DALE — Robert Nowakowski and his family faced a barn-sized problem Monday morning.
Dawn's early light after a storm the night before showed the roof of a barn had fallen off the walls supporting it, landing on the tops of large bales of grass and a combine inside.
As they discussed what they would need to take care of the mess, neighbors and friends began showing up.
Gerad McKinley and his son Gavin arrived with a large track-hoe and two semi-trucks to help. Then Justin Warren pulled up, driving another semi-truck with an empty trailer to haul hay.
Before long, another dozen or so others, area men who had known the family for most or all of their lives, showed up gloved, booted and ready to go to work.
By sunset, the work was mostly done.
Nowakowski, 75, said the experience reminds him of how lucky he is to have lived where he does.
"In this community as small as this, you know everybody and you know how it hurts when they lose something, whether it is an animal, a barn or a crop of hay or whatever.
"In years past, if there was a storm coming and I had some hay down in the field, it wasn't unusual at all for two or three neighbors to drive into the field and help me get it loaded before it got wet. That was just a common practice, and still is, to some degree."
75 years remembered
Nowakowski traces the old barn's origin back to 1952, when the man who owned the farm and two others in the area at the time built it and two other nearly identical structures to house crops and equipment.
His family has owned the land since 1996, when his parents, Minnie and Leo, bought the property — an event marked by an inscription into concrete poured at the barn's base that reads "Minnie & Leo, 1996."
After they passed, the land was handed down to Robert and his brothers. Today, it's still farmed by one of Robert's sons.
When the severe storm came through Sunday night, the barn held bales of alfalfa and grass plus a combine and header currently being used to harvest soybeans from surrounding fields.
"Luckily, the hay was tall enough to support most of the weight of the barn's roof," leaving the combine with only some damage to the top of its cab, he said.
Engineering a solution
The biggest problem the Nowakowskis faced was figuring out how to keep the barn's roof from completely falling long enough to get the combine safely removed.
Gavin McKinley maneuvered the track-hoe to where its knuckle boom and arm could be used to help balance the roof so the combine and its header could be removed. Other volunteers helped out as they could to keep everything from crashing down.
"Every time we started to pick up something, it was like, we can't do that or it is going to fall this way, or we can do this or it will fall that way," Nowakowski said.
"Once we got them out, then we started removing the hay, bit by bit. A little bit of it got wet, but not much, so we were pretty fortunate."
After that, they demolished what remained and cleaned debris from the land. As those efforts continued, still other neighbors and friends showed up with food to feed the volunteers and offered to help in any way they could.
John Stotts, one of those neighbors, went to see what he could do after getting free from his full-time job shortly after noon.
"All the kids around here grew up hauling hay and picking sweet corn for Robert. When I pulled up, I just put on my gloves and started doing whatever needed to be done," he said.
Roots run deep
Nowakowski said his grandfather participated in one of the Oklahoma land runs. His father began farming as a young man for another landowner before acquiring and farming his own properties later in life.
As the operation grew, it was commonplace for Nowakowski's father and sons to hire neighbor kids to help bring in harvests for various crops and to help sell sweet corn known about far and wide.
Nowakowski remembers operating a tractor for the first time at age 5, when his father put him to work to rake cut hay in a field.
"I couldn't hardly stop the tractor from going, because I was really small for my age," he said.
But he was right at home.
"I was born in July, and in the fall harvest of September-October when it was time to harvest corn, they made a box so that Mom could put me in it so that she could drive the tractor and help Dad."
Today, two of Nowakowski's sons also farm while a third helps out when he is free from his full-time job. Nowakowski, a widower, also has a daughter.
As for those who showed up to help this week, Nowakowski said most had worked for him or his parents at one time or another in their lives.
To them, the barn's loss was personal.
"In fact, one of them took a little bit of wood and a piece of the barn we didn't even know was there. He told us, 'I am going to take this because it is part of the Dale barn.'"
While Nowakowski isn't sure of his immediate plans, he said Wednesday he hopes to eventually build a replacement.
He said he also was considering heading over to Clinton to help property owners clean up there after Tuesday night's storms.
"Just providing that much is a huge help," he said.
Business Writer Jack Money covers Oklahoma’s energy and agricultural beats for the newspaper and Oklahoman.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by subscribing to The Oklahoman.
Source : https://www.oklahoman.com/story/business/agricultural/2021/10/14/friends-neighbors-help-remove-dale-farming-familys-storm-damaged-barn/8438218002/2466