Alva Review-Courier -

Greg Thurman Harvesting inducted into U.S. Harvester's Hall of Fame

• Retiring from full-time custom harvest career of 44 years


March 11, 2020

SK Graphics

Spending 44 years going on wheat harvest is Greg Thurman of Kiowa, Kansas, who is a recent inductee into the U.S. Custom Harvester's Hall of Fame. His wife Cheryl and daughter Ali are an integral part of the operation.

With 44 years in the custom harvesting business, Greg Thurman said that what he paid for his first combine in 1974 ($23,000 with header) would not even pay for the tires (est. $3,000 each) on one of these new machines ($400,000 plus $100,000 header) in 2020.

Thurman was inducted into the U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc. Hall of Fame earlier this year at the annual convention in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His wife Cheryl has been at his side in this successful journey 33 years. Cheryl not only cooked and served two meals a day in the field, but she did the paperwork, repeatedly drove to implement dealers for parts, helped in the field and was a busy mom to their daughter Ali.

The Thurmans call their home Kiowa, Kansas, where he is a third-generation custom harvester. His grandfather, Ray Thurman, was a member of the Harvest Brigade Movement starting in 1948. Ray (and his wife Bernice) ran 13 combines, the largest in the Barber County, Kansas, area. Greg's father Bob started his own harvester business in 1954 as a junior in high school. The son of Bob and Bea, Greg at age nine, began helping his dad in the field – by moving trucks and pickups field to field and sometimes getting to ride in the combine with his dad and steer.

At age 11, Greg's career as a harvester began while running a 510 Massey combine with a 20-foot header. His dad took a break in the business and at age 16 Thurman made a deal with his dad. If he could raise enough money to buy a combine his dad would call his old customers and get him jobs.

Still in high school at South Barber in Kiowa, Thurman began his harvest career on his own, cutting in Dighton, Kansas, and Gordon, Nebraska, and returning home in time for football practice.

"I started with running Massey (combines) from 1974-86. Bud Humphrey (of Humphrey Implement in Kiowa known as Combine City U.S.A.) was the only $3 million dealer in the U.S." After that Thurman became a faithful customer of green John Deere. The last combines he bought were JD S670s with 40-foot headers.

Thurman had no idea about his induction to the harvester hall of fame. Ali wrote a letter of recommendation and he was selected, so she and mom knew. "I don't like people sneaking up on me," Thurman said with a laugh about learning of the honor at the convention.

Their years of harvesting took them beyond amber waves of grain in Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas, California and through northern states and beyond to 300 miles into Canada. They also cut soybeans in Mississippi and Louisiana.

At the peak of their harvesting, the Thurmans had six John Deere combines and an investment of over $6 million. Their largest crew was 16. The Thurmans hired harvest workers from Australia, New Zealand, Romania, Denmark – 14 different countries in all. He has the flag from each harvest employee and their country that they signed hanging in his shop.

When asked his biggest challenge in years of harvesting, Thurman said it was definitely "the electronic, the technical side of the machinery." He listed the mapping and GPS factors, etc., of the high dollar combines that you have to program before they'll work. "We had no computers when I was in school (in the 70s and early 80s)."

Thurman Family Discusses Their Harvest Experience

Cheryl, Ali and help cooked for near 20 people each meal.

Cheryl recalled, "When Ali was little she was my tea and dessert maker.." She kept the harvest bucket filled with plates, etc. – everything they needed to serve meals in the field. Ali eventually became a full-time cook and then her dad called her to the field.

Now 26, Ali is a graduate of South Barber and Oklahoma State University. She's been in the work force and currently studying to be a physician assistant at Oklahoma City University.

When asked what it was like to be raised as a harvest kid, Ali said, "I didn't know my life was any different. I looked forward to harvest time because at almost every stop I had friends." She has fond memories of most every stop like shopping for fireworks in a huge barn at Sharon Springs; a break between winter and spring wheat so they had time to go to West Whitlock Lake with some of their harvest friends; and much more. During her high school years she stayed in Kiowa more because of school-related activities like cheer camp and MAYB basketball. In college she remembers the summer she did an internship in New York City and "had officially retired from harvest," she said. "I really missed it! Not just the fun parts but I also missed cooking for the crew and driving a combine.

"Growing up as a harvester's daughter I've learned a lot from my parents, about the hard work you have to do in order to meet your goals, dedication to your family and business, and generosity to the people around you. I believe harvest also taught me to be outgoing and the ability to talk to just about anyone."

Having the diverse work force of international guys on their crew and meeting other harvesters from around the United States, Ali said she had the opportunity "to meet people from all walks of life and experience different cultures."

Cheryl said, "It's not a life for everybody, but we liked it – enjoyed it. It's life on the road, like gypsies. Greg said harvest started with machine prep and more in April and he would get home by December. In contrast Cheryl kept the highway hot between Kiowa and South Dakota while Ali was in school and she continued to help Greg with fall harvest.

In her letter of recommendation for the Hall of Fame, Ali wrote about her mother, "Her commitment to Greg, to her family and to Thurman Harvesting runs deep, and is what helped make Thurman Harvesting what it is today."

"I wouldn't do a damn thing different – it's been a good life," Thurman said.

Referring to the young men the they employed Thurman said, "Take some young men from up and down the road and show them what's it's like to live away from mama and their hometown and teach them a new atmosphere on life and how hard you can actually work.

"It's too bad it (harvest) costs so much to get in it. These young guys can't get in it. This generation of young people aren't motivated like we were. That's why I'm tired, You can't get anybody locally to work. I hire two or three Americans ever year and after about a month they are done – it's too much hard work." Thurman said foreign workers from other countries come to work for you and "they'll stay with you until the end."

When asked what kept him motivated to work so hard all those years of long days and short nights, without hesitation Thurman said, "debt. Debt will get your a** out of bed every day to work!"

He said, "I enjoyed the travel and the people. We'd cut wheat all summer and then take the Suburban and snowmobiles and go stay with the people you just cut for." The Thurmans are known for his mantra, "Work hard all summer, play hard all winter."

Greg Thurman has been a custom harvester for 44 years. He said he's done pulling combines down the highway.

He mentioned by name "friends like brothers" Perry Hoffman, Rick Sugden and Greg Miller from the states of Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota. "I have lots of friends up and down the road – many Canadians," Thurman said.

"I'd never change it," Thurman said of their harvest way of life. "It made me a very good livin'. It was a lot of work – a lot of sleepless nights. But you know, I don't think there is a better place in the world to raise a kid."

The Thurmans are entering a new phase of their life. "Thurman Harvesting is now Hometown Harvesting and done with the highway!" he said. With a big machinery auction next week, Thurman said he's keeping one combine to cut his wheat and that of a longtime local customer. Besides some farming he said they are moving more heavily into ranching with an expanded cow/calf operation.

What will they do in their free time? Thurman mentioned travel and spending more time at their place at Kaw Lake.


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