Jan 162018
Kenworth Grain Truck

A couple years back we were commissioned by a good sized publisher to do a piece on the subject of farming. It was to be a grand article about the people and machinery that make things happen, covering the complete “A to Z”, so seeding to harvest and everything else. They wanted us to catch all the action, an envisioned “year in the life” or “fly on the wall” type article. We so love those, so it was a nice fit.

We jumped at the chance and took on the gig with gusto, arranging to hang with some farmers friends over an entire growing season. We committed a lot of time, were a pain in the behind to all those who so kindly accommodated us and the end result, the pics, the story was in our opinion some of our best work ever. This was the one that would put us on the map, a real piece of Canadiana. The stuff to make us legends!

Early 2017, we submitted it for a planned spring publication date. It all felt good.

Scenes of a Modern Farm: hoping to capture a little bit of what it’s all about and failing at it. Lots of pics in this one! By Chris Doering and Connie Biggart. (BIGDoer/Synd)

Then, as you know, things happen. A problem. New editors at the publisher wanted to take things in a different direction and they felt the article didn’t work anymore (prior people loved the rough copies). Not that the write up or pics were bad in their view…they just didn’t fit now. Needs a “Reality TV vibe”, they barked. Needs some “click-bait”, they whispered. Serious? How about a Kardashian angle? It almost felt like it was going that way. This is a piece about farming for God’s sake! Damn, that was something surreal.

Resist the urge to gag.

Okay…we suggested a rewrite or some such thing, at a reasonable cost, but they kind of balked. In hindsight I think it wouldn’t have worked anyway – they wanted something this article could never be no matter how we spun it. A back and forth ensued. A threat to call in the suits ‘n’ briefcase team was made. Yes, take our mansion and yacht.

Scroll down for photos and to comment.

Enough! End this! An agreement born of sheer frustration is quickly hammered-out and we move on, middle finger secretly extended. Sold our souls on this one, but we had little choice. At least it’s behind us now. It’s likely the piece will never see the light of day. Forever, we believe, will it dwell in limbo.

Resist the urge to cry.

Versatile 1150 Tractor

April 2016, this ’80s era Versatile is still hard at work.

But wait we have a ton of “leftover” pics, lots of them in fact and we can write something new. Hey, we can kinda salvage this. So here, a variety of pictures taken over the spring and summer and fall of 2016 (Yikes!). Just a little look at farming through our lens. Even if it’s not the piece originally planned. But enough about our woes…

Farm Grain Bins

Huge grains bins – farming today is on a massive scale.

We’re not terribly far from Fort MacLeod Alberta, at a massive operation, the Vandervalk Farm. They have to do it big, no other way. It’s not like the old days where a quarter section would do. You need land holdings so large that you could form a break-away country. Vandervalkistan has a nice ring to it.

Huge investments have to be made in equipment – big tractors, big sprayers, lots of grain trucks, huge grain storage bins the size of apartment blocks. Farmer’s of old would be blow away by it all. There’s a mix of new and old machinery. Use what works and continue to use it till it fails to do the job then replace it with something new. Rinse and repeat. And get handy with a wrench – you’ll need it. Add a shop big enough to hold all the tools and parts and the machines themselves. Lots of hats to wear. And in this biz, you rarely get to retire, so prepare to work into your senior years. Sigh me up!

The schedule works like this…

Come spring use your physic abilities (and experience and technology) to guess when to plant. Then GO – GO – GO! Plow and seed for weeks on end. Work sunrise to sunset and even around the clock if needed. Live in your tractor. Forget relationships for a time. Hope it doesn’t get too cold or it’s all for naught. Was the melted snow pack, gone only a few weeks prior, enough moisture? Move on to the next section and do it again. Get used to it. Full throttle all the time.

Then there’s a lull of sorts. There still always something to do, or fix, but it might allow you to get away for a weekend. Pray not just to one God for rain, but all. Best to cover your bases. Spay the fields as needed. Water those equipped with pivots, and not all have these. Always on call.

If it all falls into place, in a few months, it’s fields of gold. Some Wheat, Canola, Barley, whatever. Plant a few different crops so you’re not gambling on one alone. The market requires a farmer to roll the dice all too often. Nerve of steel are a must and fingers crossed when no one’s looking.

All too soon it’s fall and harvest time. It’s back to that mad schedule. An army of machinery descends on the fields and attacks. No mercy is shown. On the front line are the combines. A half dozen of them or so. They ride like Cadillacs and have just as many bells and whistles. I could get used to this.

A grain wagon is always on the move. It takes what the combines have harvested out to waiting trucks, which then head to the farm where the grain is put into storage pending a the right market conditions. Yes, more to think about. When to sell your grain and when to sit on it waiting for the price to rise.

New Holland Sprayer

Something more modern, this sprayer.

The high-tech machinery makes short work of a field, but there’s lots more of them to do. It’s all done with military-like precision.

Large Scale Farming

Everything’s big – here a giant air seeder.

Grain is stored in bins back at the farm. Some makes its way into their old wood grain elevator (see: Prairie Sentinels – Woodhouse Alberta – Vandervalk Farm). This here building, “the last Bawlf”, near a century old, was moved in from a nearby village in the 1970s where it sat next to the rail line. It’s still used and the well seasoned wood in the bins helps dry grain that may be a bit too moist.

Image that, modern and vintage in complete harmony.

Back at the field being worked, an ex-US Military Oshkosh 8×8 “LVS” (nickname “Dragon Wagon”) is at the ready. Outfitted with a large tank and pump, it acts as a firefighting truck. Fields are dry as a bone and this helps protect them. Burned crops, yours or that of neighbour, could spell disaster. This is one very cool beast, which we hope to see a little more up close and personal sometime. If you’re listening there Daniel. Back at the farm another ex-Military vehicle, a Michigan Dozer/Scraper Combo from the 1960s is used for odd jobs about the property. There’s another in the shop. Heard these were used in Vietnam.

Dinner is served in the field – machines and humans both get a moment of rest. Time for some fine class photos. They parked them perfectly for us.

Late fall it’s time to take a load to market. It’s Canola this day, headed to a crushing plant in the the nearby city of Lethbridge. The Super-B is loaded in no time – that bin is huge – we didn’t even make a dent in it – oh, that truck is amazing. Admired it before, now we get a ride. This fine machine, an overpowered Kenworth Grain Hauler (W900L series), is all done up and customized. Damn, that’s nice.

Off to the Richardson Oil Seed Plant. Easy going on the highway. Lots of bad drivers – up high they’re more obvious. Don’t cut off a big truck! Enter the plant, we take a place in line and sit till it’s our turn. Hurry up and wait. Lots of customized grain haulers here – guess it’s a thing, even with Hutterites*. One after another the trucks unload and leave. In the meantime, we chat a lot, about the struggles of farming, the costs, the gambit, the future. Wow, how does one sleep at night?

Up to bat. The truck is weighed, quickly emptied, reweighed and we’re done. Most of it was done with out seeming any employees. A “Shuttlewagon”, an odd road/track vehicle is used to move rail cars about the plant. Tankers haul away Canola Oil, the same stuff you might use in your deep fryer and covered hoppers carry the meal left over after pressing, which is shipped out and used for animal feed. Nothing’s wasted here. Given all the trucks seen waiting to unload, the sheer number of rail cars at the plant, and the overall size of the place, they do a big business. Think of this plant next time you order fries.

Peterbilt Farm Truck

The investment in trucks and machinery is huge.

Back at the farm, some random shots. Old stuff grabs our attention. That’s an early Versatile Combine. Nothing like the ones used during this year’s harvest. So basic and zero creature comforts! Back to those trucks, and the elevator, and some other cool machinery. Click, click, click. Gotta go and soon on, we’re back at our dive motel in Fort MacLeod, then it’s dinner and a night’s rest. Felt good about this one, so sleep came easy. If only we knew that in the future, this post, or rather the original one no one is ever likely to ever see, would be such a royal pain in the behind. About that, we’re so damn POed, saddened, hurt and a bit ashamed. It was supposed to work guys…

Albert Farm Seeding

Out there seeding.

Taking loads to various elevators continues throughout the fall and winter and next year’s spring, depending on market and demand and other things far beyond our understanding. It’s a relatively quiet period at the farm.

And then next year they’ll do it all over again.

Postscript: the person who rejected our work is leaving the publisher. Does this mean the original piece might get resurrected? I guess it’s possible but we won’t hold our breath. This is the first and only time we’ve had anything like this happen, by the way. We’ve done other work for the publisher since this nasty debacle, but the relationship has never been the same since.

*Hutterites, for those who don’t already know, an ethno-religious group who live and farm communally across the prairies and who generally lead plain and simple lives. A customized truck seems oddly out of place with that philosophy.

We did a piece on the grain elevator seen…
Prairie Sentinels – Woodhouse Alberta – Vandervalk Farm.

More “studies”…
The Woods.
The Mill.
The Railway.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: Spring and Fall 2016.
Location: Southern AB.
Article references and thanks: The Vandervalks, Richardson Oil Seeds.
BIGDoer.com was on site with permission.

Southern Alberta Farm Seeding

Farmers of old would be amazed.

Case Steiger 580

Tracks tread more lightly when compared with wheels..

Case Steiger 580 Tractor

The sky was dramatic.

Steiger 580 Tractor

The day’s work is not even close to being done.

Michigan 290 Scraper

Back at the farm – this dozer/scraper combo came from the US military.

Kenworth W900 Grain Truck

As darkness falls, a nice grain hauler and a 1920s era grain elevator.

Kenworth Grain Truck

This rig is highly customized.

Mid-1960s Cadillac Limo

A nice mid-1960s Cadillac Limo.

Farm Combine Alberta

September 2016, a combine hard at work.


Golden stalks and the (old) mighty BIGDoer-mobile.

Case IH Combine

One of many working this day.

Case Combine

Grain wagon in back is kept busy.

Farm Grain Wagon

Inside a combine – more appointed and comfy than any cars we’ve driven.

Oshkosh Dragon Wagon

Ex-military Oshkosh 8×8 is outfitted as a fire fighter.

Oshkosh 8x8 Dragon Wagon

Nicknamed the Dragon Wagon – BIGDoer-mobile provides scale.

Grain Wagon

Grain wagon shuttles between combines and grain trucks.

Case Tractor 580

Break time – but it’s back to work soon.

Case Combine

Mother nature gave us a nice blue sky.

Case Steiger Tractor

It means business.

Freightliner Grain Hauler

Soon, another load.

Kenworth Grain Hauler

October 2016, grain to market time.

Kenworth Farm Truck

Today’s load, Canola headed to the presser.

Grain Truck Canola

A shovelful to round it out.

Grain Truck Kenworth

A fine looking machine.

Hauling Grain Alberta

On the road to Lethbridge – out of the way!

Lethbridge Alberta Train

Sitting at a crossing.

Richardson Lethbridge AB

At the Richardson Plant, an empty truck leaves.

Richardson Oil Seeds Lethbridge

Waiting our turn.

Richardson Plant Lethbridge

An endless parade.

Richardson Oil Plant Lethbrige

And yet another.

Richardson Canola Plant Lethbridge

The plant makes Canola Oil.

Richardson Lethbridge Scale

Getting weighed.

Shuttewagon Car Mover

Shuttlewagon moves rail cars about the giant plant.

Grain Hauling Truck

Looking back.

Kenworth W900L

The 900 series has been in production since the beginning of time.

Customized Kenworth

A pleasing glow…

Grain Truck Dumping

It’ll be emptied in no time.

Unloading Richardson Lethbridge

The unloading bay is oddly quiet.

Hauling to Richardson Lethbridge

Ready to hit the road.

Richardson Lethbridge Plant

Heading out…

Railcars Richardson Lethbridge

Rail cars carry animal meal, the bits left over after crushing.

Richardson Rail Cars

Richardson has their own rail car fleet.

Fort MacLeod Bridge

An old historic one lane bridge on the road back to the farm.

Grain Elevator on Farm

The old grain elevator is a the tallest thing around.

Grain Hauling Trucks

Parked for the night.

Michigan Dozer/Scraper

A second dozer/scraper.

Old Grain Elevator on Farm

The ancient grain elevator is still used!

Old Versatile Combine

An early model combine from this maker.

Cavallo's Ft MacLeod

The project is in the can – chow time!

Lethbridge Phone Book

In our motel – they still make phone books? Like the photo though!


Join the discussion...

26 Comments on "Scenes of a Modern Farm"

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Steve Boyko

Great photos and commentary as usual. I hope your original article does get published, someday…

That little shuttlewagon at Richardson in Lethbridge works pretty hard. I’ve heard it honking to cross that side street many, many times as they shuffle cars around.

Bernard Nemeth
Bernard Nemeth

That (Case 580) sure is no Farmall M!


Great article!

Connie Biggart
Connie Biggart

Nice shots!

Andrei Loskov
Andrei Loskov

A great photo essay! Friends from Russia.

Ana Desrosiers
Ana Desrosiers

Farmers are the hardest working people on the planet! Come to ours some time.

R Gary Monague
R Gary Monague

I want it (the 8×8).

Simon Steffen
Simon Steffen

This (8×8 fire fighter) is a good way to be prepared, we’ve had some good blazes out on our prairies!

Bert Baumgartner
Bert Baumgartner

Just to clarify the technical name of these trucks is HEMMT or Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck they were developed for logistical transport and to serve as a prime mover for missile systems like the Patriot and the THAAD system. The Dragon Wagon was actually a tank transporter during WWII.

Jonna Westergaard
Jonna Westergaard

Chris and Connie capture some amazing moments. The hardest working people ever! Who cares if the publisher gave you the brush off. Thoroughly enjoyed this article.

Rob Wilson
Rob Wilson

Boy I sure would like to know how they got this in to the country !

Connie Biggart
Connie Biggart

Vandervalkistan? That’s priceless!

Bob Bore
Bob Bore

Excellent camerawork! Love to join you sometime. Bob, Calgary.