By Thomas A. Kvamme
Having been working in the media field for more than 40 years, we have been involved and written about many heart-wrenching situations.
But, after a lot of thought, nothing quite compares to the March 25 trip, as we accompanied the “Minnesota Love” delegation to Ashland, Kansas.
The trip alone was for a grand reason, helping with donated hay from farmers here, along with supplies and cash geared for residents of an area that had been stricken with heavy losses due to massive wildfires.
But, it was the several touching moments along the way, that puts this outing among one of the best for this scribe.
Paired with Tina Peschl and Pete Ratka, we served as the trail vehicle for a convoy involving two semi-trailers loaded with round bales, two pickups with trailers hauling square bales, along with a semi-van trailer loaded with donated supplies and some square hay bales.
In addition, Jaci Talberg of Foley motored along in the group with a pickup, including her son Bryce and her sister Rosalina Lambert, loaded with some additional supplies.
More on the key moments later.
We first became involved in this adventure after making contact with Pattie Bixby, an area farmer from Gilman, who had a passionate desire to help fellow farmers and ranchers.
Bixby had even learned that Kansas folks had helped out, back around 1988, during a major drought that led to a hay shortage.
With the shoe now on the other foot, it was time to rally and the response was overwhelming.
Area farmers donated hay, while everything from barb wire to toys for the children was collected.
Bixby tended to getting everything in order, while last-minute help from the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association, led to Gov. Mark Dayton signing the necessary emergency relief from regulations to motor carriers and drivers, due to the disaster.
Permits were also signed by governors in the states of Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, to allow for the relief effort.
The Gilman Co-op Creamery served as the collection site and proved to be most gracious hosts.
Prior to heading out, the 15 participants were provided with sack lunches, courtesy of a local church group.
Donuts and scrumptious rolls were also provided as incentive for the volunteers.
On departure day, the initial plan was to arrive in Ashland that evening.
Well folks, all the good plans of mice and men, don’t always work out.
Due to a few unforeseen circumstances along the way, the troops needed to be rested, calling for an evening to bed down in York, Nebraska.
That still left a hefty drive early the next morning, arriving in Ashland, the next afternoon.
When finally arriving in the area, outside of Ashland, one could still smell the fires.
Next a sign that pointed out fire damage ahead, led us to seeing structures that had fallen in the path of the raging fires.
Clark County, the home of Ashland, reportedly suffered 85 percent burn damage, along with 31 homes being lost.
As we got closer, we could witness the ground, which at that time looked like desert fields.
The weather condition was rather gloomy as we approached, only adding to the atmosphere.
A lot of fence line had already been repaired, necessary to keep what cattle remained under control.
Ben Skogquist, a professional truck driver from Princeton, proved to be the key guide in getting the delegation to the proper location.
Skogquist had donated his rig to haul round bales, while we learned his father had also hauled a load of hay down the same weekend.
The first load of hay had actually been delivered a week before we got there, as Erica and Jordan Zillmer of Cleveland, North Dakota used their own rig and paid for the fuel.
The North Dakota couple were on hand once again, this time volunteering to drive a unit donated by Collins Towing of St. Cloud, pulling a van trailer that had been donated by Bemis Trucking of Milaca.
First to be unloaded in Ashland were the two trailers of square bales, hauled down by two young men all the way from Paynesville, who volunteered to drive.
Yarmon Ford of Paynesville agreed to provide pickups, that along with the trailers that hauled the bales.
Officials on hand at the drop site were emotional as the “Minnesota Love” was being shared.
As we were unloading, another semi arrived from Albert Lea, Minnesota, carrying a load of posts, only adding to the love.
We should note, that along with Minnesota, there were many other states involved in the support, attempting to fill a huge need.
Speaking of moments, being able to meet Ashland Mayor Kendal Kay, along with others from that community, provided for a close feel of the need.
Kay is the brother of Jeff Kay, who took it upon himself to oversee distribution from his Ashland Feed & Seed facility.
A few precious moments were taken as the Minnesota delegation presented Clark County Volunteer Fire Chief Dave Redger, along with Assistant Chief Jessie Stebens, with a check for $1,000 for department use as needed.
Redger’s small department fought the battle saving the town, but were simply overpowered with a lack of equipment.
HEAD TO HARRY
It was time to move two loads of hay out onto the property of Harry Walker, approximately 20 miles from the drop point.
The two semis loaded with round bales led the way to the ranch.
We learned this was the first hay Walker would accept, as he had cattle to feed, but lost everything else but his house.
Driving down to an area where Walker, an elderly gentleman, waited for the semis, we could tell he was very emotional.
About the only thing he said was, “this saved my cattle.”
While some of the Minnesota delegation offered hugs, Walker refused.
HUG FOR BRYCE
But, another one of those moments finally led to a hug.
It was when Skogquist offered Walker with $200 on behalf of the delegation, he really didn’t want to take the money, but agreed to “buy some fence.”
Next came the biggest highlight of the trip as the youngest member, 13-year-old Bryce Talberg of Foley, stepped up to Walker and simply said, “and here’s some more.”
Talberg had cashed in his paycheck he earned for milking cows, and presented Walker with $265 to use as needed.
Nothing more needed to be said, as Walker broke his own policy and embraced the youngster, while holding back tears.
We can tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye among the volunteers, along with Janell Kay Smit and daughter Jenna.
Smit, who guided us to the Walker ranch, is the sister to Jeff and Kendal Kay.
As you can see, in a small community of 800 residents, families tend to join hands, much like they do back home.
After receiving the additional funds, all Walker could say was, “let’s unload some bales.”
It was en route to Walker’s property a sign pointed out the Cox Ranch, one mile down the road.
Well folks, that ranch, belonging to 80-year-old Mary Cox, was burned to the ground.
The only remains included the chimney and windmill intact.
Along with everything else, folks in this part of the country had been praying for rain.
BRING ON RAIN
As it turned out, just as the final bales were being unloaded, rain fell from the heavens, along with even more moisture coming in the form of hail, covering the ground like a winter snow.
However, the end result was a rainbow, to go along with the loads of “Minnesota Love.”
The long journey home resulted in another night, landing in Yoder, Kansas.
The next morning led to an early breakfast at an Amish style restaurant, being enough to get us heading in the right direction.
A long day on the road finally brought us back home and thankful for what we have, while thinking of those folks nearly a thousand miles away, thankful for what they received.
We send out a Scope Salute to everyone who stepped forward in any manner, making the trip a success.
Meanwhile, the effort has continued, with several loads of hay being transported from this area to Ashland by a number of other volunteers.
One thing is certain, as long as the need exists, folks here will reach out to help their new-found friends.