SCOTT and Tammy Carle walk out of their home in darkness Monday night. Behind them three towers stand tall.
They’re on their way to a Dairy Farmers of America meeting about an hour away and it’ll be nice to get off the farm for an evening and let the kids do the chores.
When the cell phone interrupts their roast beef dinner a second time, Scott and Tammy answer with exasperation.
On the other line, a shocked voice: “The silo is falling.”
Technically, it isn’t falling. Yet.
Instead, it’s tipping toward two other concrete silos an arm’s length away. If it wasn’t at their own farm, it might even look funny: A mammoth concrete pillar leaning to tell two towers a secret.
SCOTT and Tammy pull into their gravel drive in Columbiana County, run inside to switch into boots, and hustle to the barn.
The cement staves have some cracks and one side of the silo appears to be sinking a couple inches. But the metal bands tightly wound around the silo haven’t broken.
Scott and Tammy look at the silo and then look at the elevator. Silo, elevator. Silo, elevator. That elevator takes feed to their 60-head dairy herd, and it’s connected to the silo.
If that silo comes down, it’ll pull the elevator down with it. The whole thing’ll be gone, Scott thinks. Those metal bands are still secure; maybe he can get in there and save the elevator.
Using a step ladder, careful not to lean it against the silo, Scott climbs up and detaches the elevator.
He realizes the main electric to the barn is hooked to the silo’s side. It was attached there so it wouldn’t fall; silos are supposed to be sturdy.
He worries they might lose all their electricity if the silo falls and rips the wires to the ground. Teetering on the ladder, he pulls down the wires.
They’ve done everything they can. There isn’t a silo professional, like a plumber or electrician, to call when there’s a problem.
Tammy prays. That silo is coming down, she is sure. But the how and when scares her.
What if someone gets hurt? What about the cows in the barn? What about those other silos? Their forage hasn’t been good the past couple years. This corn silage was the best in a long while.
And just yesterday they finished filling the 20-by-70 silo.
TAMMY wakes up Tuesday morning and that silo must have a really good secret because now it’s actually leaning heavily on the silo next to it.
She spends the morning on the phone. The word is out. Family and neighbors show up with bulldozers, skid loaders, a bagger, cases of grape soda, and offers to help.
If the silo crashes now, it’s going to take down the silo next to it, and the silo next to that one, and then the barn.
By nightfall, it’s cold and the rain soaked through their Carhartts long ago. They hook lights to a generator in the back of one of the pickups and flood the area with light.
Everyone throws out ideas on how to save the other silos.
Finally, Tammy’s brother, Chuck Cassidy, goes up in a bucket truck and attaches cables to the tower. He winds two cables through the stays on the circular metal bands.
The guys attach the other end to the bulldozer and it churns ahead through the dark mud. They hope the tension is enough to lift the silo upright again and redirect it away from the barn when it falls.
That 20-ton dozer isn’t going to pull down a 600-ton silo, but maybe it will give Mother Nature a tug.
THE sun shines Wednesday morning, although the weatherman predicted differently.
All the family and friends and neighbors and farmers are back, and they keep looking at the silo, willing it to fall so they can get to work saving the silage.
The tension cables worked, and the silo now sits upright.
Scott and Chuck go to work with sledgehammers. They slam into and shatter the bottom concrete bricks. They figure shoving a silo down is sort of like cutting a Christmas tree. Wedge the base on one side so it will fall the opposite direction.
But before they’re done, the cables snap.
The silo totters for a moment, then leans and rests its massive cold, gray body against the other silo again.
Everyone steps back.
Scott and Chuck reattach the cables and begin cutting the bottom metal bands that wrap around the silo for support.
The cable breaks again.
“Get back! Get back! It’s coming down!” They shout and they run.
WHEN Tammy was a little girl, she’d stand on the airport’s observation deck as her father flew away. He’d disappear into the cabin, the jets would roar and the plane would turn, blowing hot exhaust and dust into her face.
That’s how it is with the silo.
She hears it scrape the side of the silo it was resting on and then slow motion takes over. It quietly falls face first, bursting apart at impact and flinging corn pieces and a swoosh of air into her eyes and mouth.
Clouds of pungent silage dust fill the sky and no one can see at first.
But as the haze clears, they see the silo lying across the ground in the exact spot they wished it would fall. Missing the other silo, missing the corn cribs, missing everything it could’ve damaged.
It’s as if angels laid it down, Tammy thinks.
THREE days. Scott put preserver on the silage before it went in the silo, which means they have three days to get the silage into ag bags before it will spoil.
It doesn’t look promising at the moment. It looks like the silo exploded, like it couldn’t contain the swollen heaps of silage that burst out of each seam.
But then the neighbors, the friends, the farmers, the family all move in with their tractors and wagons and skid loaders.
They drive into the mountain, hauling away loaders full of silage and dump it into wagons, which feed it into a plastic ag bag. Other guys trudge through the mud, dig beneath the silage and carry away concrete chunks. They speculate how the 28-year-old silo could’ve suddenly tipped, but come up with no definite answers.
They work hour after hour, some guys leaving to go do their own chores, others arriving in their places.
Tammy’s mom, Janet, makes chili, and they take out hot dogs and cookies and eat at a long folding table next to the fallen silo.
They hook up floodlights again and work until 1 a.m. But by then, everyone is tired and shivering. Finally Scott and Tammy turn out the lights and call it quits until tomorrow morning.
The couple walks back to their home in darkness Wednesday night. Behind them, two towers stand tall.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)