's any downtime," he said, adding that that's the window for vacations, snowmobiling and family time.

January and February are spent readying tractors and planting equipment for spring because come March 1, the family's cows start having calves, with four or five born each day throughout the month. He said the family spends two to four hours with each newborn, which is a day in and of itself, he said.

"Then, in April, you're planting corn," he said.

After planting season, he said late May and early summer are spent hauling grain to market from bins that were filled the previous fall, Mr. DeBlock said. Each year, he said the family raises about 600,000 bushels of grain, or about 600 truck loads, so from late May to August, "I'm in a semi all day running those truck loads," he said.

September, October and November typically are spent harvesting and readying the fields for the spring crop, with tillage, fertilizer and more, Mr. DeBlock said. In December, they check on the corn in the grain bins, care for livestock, wrap up tax and accounting work and plan the following year's crop.

"Growing up, I always wanted to farm. I always had the desire," Mr. DeBlock said. He's a fourth-generation farmer, and he was able to rent some additional land right out of college to expand the family's acreage enough to be profitable for everyone.

"We work a little too much," he admitted, "but how many dads get to have their daughters with them (at work)?" he said.

The benefits of farming far outweigh the downfalls, he said. "I like what I do day to day. What we do, we feed the world," he said. "That's kind of a cool job."










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  Today is Saturday, Sept. 20, the 263rd day of 2014. There are 102 days left in the year.

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1914 -- 100 years ago: Wires of the defunct Union Electric Co. are being removed by city electricians.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The Bishop Hill softball team won the championship in WHB"S Mississippi Valley tournament at Douglas Park.
1964 -- 50 years ago: A boom in apartment construction has hit Rock Island, with approximately 300 units either in or near the construction stage or due for an early rezoning decision.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Members of the Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Commission are hoping to revive their push for a new $70 million four-lane bridge spanning the Mississippi River.






(More History)