The Field Fire
I’m going to tell a little story on Dad of an incident that happened nearly seventy years ago. Actually, what I’m about to tell you, he used to tell on himself. He’s crossed over to the other side now, so I don’t think he’ll mind my telling you.
What brought this story to mind was a discussion I was having with a couple of fellows from church one Sunday during coffee hour. We were talking about runaway brush fires and how they get started, and the question came up as to whether I had had any grain field fires during my farming career. I was fortunate enough to say I hadn’t, but not so Dad.
He used to run Massey-Harris combines in his farming operation. During the early 1940s, and into the early 1960s, Massey-Harris combines were designed with the engine down low near the ground. This provided a low center of gravity for good stability, but made them prone to starting field fires. The model 21, which was built until the late ’40s, was the worst of the models for these fires. It was jokingly dubbed the field arsonist.
With the engine being down under, so to speak, chaff and straw would filter down from above and lodge itself on the top of the engine next to the exhaust manifold where it would eventually get hot enough to smolder. Quite often if a gust of wind caught these clumps just right causing them to dislodge, they would fall to the ground into the stubble. If hot enough, they would ignite the stubble, and a grain fire was in the making. It seemed every farmer who used these machines, had to start one fire before he learned the lesson of checking the top of the engine for these clumps at least twice every day. Dad was no exception.
Now Dad was not one to easily panic. As a matter of fact, he was quite cool headed in a desperate situation, but the day of his fire he momentarily lost his cool—so I heard. I wasn’t there, since it was September, and I was in school. He took considerable razzing for quite some time over this incident, but he was always a good sport about it.
In those days, the standard field fire extinguisher was a bucket of water and a tractor and a plow standing close by (or sometimes, not so close by). The day Dad’s fire started, the said tractor and plow were about a quarter mile away from where the combines were working. However, his pickup was in the field close by. When he looked back and saw three fires smoldering behind his combine that were already to big to put out by hand, he shut the machine down, jumped off, doused the engine with water he carried on the combine, and and started running toward the tractor and plow, which made perfect sense, except for one thing. On his way to the tractor, Dad ran right past his pickup that was only about 300 feet away. One of the hired men returning to the field in an empty grain truck saw Dad, caught up with him, and took him to the tractor and plow. As the story goes, they did get the fire out with only a minimal number of acres lost to the fire, and Dad’s little panic attack was joked about for quite some time afterward.
If you like nostalgia and would like to read more nostalgia stories, why not click on the “free download” button on this website homepage and receive your free copy of the prologue and first three adventures of my little book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures where you can read about the escapades of a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.