The devastation was everywhere when Indiana Prairie Farmer editor Tom J. Bechman visited the Herm and Evelyn Rettinger farm near Bourbon last week. They farm with sons Jon and Joel. The farmhouse and main farmstead took a hard hit from terrific winds, believed to be from a tornado, on October 18. Starting near them, the wind damage extended to other neighbors to the northeast, and eventually became the wider-spread devastation that hit Nappannee. Both many farmsteads and both small and large commercial businesses were hit hard there.
"This looks like a war zone," said Ben Grimme, Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind., standing in the Rettinger's barnlot, near Bechman and the Rettingers. The machine shed and shop were completely gone. Equipment once in or near the shed was parked out of the way. They hadn't even had time to assess yet if there was more than external damage to various implements, including disks and chisel tools.
What once were three grain legs and five grain bins were now twisted metal, drug out of the way as the clean-up began. Only a couple of bins remained. The bins that didn't survive were still empty when the disaster struck. One larger bin, however, was half full of corn. The roof was removed during the storm, leaving the entire bin unstable. It took a crane to help remove the top portion down to the corn so that they could put some stability back into what was left of the bin. The bin wasn't completely emptied yet, because their electrical supply to the bins was wiped out.
Surrounding the farmstead, especially to the north and east, metal was scattered over a hundred acres of corn, not yet harvested. To say it was still standing would be a mis-representation. Some of it looked more like shelled fields than some low-yielding corn fields have looked after shelling this year. Yet this corn, in the 160-200 bushel range, at least until Oct. 18, 10:08 p.m., was still attached to the stalk and in the field, often very near ground level.
What kept away desperate feelings for the observers, let alone the Rettingers, were two things. "Everybody is OK," Herm says. "We were in the house, but we all got through it without injury. Things can be replaced."
Not everyone was so lucky. A neighboring couple not far away lost their entire house, and both were hospitalized for a time with injuries. There were also harrowing tales of how other non-farm neighbors barely escaped serious injury, or worse.
The other uplifting fact was the outpouring of help. An Amish and Mennonite army more than 40 strong descended upon the Rettinger farm within a week of the devastation, doing clean up and making temporary repairs to buildings to prevent further weather damage. Some came from as far away as Daviess County in southwest Indiana, about 250 miles away. They moved on to help other families, some Amish or Mennonite, some not.
The day Indiana Prairie Farmer visited, more than a dozen combines, plenty of trucks and several grain carts were deployed to harvest more than 300 acres of corn still in the field for the Rettingers. They elected to harvest the down corn themselves to keep neighbors equipment out of harms way with metal and other dangerous crap that the winds deposited across the fields. But by 1 p.m., the other 300+ acres were harvested, and the grain taken to two local elevators.
Three area machinery dealers helped coordinate the effort. But those in the combines, trucks, and tractors pulling grain carts were local farmers.
"It's so touching to see how the community stepped up to help us," Jon says. "We really don't know what to say."