TWIN FALLS — He remembers the day he first laid eyes on the combine.
“My dad bought this machine brand new in 1952,” Lyle “Fritz” Fuller said. “I was five ... I remember him bringing it home and dragging it in the driveway.”
Sixty-seven years later, the C.B. Hay bean combine, still faded orange where it isn’t covered in dirt, straw and rust, keeps chugging along every year, threshing row after pale gold row of beans.
Fuller said that, while the combine does have sentimental value for him, it’s not why he still uses it in 2019. Between 1952 and 2019, Fuller only missed two harvests, and those years weren’t his fault — there weren’t any beans those years because there wasn’t enough water.
“Basically all my life I’ve run this machine,” Fuller said. “Me, my dad, my son and now my grandson: Four generations have run this machine.”
A thick layer of dirt covered Fuller’s arms and shirt Monday. Dust clung to his ears and grease blackened his hands — he had to re-set a sheer pin. But Fuller doesn’t mind getting dirty. He looks forward to bean threshing time every year.
“Back when I was a little kid, it seemed like it was forever between bean threshing seasons, when I could ride the combine,” he said.
During the first seven years the Fullers ran their $7,100 combine, they had to sew bags of beans by hand. Fritz got to be quick with a needle, and could manage two and a half sacks a minute. They later modified the combine so that it could handle beans in bulk, collecting them in a big bin.
When the combine is running, beans rain down steadily into the bin. On Monday, those beans were pintos, beige-dappled-brown. The combine spits feathery straw out the back. Fuller watches the straw to make sure the machine is threshing properly. If the straw looks more chunky than light and feathery that means the beans aren’t being removed from their pods and he has to tune the combine.
Now Fuller only threshes his own fields, but decades ago the he and his family drove the combine out to more fields, and beans rained and poured into the bin every day for a month straight.
Full of Fullers
Fuller emphasized it’s not as if he’s using this combine, serial number 5202, because of pure sentimental attachment. It might not be able to thresh as many beans as quickly as a modern combine, but no machine threshes any better. He said that, when harvesting garden seed beans, his combine outperforms the new ones.
“It will still put a lot of the modern machines to shame,” Fuller said. “I’m not using it just because it was my dad’s. It’s because it’s good, not because it’s old.”
But he does take pride in keeping the tradition in his family. His grandson, Curtis Heston, helped him with the harvest Monday.
“It’s old school,” Curtis said of the combine. “It brings you back in time ... It’s just fun to be a part of the history, every year just keeping on the tradition.”
As far as Fuller knows, his bean combine is the oldest C.B. Hay bean combine still running. Part of the secret to the machine’s longevity is that its parts aren’t hard to replace. Fuller said he can find spares locally, as opposed to going all the way to a dealer.
Not once in the past 67 years has Fuller worried about the machine’s ability to run. When he ran the machine daily decades ago, he had a backup motor ready to go in case one failed. He recalls replacing an engine at 10 p.m., then running the combine after lunch the next day.
Fuller could barely even throw out an estimate for how many bushels of beans his combine’s threshed. Maybe a million bushels, he guessed tentatively.
He doesn’t see any reason it won’t thresh a million more.
“I told the girls, ‘You can bury it with me, but you’re going to have to dig a pretty big hole,’” he said with a chuckle. “It’s been part of my life ... Not many people have one machine 67 years.”