Editor’s Note: Following the No-Till Farmer Video Review that featured he and his son’s kickoff presentation at the 30th National No-Tillage Conference, Kentucky no-tiller John Young shared this unique harvest-time story with us. We wanted to share it with you as well — from the founding family of no-till.
One of the rules of rural living is to always help a neighbor in need, as shown in what a fall harvest day brought for three different cultures on the roads around a Kentucky no-tilling farming operation. A day best summarized in Proverbs 27: “Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
Even with no-tillage, there is a lot of work to do on any farm. Every year, Oct.15-Nov. 10 is a crazy time on our Herndon, Ky., farm. It is much more like a three-ring circus than a calm, pastoral setting.
We simultaneously no-till wheat and harvest soybeans, hopefully before the bad weather closes in. At the same time we’re getting the land ready for the next crop cycle. There are all sorts of supporting tasks that help those three major activities along.
On any given day, we may have up to six semi-trucks on the road, two combines in the field, at least one self-propelled sprayer running and two tractors working down and sowing grass on waterways and ruts in fields that have developed during the growing season. Pickups roam around with drivers helping the rest of the crew.
It’s not that we have that many people working on the farm. It’s just that everybody is forced to wear many hats during such a busy season. The time is limited and the goals are numerous. Both Spanish and English languages float around among the workers, including ourselves.
However, accidents and crises know nothing about such things. They come in their own good time regardless of the multitude of things that need to be done.
On just such a busy fall day (November 8), it was all hands-on deck. Javier was spraying, Roberto and Boyce were no-tilling wheat, while David and John were trucking. The two younger men, Jose and Alejandro, were escorting machinery and bringing repair parts to the field. I was in the Deere combine and our son, Alexander, was driving the Case IH combine with his 4-year-old son, William, riding in the passenger seat. We were both harvesting no-till soybeans in the well-named Hill field.
Phone Call Changes Harvest Day
Alexander took a call from our two young Mexican workers, Jose Estrada and Alejandro Sandoval, asking for help. Jose said, in fast excited Spanish, that there had been an accident on Jago Thomas Road, involving a runaway horse and buggy. Something was said about one of our pickup trucks but, in the midst of the excitement, the rest of the details were unclear. Alexander flagged me down and the three of us hopped in my nearby pickup truck. I could just imagine the worst. A dead horse, injured people, wrecked pickup and police cars all around.
When we arrived at the scene, what we saw was unsettling. Jose was holding and patting a tear-stained 1-year-old Amish boy, just like a good uncle would do. The young mother was standing nearby. She was on her feet but bleeding from her injuries. Scrape marks and dirt were evident all down the front of her body, and she was obviously far along in pregnancy.
The horse and buggy were pushed against a tree with our pickup truck. Alejandro was holding the horse by its bridle, talking to it, trying to calm it. A small, ankle-biter-sized dog was jumping around happily. To all appearances, our truck had run the horse off the road, wrecked the buggy and injured the young mother. It was not a pretty sight.
It took me a few minutes of questioning the young mother to get the details of the story.
Cowboys, Dogs, and English
Rachel Byler, the young mother, had started out that morning to visit the local Amish grocery store in Herndon, taking her 12-month-old son, Samuel, along for the buggy ride. Her yapping dog followed for the first couple of miles, making the horse nervous. At the corner of Lonnie Walker Highway and Jago Thomas Road, she climbed down to put the dog in the buggy. While holding the horse’s reins with her left hand, she then tried to reach the dog with her right.
At some point, the dog spooked the horse with Rachel still on the ground. He started south on Jago Thomas Road, dragging Rachel behind and under the buggy. Her arm was punctured by part of the buggy’s steering linkage, which forced her to release the reins. Panicked, the horse ran down the road with 1-year-old Samuel still inside the buggy and the dog giving chase. Rachel did her best to catch the horse but couldn’t keep up.
At about that time, Alejandro came up behind the whole group, driving one of our white pickups. He jumped out of the truck to catch the horse, but couldn’t quite get it. That left him, Rachel and the dog all on foot chasing a frightened horse down the road, pulling the buggy with little Samuel Byler still inside, screaming. Jose came along on a different farm errand a minute later, going the opposite direction on the same road. As he drove past, he picked up Alejandro, who then mounted the back bumper of Jose’s pickup truck. They turned around to catch up with the runaway horse and buggy. When they were even with the horse, Alejandro cowboyed off the bumper and caught the horse’s head, bringing it to a stop. Jose then drove the pickup against the buggy, pinning it to a tree to keep it from getting away again.
Rachel finally caught up with the crowd and asked them to call for help. That is how we found them when we arrived.
Far from being the perpetrators of some violent accident, our guys were actually the heroes. They work with horses every day in Mexico, so they were exactly the right ones to help in that particular crisis. If I had been the first one on the scene, I’m not sure I could have handled it that well.
When I finally understood the important parts of the story, Alexander, William and I left our two vaqueros with the horse to keep it calm, then took Rachel, her unborn child and Samuel to several Amish homes getting women to help. All the men were gone to their various tasks by that time of the day. Their small Amish enclave is a few miles away, in an out-of-the-way place down a long single lane road where we almost never travel.
But one of the rules of rural living is to always help a neighbor in need. So we went to first one house, then another, lining up wives and cousins to take care of the situation. One lady stayed with Rachel, one started out for the grocery, while Katie Byler, the mother-in-law, brought the horse and buggy back to her house. She is a no-nonsense, take-charge kind of woman, who didn’t mind directing traffic in two languages — Pennsylvania Dutch and English.
Alexander and I were able to translate from Spanish to English and back again, so everybody knew what was going on. Katie, who makes and sells flower arrangements, gave us a small vase of flowers to say, “thank you.”
We soon went back and started cutting soybeans again.
Five days later I went back to check on Rachel, and naturally went to Katie’s house to ask for details. She assured me she had taken care of Rachel’s wounds without a doctor. She said they know an Amish woman who is “almost as good as a doctor.” The puncture wound was treated with a product called People Patcher. That was a new one for me, but I do look forward to seeing it at some point.
She also said, as far as they know, the baby that Rachel still carries is fine, and is due in December. Then, in a typical Amish statement, she said of Rachel, “she was sore for a day or so, and still can’t lift her arm, but she is back at work now.”
As I was getting back in my truck, she called out, “how did you like the flowers?” They were beautiful, I said, and thank you for that kind gesture. Well, she said, “when you are driving by sometime, could you please return the vase? I have to buy those at WalMart.”
That was the day that three cultures met. Amish, Mexican and English (the Amish call all non-Amish “English” no matter where they came from or where they are now.) This whole episode could have been much worse, except for the presence of mind displayed by our two young Mexican cowboys. Thanks be to God for His provision, even in crisis.
P.S. Melinda Byler was born on January 3, 2022. At last check, both mother and child were doing well.