GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — On the Knudson farm, harvest is a tradition going on eight decades.
“I'd be the fourth generation,” 19-year-old Jaden Gorres says as he drives a tractor pulling a grain cart loaded with shelled corn.
Jaden wonders sometimes what bringing in the crop must have been like when his great-grandpa Gunny Knudson started this farm.
He doesn’t have to look far for answers.
Gunny is driving the combine next to him.
“I'm giving her smoke, coming north,” Gunny barks into the combine’s two-way radio.
At 94, the founder of the Knudson farm still harvests most of the corn and soybeans on the sprawling operation.
Afternoon naps are not part of Gunny’s schedule.
“I like to start about 8:00 in the morning and get out of here by 6:30 or 7:00,” he says.
When Gunny was a sprout, self-propelled combines like the one he’s now operating hadn't even been invented.
“I was born July 18, 1928,” Gunny says.
Which means, the man in the John Deere combine was in a crib when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.
“He just loves it,” Evan Knudson says as his grandpa whips up dust in the distance.
Evan is Gunny’s backup driver. He doesn’t get much seat time.
“He puts in 12-hour days all the time,” Evan says. “Not because he has to, but because he wants to.”
As a young man, Gunny harvested with a one-row corn picker.
Now, he operates a massive machine gobbling up 18 rows of corn at a time.
The video screen at his fingertips is the latest in high tech.
“This is telling me the moisture and what it's yielding,” Gunny says.
In the farmyard, the newest Knudson tractor is parked next to Gunny’s first.
The 65-horsepower, 1957 John Deere, is dwarfed by the big-as-a-house, 640-horsepower, four-wheel drive tractor that sits beside it.
“I can’t believe it, you know.” Gunny says. “But I’ve lived it.”
Gunny has lived life and felt it, both the good and the bad.
“I've got a beautiful wife,” Gunny says, standing at his dining room table holding up a picture of his Julia Ann.
“She's been perfect,” he continues, wiping away tears.
Gunny apologizes as he composes himself.
“I get emotional,” he says.
A couple years ago, Julia Ann’s health began declining. She can no longer communicate like she used to.
Yet, her face still lights up when Gunny walks into the room.
“There's my honey,” he tells her.
Gunny’s voice again wavers, as he softly pats his wife’s left arm.
“She’s my rock,” he says. “She's my partner, 73 years.”
Back in the cornfield, two of Gunny’s grandsons help him over broken stocks, escorting their grandpa to the combine, one on each elbow.
Then, Gunny climbs the seven steps to the best seat out of the house.
“I would say it gives him a mental break from worrying about her,” Keith Knudson, Gunny’s son, says.
Keith and his twin brother Kevin Knudson don’t take a moment of the harvest for granted.
“We still have our dad you know, and working with him every day,” Kevin says. “Pretty special.”
Jaden grabs the mic for the two-way radio mounted in his tractor.
“We’re good Grandpa,” he tells the 94-year-old driver of the combine heading toward him.
Maybe there’s another great-grandson working the harvest in tandem with his great-grandpa.
Jaden finds it hard to imagine.
“This here is one of a kind, I'll bet,” he says.
In a few days, Harvest will end. But no one in these fields is ready for this Knudson family tradition to be over.
Least of all, the 94-year-old commander of the combine.
“As long as the dear Lord lets me, I'm ready to buck.” Gunny says.
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