LODI, Ohio – Seventeen-year-old Eric Christen saw the black clouds moving in when he reported to the main barn for evening milking.
Another August thunderstorm was about to hit. Better get in and start getting things ready, in case the power goes out, he thought.
The rain was falling harder out there. It was after 4 p.m. Aug. 9 and Richard Indoe and his sons, Tom and Bill, who own Richman Farms where Christen works, weren’t in the barn yet. He wondered where they were.
The teen, standing among the milking herd in the basement of the bank barn, looked out and could only see what he described as a white wall of something coming toward him, over the top of Bill’s house across the road.
He sat down in the northwest corner of the barn to wait out the storm.
Next came a clomping noise, then pounding, like the barn’s double sliding doors were slamming. Eric said it was sort of like when the Indoes bring big square bales onto the barn floor above the cattle: creaking and loud, “like a skid loader or tractor was driving around up there.”
Ten or 15 minutes after he first went for shelter, a panicked Eric emerged from the barn.
A machinery shed to the north had been pushed off its foundation, toppled and crushed.
The barn he’d been in was mangled, one side blown out, the roof collapsed onto the granary and hay bales inside. The old silo out back was sheared clean off halfway up.
And the dry cow barn, up on the hill beyond the farm, was gone.
* * *
Tom Indoe had seen a storm coming, too, from the machinery shed at his farm just up the road. The black sky looked threatening, so he started pulling in equipment. He figured on some wind, but was banking on much-needed rain.
All of a sudden, bam, it hit, Indoe said.
Quarter-size hail pelted the metal roof on his shop so hard it was deafening.
Fearing for the worst, Indoe headed for his combine, the heaviest piece of machinery in the shed. He’d lay underneath it until the storm passed.
Before he got that far, the worst of the storm was gone.
Next came a phone call from Bill, who’d retreated to his basement when he saw the clouds: “Better get up here. The barns are gone.”
* * *
Within minutes, friends and family and neighbors and strangers swarmed the farm, sloshing through the mud the storm had created.
It seemed like hundreds of people came out of the woodwork, Tom Indoe said.
“I was in shock. I know there were cows in that barn. We had to look for the cows,” Indoe said.
The volunteers heaved and strained together at the dry cow barn, using the kind of brute strength that comes alive only in emergencies to carry away hundreds of bales of hay and peel the collapsed roof off the cattle trapped underneath.
They cut beams and boards with chainsaws and haltered the cows crouched in the empty space, dragging them out to safety.
“When we first got here, we thought most of them were dead,” Tom Indoe said. It turns out the Indoes lost only two cattle and a horse.
One Holstein inside died after the Indoes discovered her legs were broken in the storm, and one of the family’s beloved draft horses, Rex, collapsed and died from a broken back.
Perhaps the greatest loss was North Lanes Banker Sarah, a Brown Swiss show cow nominated All-American, one of the top cows in the breed in 2006, according to one family member.
Due to calve any day, Sarah was left at home in the barn to have her calf in peace.
The rest of the show string had gone to the state fair.
* * *
Jenny Indoe Thomas wept as she carried bags of feed, galvanized buckets, splintered boards and memories from her family’s barn Aug. 10, the morning after the storm battered Richman Farms.
The dozens of volunteers helping seemed just as fazed.
“Of all of them, you hate to see this one go the most,” she said, standing in the farm’s main bank barn, one known as a local landmark for its white board siding and green shingled gambrel-style roof.
Tom Indoe said the barn had been there since the 1930s, and was the barn he and brother Bill and their father had all milked cows in since they were youngsters.
About 10 years ago the family had a barn fire, and lost more than a dozen show cows.
It seemed this farm tragedy was worse.
“We’ve always dodged the bullet before. This one was the big one.”
* * *
National Weather Service officials were on hand at the farm Friday, looking around at the piles of what used to be dairy barns, at the twisted and mangled trees, at the silo that sheared off and the metal belly bands that hung over the broken and scattered staves like pliable threads.
They checked the metal roofing blown off the shed at Tom’s farm just up the road, at the soybean fields tattered ’til there was nothing but stalks left, at the tree branches caught mid-tumble by the woven wire fences.
What they didn’t see was the damage that had already been cleaned up by those volunteers who stayed with the Indoes until nearly midnight Thursday, and showed up again at 6 a.m. Friday: the crumpled kicker bale wagon, the livestock trailer rolled over, the windows blown out inside the main farmhouse.
They didn’t see nearly a dozen young calves still staked to the ground, the fiberglass hutch houses that once protected them blown yards away and smashed like pop cans.
Still, they determined this farm had been hit by winds 100 mph.
It was an EF-1 tornado.
* * *
By Sunday afternoon, the entire bank barn had been cleaned up, the boards and beams cut, sorted and stacked. The Indoes said they would rebuild.
“We’re gonna have to do something,” said Deb Indoe, Tom’s wife.
Until then, their herd is housed at the Morlock farm near West Salem, and crews are helping tend to the animals there while the Indoes continue their cleanup.
“Medina County farmers are a real strong network,” Deb said.
“It’s really a miracle we didn’t lose more, and that everyone is safe.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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