Neighbors join forces during tragedy
Thu, 06/16/2016 - 10:06am admin
The sky was just showing traces of pre-dawn grey as pickup and implement headlights converged off gravel side roads and onto the Smithville road before pulling into three different hayfields southeast of Elm Springs Sunday morning.
Though haying crews heading out to get an early start on the day is a familiar sight across western South Dakota each June, this haying crew was unique. Each person in this crew had left behind his own hayfields, and had instead roaded tractors pulling balers and rakes over to the hayfields of the Philip and Mary Kay Wilson ranch.
The Wilsons had their lives rocked Wednesday, June 8, when they received news that their daughter, Beth, age 36, had died unexpectedly at her home in Coon Rapids, Minn. The Wilsons are an important part of the Elm Springs and Wall communities, with Philip’s involvement in the Elm Springs Fire Department, Mary Kay’s service on the Wall ambulance, as well as myriad other church and community-related activities.
Philip and Mary Kay made the painful journey to Coon Rapids to join their son-in-law, David, and their three-year-old granddaughter, Penelope. Work at home would have to wait.
All seasons of ranching are time-sensitive. It is hard for a rancher to take time away from home during spring calving, fall shipping, harvest or winter feeding. Haying season is no exception. The hay must be cut when the grass is at the peak of its maturity, and it must be baled at just the right moisture level. The harvested hay will see the rancher through the winter, provided necessary forage for cattle and other livestock while the pastures go dormant or are under snow.
After two years of fairly good hay crops, 2016 has proven to be a dry year, with less hay than is desirable for a rancher to make it comfortably through the winter. This makes getting what hay is available all the more imperative.
A group effort
Wilsons’ neighbors got right to work. Despite the triple-digit heat Saturday, Kenneth Wilson (Philip’s brother), Nick Trask, Mick Trask and Jacob Linn hit the fields to down as much hay as possible in preparation for the rakes and balers Sunday.
Fighting wind and the dust kicked up by the rakes, neighbors including Jim Smith, Jim Wilsey, Pat Trask, Joe Trask, Larry Gravatt, Andy Linn, Lonnie Arneson, Tyler Wilson (Kenneth’s son), Alex Swede, Malcolm Price, Tom Trask, Mark Trask and Mick Trask were hard at work by 4:30 a.m. Clouds laced with lightning to the east kept the sun from breaking the horizon above the Cheyenne River breaks as the men hustled with the intention of putting up all of Philip and Mary Kay’s hay before the day was out.
“We want to be able to text them a picture and say, ‘Hey, your hay is taken care of’,” Mick said.
Members of the Elm Springs community are notorious for finishing work before it is even supposed to be started. Each year, when the call is made for help with the cemetery clean-up, a time is set for the work to begin. Each year, one or two community members arrive early and have the work mostly finished before the bulk of the crew arrives. It has become a friendly contest of sorts, with people arriving earlier each year in order to get to mow.
That same spirit was evident among the Wilson haying crew on Sunday. Everyone was there before dawn, eager to get to work while there was still moisture in the cut hay.
It was not just the men who left their beds early. Tomilyn Trask joined her aunt, Rose Mary Trask, cousin, Celine Trask, and neighbor Peggy Gravatt to conjure up a breakfast fit for the haying crew.
“I asked Mick last night what I was supposed to do. He told me to come make breakfast for everyone. I was like, ‘Yes! I don’t have to be in the hay field’,” Tomilyn said.
They did not have to wait long for hungry mouths to feed. By 8:40 a.m., Mick put in a telephone call to Mel Anderson, who had visited the fields earlier in the morning. The haying was done, Mick told Mel, and had been for a half hour.
Dennis Wier and Robert Powell took over with bunching the bales. The entire hay crop for the Wilson family was put up in fewer than 48 hours.
The help was not done by the hands of bored ranchers. Joe Trask recently graduated from law school and is studying diligently for his bar exam. Jim Wilsey has been working tirelessly to ranch and pour a foundation so a Children’s Chapel can be moved into the Elm Springs Church. Larry Gravatt is helping to orchestrate a reunion Boy Scout ride to the Tyree Basin later in the week. Each of the haying and cooking crew left their work in order to minister to a hurting neighbor, thereby helping to make the Wilsons’ burden a little lighter.