Gone in 60 seconds

Gajewski’s dairy farm destroyed in tornado


EDGAR, Wis. — Jeff Gajewski spent his life building his dairy farm, but in a matter of seconds, it was all destroyed when a tornado ripped through the Marathon County farm May 21.

“Forty-six years, gone,” Gajewski said. “All the years spent building this place, making it what it was, all gone. At least I have pictures of the place.”

The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF1 tornado with maximum wind speeds of 90 mph traveled 3.57 miles. In its path was the Gajewski dairy farm near Edgar.

Prior to the storm, Gajewski milked 32 cows in the barn he rebuilt after he purchased the farm in the late 1970s.

“I had planned to sell the cows here in a couple of months, but I didn’t want to go this way,” Gajewski said. “My sons had planned to use the buildings for their beef cattle.”

Gajewski’s barn and two silos took a direct hit from the tornado. Gajewski was emotional talking about it.

“The cows were trapped in the barn, the beams were on top of them,” Gajewski said.

Two cows were killed when the barn collapsed and four additional cows were put down that night, due to the severity of their injuries. The remaining cows were sent to Premier Livestock & Auctions LLC the next morning.

“The guys that hauled them said they looked great when they got to Premier,” Gajewski said. “They didn’t limp or stumble or anything getting off the trailers. That is really quite remarkable.”

Fifteen youngstock will remain on the farm until he can sell them as springing heifers, Gajewski said.

Gajewski evaded injury himself, having started chores early due to the forecast for severe weather.

“I started early that day because I didn’t want to chance losing power before I got done milking,” Gajewski said. “If I would have been in the barn like I usually would have at that time, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Gajewski said the weather reports made it sound like the brunt of the storm was going to stay south of Highway 29, leaving his farm out of the path of the worst damage.

“It was getting dark out to the west, but there was really no lightning or thunder,” Gajewski said. “I went to the house and changed clothes. I came out of the laundry room, and it had started lightning. I told my son to get out of the shower because of the lightning. I went into the kitchen and all of the sudden everything outside was flying — it was like it dropped right on top of us.”

Through the chaos outside, Gajewski yelled for his son again.

“I yelled, ‘Tornado!’ and we took off for the basement,” he said. “We didn’t even get to the basement door and it was over. It was gone so fast.”

The storm left the house largely untouched. Gajewski made his way back outside, dazed, to survey the damage wreaked upon his farm in sheer seconds, only to see his barn lying in a heap.

“I could hear the cows bellering in fear and pain,” Gajewski said.

In short order family, friends and neighbors descended upon the farm, helping Gajewski begin the task of saving his cows.

“News travels so fast,” Gajewski said. “I don’t know where everyone came from, but I am grateful to each person who showed up to help. We worked until about 1:30 a.m., getting the cows out of the barn.”

Gajewski said that the first night was a sleepless one for him, after extricating the cows from the barn, and the succeeding days have been long.

“The next day I was so dang tired from picking things up, my back and legs were aching,” Gajewski said. “If you think about it, it can really get to you.”

As the clean-up process continues, Gajewski has thought about how he will proceed. He said he wants to fix up the lean-tos for shelter for the animals during the summer months. The roof on the north side of the barn is laying nice and straight, so they are going to save that to fix the lean-tos so they only have to buy two-by-fours. He said depending on how much everything costs, he would like to build a heated room where the milkhouse was, to keep water running during the winter. He would also like to build housing approximately the width of the barn for the youngstock for winter.

“It just bothers me,” he said. “I had everything fixed up so nice, and I was so close to selling the cows on my own terms. After all these years, you become attached to it — the farm, the machinery, the land. It’s just the way life goes. All the years I farmed, I had certain setbacks with things. You just pick yourself up and keep going.”


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