TEKAMAH, Neb. — Three combines churned through the brown cornfield, north and south, reaping row after row of corn. Tractors pulling grain carts filled to the brim drove back and forth to semi-tractor-trailers stationed maybe a quarter-mile away.
Normally, harvesting this crop would have been the job of Phillip Hennig. Instead, about 75 people, Hennig’s friends and neighbors, came out Wednesday to take in the corn he had planted.
Hennig, 59 died Oct. 17 after driving into a cloud of anhydrous ammonia that leaked from a pipeline near his home north of Tekamah.
So Hennig’s friends and neighbors did what farmers do when something like this happens this time of year: They harvested his crop themselves.
The leak occurred near the intersection of County Road P and U.S. Highway 75, along an interstate pipeline owned by Magellan Midstream Partners. The leak led to the evacuation of 23 rural households. All except one have been able to return.
Dan Kahlandt was one of the farmers on Wednesday harvesting Hennig’s 650 acres of corn.
“The Hennig family has been neighbors of mine my whole life,” said Kahlandt, 31. “That’s what we do. Phil would do the same.”
The effort involved several fields the 59-year-old Hennig had farmed in the area. About 12 combines harvested about 120,000 bushels that were hauled in 120 semi loads to a grain elevator in nearby Oakland, Nebraska.
“Phil’s life was farming,” Kahlandt said. “It’s very important to get (the crop) out for him.”
Neighbors have already harvested the Hennig bean crop.
Harvesting the corn wasn’t without cost to the farmers who did it. A single combine costs about $300 per hour to run, and some of the dozen machines went as long as six hours Wednesday.
Harvesting a crop is a monumental task in the most ideal circumstances, said Greg Gammel, 41. Hennig’s family could have potentially harvested the crop themselves, Gammel said, but it would have taken weeks and they have enough on their mind.
“When we leave here today, they’ll still have a lot to worry about,” said Gammel, who like Kahlandt has known Hennig his entire life. “It’s not over for them, so you try to help them out as much as you can.”