People use the phrase, “Hot mess,” to describe many situations, but rarely is it used in the literal sense. We had a literal hot mess on our hands two weeks ago here on the ridge. Our machine/commodity shed went up in flames.
At 30-plus years old, this shed has served many purposes. I can remember when they built it, because my rug-rat little brother Thomas was throwing clay at my friend and me as we scooped clay to build our erosion model for the science fair in fourth grade. At 60-by-120, its primary use back then was to house machinery. It also hosted many graduation parties and summer farm parties. It was the place where Peter, Stacy, Thomas, Tony and I honed our skills as gladiators. We strung 15-gallon drums from the rafters on heavy twine and invented our own obstacle course. Two generations of farm kids used the big straw bales and piles of tires as barriers during hundreds of giggling games of hide-and-seek. The outside of the shed was lined with lilac bushes; overgrown, yes, but so lovely and fragrant every spring as the breeze carried the scent across the farm.
More recently, the shed was used to house all of our big straw bales, two freezers of meat, a seeder, the year’s seed corn, skid loaders, skid loader attachments, milk replacer, extra tires and miscellaneous lumber. One bay of the shed held oat hulls and another held ground corn. We use quality straw in our TMR daily, for bedding animals from sheep to calves, and for keeping the calving pen cozy and clean. Dad purchased the freezers a few years back, and they have been well utilized when we butcher pigs, chickens and inevitably, an injured cow. Peter had the seed corn all neatly organized on pallets ready for the weather to scream it was at long last spring.
Peter was on uncle duty that night. Henry and Cora were helping him work in the shop when they heard a loud pop. Jaime was headed to Bible study after feeding calves and noticed a giant cloud of black smoke. Dad was assisting the manure-pumping crew when he saw flames and heard a pop. All three, not knowing where anyone else was at, all called 911 within minutes of each other. I hurried home from a banquet in town, leaving Ira and Dane to be dropped off by a dear neighbor. Though you know in your brain that no one was injured (or worse), the immediate shock of seeing a fire of that magnitude on your farm is extremely emotional. When you pull in the driveway and are greeted by first responders, a sheriff’s deputy, and the snapping and popping of flames as they swallow the roof of the shed and gulp at the straw and everything else underneath, you can do nothing but cry from the helplessness of the situation.
Tony and Peter were using the payloader with the pile shaver attachment to pull off the tin to then be carried to spots on the lawn by the crews of firemen. The Hillsboro Fire Department’s ladder truck made its debut here and is likely responsible for saving not only the shop, but also the transformer that sits between the shop and the shed. Five area departments were called to help control the flames. They zoomed to fill their tanks at different branches of the Baraboo River down the road to keep hoses spraying. Thankfully, the wind was in our favor that night as it blew the smoke down to the woods as opposed to toward the house or the cows. The black plume of smoke was reportedly seen many, many miles away. 
As the firemen, with help from Bill Krueger in his excavator, and our men, worked to keep the shop safe and calm the fire, the rest of us fed the people working. I called my cookie baking friends down the road and within an hour had two fresh batches of chocolate chip cookies. The rest of us set about making sandwiches, frying burgers, hot dogs, frosting brownies and phoning a few friends to deliver water and Gatorade. As we set up an impromptu buffet line in the shop, we were given a roaster full of pork from the FFA banquet in town to add to our late-night smorgasbord.
Cora was quite shook up from the experience and poured her feelings into drawings. After a day of hearing adults talk about how expensive everything is (and how thankful we were that they weren’t playing in there that day), she also drew a plan for the new shed and then pitched it to Grandpa Jim.
“It should be pink on the outside with a blue roof, and in white paint, we should paint the word expensive on the front of it.” When asked what she thought expensive meant, she didn’t miss a beat. “It means you worry about it and want to take care of it.” The amazing mind of a 5-year-old.
Though I know I didn’t name all of the incredible, helpful, kind and thoughtful humans, know that we all appreciate every little thing from each of you. I often wonder if other sectors of society are as generally helpful in times like this as farming communities are. I am moved to tears in an instant by the goodwill of our neighbors, vendors, friends and many other kind-hearted people. Thank you. As the kids stared at the shed debris in disbelief, we reiterated that while many things may have been lost, none of them breathed. So, they are easy to replace.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.