Last Tuesday started like any other day. I was at work in Kansas City, and David and his dad were getting ready to plant oats and alfalfa. At lunch (around 11:30) I texted Dave about some college basketball recruiting or coaching speculation I had read. An hour later, I texted him again. I assumed he was driving the tractor and didn’t think much of his non-response. By 1:30 I was getting worried. Something wasn’t right. I usually text him over my lunch break, so he’s usually paying enough attention to respond.
Finally, I asked “is everything ok?” The response was a quick “call me when you can.” My stomach dropped, and a million scenarios raced through my mind while I immediately dialed. Farming is dangerous and sometimes unpredictable, and even when careful, things go wrong. Of all the terrible things that crossed my mind, this wasn’t one of them.
“The 4430 caught fire in the Morton building.”
A friend of ours recently lost an entire shed and it’s contents to a fire. The photo he had tweeted immediately came to mind. Much of our equipment is in that building (baler, chopper, combine, and grain truck).
We were lucky, though. David’s mom, Sandy, happened to drive by not too long after the fire started and saw the flames. She stopped and called the guys who were in the field down the road. First, they tried to pull the burning tractor out of the building, but it was in park and hooked to the planter, so their efforts were in vain. They broke a chain and the back window of the tractor they were pulling with.
Two complete strangers who had seen the dark smoke stopped to help. After the majority of the cab had burnt up, David, his cousin Kevin, and the strangers were able to carry five gallon buckets of water and mostly extinguish the tractor. When the fire department arrived, they sprayed the tractor and the roof of the building to make sure everything was cooled off. After talking to the John Deere dealership, they figured out how to take the tractor out of park, unhooked it from the planter and pulled it out of the building in case it were to flare up again.
The tractor, which we had bought at an auction less than two weeks earlier, was a total loss. So were the planter monitor and wiring that were in it. The Morton building sustained significant damage, but that was all. The building is standing, and the rest of the equipment in the building is fine.
Farming accidents are as unpredictable as they are dangerous. The tractor and planter had been parked since Saturday; no amount of caution could have changed what happened. We’ll never know exactly how or why the cab caught fire. No doubt it was some kind of electrical short. Now, we count our blessings: no one was hurt, the damages were limited, and we have insurance. We’re thankful to the friends and neighbors who have offered advice and assistance, and to the two strangers who helped put out the flames.
Later that afternoon, David’s dad finished planting oats. Tomorrow David will order parts to repair the planter, so we can get our corn in the ground. Morton is coming later this week to assess the damage to the building and determine necessary repairs. Anything can happen on any given Tuesday on the farm. Regardless, we move forward with optimism about what next Tuesday has in store.