Near the end of harvest, Jeff could barely remember a day that hadn’t been hot. Too hot. The excitement of a nice sunny day had worn off weeks earlier. At least there was a breeze today.
“Can we have a bonfire tonight, Dad?” 10-year-old Connor asked from the passenger seat as Jeff turned into the field and pulled the semi up beside the parked grain cart.
“Are you crazy, kid? It’s hot enough to roast a marshmallow on the hood of the truck.”
“Can we?” Connor asked, eyes lighting up while he imagined it.
Jeff laughed. “I guess we could try it later, if we get time.” Jeff had no idea if a marshmallow would actually roast on the truck. It would probably just melt and make a huge mess. But he had seen a bag of marshmallows on the kitchen counter that morning, and it only seemed fair to give Connor a few memories of harvest other than of his dad cursing at broken machinery.
“We might get grasshoppers in our s’mores,” Jeff said, looking at the dead insects on the hood of the semi.
“Mmmm. Crunchy,” Connor said. Jeff laughed again.
Jeff’s father Dale was standing by the grain cart to say hello while Jeff unrolled the tarp. Connor’s sister Jenny was standing at Dale’s side. She’d been riding in the cab with her grandpa. Connor ran to see her, excited to tell his sister about the marshmallow experiment. Dale wanted to ask Jeff about the auger.
“That thing still holding together?” Dale asked.
“Barely,” Jeff said. “Can’t run much through there too fast, or that patch is going to fall right out.”
One of the July storms had brought enough wind to flip the auger onto its side. Jeff had managed to weld on a patch to fix the damage, but really, it needed to be replaced.
“Did you call the dealer?” Dale asked.
“Wayne phoned me. The new auger should be in tomorrow. Finally.”
“One more day,” Dale said. “We’ll survive.”
“Easy for you to say,” Jeff said. “You’re lounging around in the air-conditioned cab.”
Before they finished unloading, Dale’s wife Donna pulled up in the old farm pickup truck. She stepped out of the cab carrying containers full of cookies and a bag of cold drinks.
“Thanks Mom!” Jeff said, taking a drink. “This hits the spot.”
Connor and Jenny happily took two cookies each.
“Are you kids okay out here?” Donna asked. “I’m going to deliver cookies to the combine drivers and then go back to the house. You could come with me.”
“I want to stay with Dad,” Connor said.
“I’m telling Grandpa about all of the girls in my class at school,” Jenny said. “I’m only half-way done. He’ll want to hear about the rest.”
“I’m sure he will!” Donna said. “Okay then, I’ll take a ride in the combine cab with Elaine. She wanted to talk to me about some ideas for the school.”
Dale and Jeff finished loading canola into the semi while Donna drove across the canola stubble, parking at the edge of the field near the combine. When Elaine came near, Donna climbed up into the cab, a bag of treats and drinks in one hand.
“We should be able to finish this field before dark at this pace,” Jeff said, watching the canola flow into the truck.
Dale looked around. “Don’t jinx it,” he said.
Finally, the cart was empty.
“Just in time,” Dale said. “Looks like Mark has a full hopper in that combine. I better get over there. Jenny, get in the tractor cab.”
But as Jeff was climbing into the semi he looked over toward Elaine’s combine and saw dark smoke billowing up from the edge of the field where Donna had parked the truck.
Dale had seen it too and had already run over to make a plan with Jeff.
“I’ll take the tractor over,” Jeff said. “Faster than running and I’ve got a fire extinguisher. You take the semi back to the yard. I’ll see how it looks. You can bring the truck with the water tank out, or the tandem disc, if we need to plough a strip to keep it from getting away. Jeff looked at the grass blowing in the ditch. “Damn breeze.”
“I’m coming with you Dad,” Connor said, running behind Jeff.
“Okay, but stay in the cab. Jenny, you go with your grandpa.”
Soon Jeff had the tractor in high gear, headed for the smoke.
He grabbed his cell phone to phone Elaine, but stopped when he saw his wife was already out of the combine cab, carrying a fire extinguisher toward the burning truck. He called Mark Edwards, the Hanson’s employee who was running the second combine.
“Can’t talk. I’m running,” Mark said. Jeff looked over to see that Mark had parked his combine and was jogging through the canola stubble carrying another fire extinguisher.
By the time Jeff got to the truck with the tractor, grabbed the fire extinguisher and climbed out of the cab, Elaine and Mark nearly had the fire under control. They couldn’t save the truck, but they could keep the fire from spreading. They wouldn’t lose a combine. Or the field. And they wouldn’t start a prairie fire that could take out crops and buildings for miles in any direction.
Donna stood off to the side, hands raised to her face. “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that. I know better than to park in tall, dry grass.”
“It happens,” Mark said, taking a step toward Donna.
“Get away from her!” Connor yelled. Of course he’d ignored his father’s directions to stay in the tractor cab. When everyone turned to look at the boy, he explained. “Mark’s isolating, remember? It’s a pandemic.”
Connor was right. All summer, the Hansons had been careful to give Mark two metres of space. Mark’s fiancée was diabetic and at high risk of harm from COVID-19. In the spring Mark had done all the spraying on his own, so he would be the only one in the cab of the sprayer. Now, he was the only one driving the second combine.
“I forgot,” Mark said. “All the excitement! Thanks Connor.”
Elaine went to Donna. “I should have noticed where you parked. It’s not your fault.”
Jeff’s phone rang. It was John Hunter, their closest neighbour.
“I can see smoke in your direction. Should we bring our disc over?”
“Just a mishap,” Jeff said. “We’re okay. Truck’s seen better days, though.”
Jeff looked at the steaming, smoldering ruin of the truck. It was insured, and it wasn’t worth much to begin with. It would probably be hard to replace at a decent price, but the fire was under control and nobody was hurt. He looked around at his wife, his mother, Mark and Connor as they all stood looking at the remains of the truck.
Jeff phoned his father. “We’ve got things in hand, Dad. But maybe bring that truck with the water tank out and we’ll soak the ground around here, just in case. Oh, and one more thing. On your way out, can you stop by the house and grab a bag of marshmallows from our kitchen cupboard? Connor and I have a project.”