Jerry Nelson: Mother Nature's one-two punch was relentless

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Image of the author.

Mother Nature’s hits just keep on coming.

The May 12 derecho downed numerous trees in our farm’s shelterbelt. It also picked up a calf shed at my parents’ farm and hurled it onto a pair of grain bins. The resulting wreckage is an unrecognizable pile of twisted steel and busted boards.

On the bright side, our neighbor’s pontoon boat, which had sat in the calf barn, escaped without a scratch.

Memorial Day dawned warm and muggy. The National Weather Service issued forecasts that mentioned the possibility of severe thunderstorms.

The sky grew increasingly ominous as the day wore on. By noon, my wife and I were huddling by the TV, watching the weather guys as they tracked developing storm cells with their nifty Doppler radar. Weather alerts scrolled continuously across the bottom of the screen.

At midafternoon, our iPhones emitted a startling alarm tone. Their screens stated that a tornado was in our area and that we should take shelter immediately. The TV weather guy said that radar indicated a tornado two miles south of Volga. We live four miles south. That was too close for comfort.

My wife grabbed her go bag and stood at the top of the basement stairs, waiting for me. I stood at the window, determined to look into the eyes of the beast that had come for us.

The wind abruptly picked up, blasting everything with blinding torrents of sideways rain. Visibility dropped to near zero as the storm howled and snarled. Several trees in our shelterbelt came crashing down. All of them missed our house.

The tempest passed within minutes. I was pleased, as it appeared that we had avoided any major damage.

But then my phone rang. It was one of our neighbors, asking if we were OK. I replied that things were just dandy.

“Did you know that your dairy barn is gone?” he asked. I did not.

As soon as the rain abated, we drove to my parents’ farm, located a mile to the north. Our dairy barn had been turned to a disjointed mass of contorted sheet metal and shattered lumber. One could say that it looked like a bomb went off, except that a bomb has a distinct blast zone. We found chunks of sheet metal a mile away. It was as if the storm had picked up the barn and smeared it across the land.

The family dairy barn suffered the worst of Mother Nature's Memorial Day wrath.

Viewing the wreckage was heartbreaking. I thought how my wife, my parents and I had planned that barn, deciding to place the fountains here, the gates there. I recalled helping the construction crew as much as I could, hammering nails and hanging free stalls.

I exited the dairy business twenty years ago, but the barn continued to serve. Our neighbors used it for machinery storage. I would use it to shelter the bales of hay that we feed our Jersey steers.

The 1947 John Deere “A” that Dad bought when I was a kid was also stored in the barn. The tractor sat amidst the wreckage, its muffler bent at a bizarre angle, its tinwork dented, a rear tire impaled by a ring shank nail. This somehow felt more personal than the rest of the damage.

The barn is a grotesque mess, its exposed rafters gleaming in the sun like the ribs of a whale. I’m glad that my parents aren’t here to see it.

I thought about all the hours my family and I had spent in that barn, the sweltering summer afternoons, the bone-chilling winter mornings. I thought of all the Holsteins that had been sheltered by the barn’s roof, a structural element that has suddenly ceased to exist.

I also thought about all the people we had met because of the barn. This included several hired men, most of them college students, along with feed and various other company reps.

I remembered how, on pleasant spring evenings, my parents and I and the hired guy might stand beside the barn and enjoy the twilight as we chatted and joked. Dad would always suggest coffee and a snack, and we would move the pleasantries to my parents’ farmhouse.

The day after the storm, our dairyman neighbor and his son used their humungous loader tractor to remove the wreckage that had been blown onto their field. The following day, friends and neighbors came over to help us with the cleanup. Much of it had to be done by hand.

My wife brought refreshments and snacks. The cleanup crew gathered near the barn and enjoyed the food and the fellowship. Much chatting and joking ensued.

It was the last time the barn would witness that kind of pleasantry.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.