HENDRICKS, Minn. (KSFY) - It all started with a love for farming, a fire and a 7720 John Deere combine. Chad Olsen has grown his farm to be one of the largest custom combine farms in the world. Right now his crew is finishing up the 2018 harvest.
"There's probably only 15 or 20 of them [combines] back here right now. It's just been a long fall," Olsen said.
His farm sits just outside of Hendricks, Minn.
"There's 80 to 85 combines that will be coming back here. We will run 30-35 of them ourselves, the rest are rented out to farmers who want to do their own combining but can't justify owning a combine," he said.
His crew travels from Texas to Canada.
"Right here in Hendricks is kind of the central location. We will go to Texas, that's where we start with the wheat. We will push the wheat run into Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Then for the fall we will harvest here at home, then some crews will go to central Kansas for the fall run," he said.
It wasn’t always this way though. It actually started for Olsen by losing everything.
"I only went to one semester of college and I said 'I want to go to work,' so I started milking cows. My mom and dad fixed up a barn for me where I could start milking cows. I did that at their place for 3 to 4 years, bought the farm we are at right now, remodeled a barn, built on to a new barn...63 days into it, it burned to the ground, so I lost everything," he said.
That didn’t stop him though. He decided to go a slightly different route.
"I didn't have enough acres on my farm to justify owning a lot of equipment, so I had a neighbor who said ‘if you have a combine, I will hire you to do some of mine,’" Olsen said.
That’s what he did. It all started with one 1981 7720 John Deere.
"For what I paid for that combine, I can't even buy a set of tires on one of our combines today," he said.
He said he bought it used, and it cost him about $21,000 more than 25 years ago.
“I did that for a couple years and figured out, 'well this is going to probably be profitable,’" he said.
And so it began….with his passion in the driver’s seat, Chad Olsen has built a successful business in rural Minnesota.
"I have always liked driving equipment. Once the barn burned down and we were generating money with a combine, it just seemed like the thing to do," he said.
Right now Olsen custom combiners are wrapping up and making fixes on the combines to get ready for next year.
"For probably nine to ten months out of the year there are 75 to 80 of us, through the winter months, 25 to 30,” he said.
When they are on the move, they load up all the equipment on trailers. The farmers also stay in trailers, bunk houses or campers when they are on the road combining.
"I think it's been a good way to raise my family. My family has traveled up and down the road with us," he said.
They harvest an assortment of crops.
"We'll start out with winter wheat, winter canola. We'll get into South Dakota where it will be spring wheat, winter wheat. North Dakota we have harvested mustard, there's wheat up there, canola, barley, and then for the fall we will do sunflowers, corn, soybeans, milo,” he said.
He says his crews will end up harvesting more than 200,000 acres and with the combines rented, they end up covering between 600,000 and 700,000 acres.
Olsen credits his family and other farmers by his side for his success.
"I haven't done this on my own. I have some people that are here that were here when I started and have stuck with me. It's all about having good people with you," he said.
His success though has been apparent. Just this past year, Olsen was at the John Deere Headquarters in the Quad Cities buying his 500th combine. Something John Deere workers say “is truly remarkable.”
"Half of our combines are new every year. Our crew will run the new combines every year, and the rentals will be our 1-year-old combines. I think if someone is going to hire something to be done, and pay a fee - they want the best equipment out there. We can't afford down time either," he said.
Olsen says this year’s harvest was a good one, and he’s already gearing up for next year.
"There's probably some people who don't agree with what we are doing. There are some people who thought I was crazy when I started, but I just had to give it a try,” he said.
CarbonTV recognized Olsen in its American Harvest series. Olsen Custom Farms was the feature in season 3. You can check out those 10 episodes here: American Harvest on CarbonTV