William Lawrence Hamilton was a long name for a young boy to write. Over the years his friends called him Will, which was much easier to say and put at the top of his school assignments.

As an adult, Will watched his life become a series of events which ran something like this: plant, tend, harvest and sell. About the only variation to this was when the selling occurred. Sometimes it was before planting or during the growing season.

But his life had become about that simple. Plant, tend, harvest and sell.

The year 2020 changed Will’s predictable routine. By the middle of March, the pandemic had arrived and no one was really sure what would happen. All at once kids were home from school. Businesses closed and all social gathering ceased. Will knew it was bad when he had to do his banking outside of the building.

As planting time approached, the rest of the world seemed in disarray. But the planting of crops would not be dictated by the coronavirus. Will’s neighbors who farrowed and finished pigs continued as if nothing had happened. The cattle feeders still had feedlots full of cattle. Will and all his neighbors did what they knew how to do best and planted corn and beans. Fertilizer and the materials necessary to grow a good crop were available.

As spring and summer continued, so did the coronavirus. In the beginning, everyone thought it would run its course by summer. As the months continued, things did not seem to improve.

Will knew some people who had caught the virus. Sadly, one of his neighbors 10 miles away died. In his own family, his oldest son was quarantined, but recovered with no side effects. Thankfully, Will and his wife had been healthy and safe at home.

Then came the protests and the riots.

There also seemed to be no end to the news coverage of election campaigns.

The cattle and hog markets improved a little as processing plants improvised ways to keep running and not infect their workers. The corn and bean markets continued to be weak, but there was little Will could do about that.

On Monday, Aug. 10, Will set out to do a project that he had put off for several years. He planned to pour concrete inside his machine shed. The shed had equipment in it, but he was only going to do the east half of the building. With everything parked in the west side, the concrete trucks arrived and the pour was done by 10 a.m.

It was hot and humid with a chance of rain, but Will could easily close the shed doors if a storm came up.

At noon, the concrete was setting up quickly and Will was going over some rough spots when he stopped to look out the shed. The sky had a funny green look to it, and it was obvious there was a storm coming from the west. The wind began to pick up and things quickly changed as the sky grew black. Will got the machine shed door closed before a big gust hit. He locked everything down and prepared to sit out the storm.

There was only one small window to the west and Will worked his way around the machinery to see what was going on. The machine shed groaned as the wind kept pushing against it. Unlike the usual Midwest storms, this one just kept blowing and blowing, increasing in strength.

Will worked his way back to the east side of the building to continue working on the concrete. He just settled down, sitting on a 5-gallon bucket, when a gust of wind pushed so strongly that the whole shed began to shake. Then the roof began to vibrate and Will thought perhaps there was a tornado coming.

Will only had a few moments to look around and try to decide where the safest place to sit out the tornado would be. He decided on the skid loader that was parked in the center of the shed. It sat low and was reasonably heavy. It also had protection on three sides and a solid roof.

Will started the skid loader and turned it until it was up against a rear tractor tire. He shut off the skid loader and listened to the building groan. After five minutes the wind had not let up but was actually increasing. Will knew this was no tornado. All at once the roof on the west end of the machine shed started to open up and he could see light from the outside coming in. Then in one quick move, the roof started to lift and the walls went with it.

As the side walls blew across the top of the machinery, the combine took a beating. The tractor cab, which Will had considered using for shelter, had its windows broken out with part of a truss sticking through the center of it. There were a few 2x4s and pieces of steel blowing around for a moment or two and then Will was left in the rain and wind.

After a few minutes of having rain pour in through the front of the cab, Will started the skid loader and turned it to the east. He shut it off and watched as more things around him blew away. Several of the older outbuildings had already disappeared and he watched as the empty farrowing house blew away in the wind. The trees to the north and the south ended up in tangled heaps with some having their entire root systems pulled out.

Will could do nothing but watch and wait. The storm continued on for another 20 minutes and then it was over.

Will looked towards the house and thankfully it had escaped most of the damage. There were some shingles gone from the roof and the patio doors to the north had blown away. He could see his wife and daughter looking out the window. Will waved to them to show that he was fine.

As Will got out of the skid loader and sat on the bucket, his body began to shake and then he cried. Will knew it was a miracle he was alive and he was overcome with emotion. In a year that was already never to be forgotten, surviving this storm would be more memorable.

In the next few hours, the full extent of the damage from the storm would be understood and thousands of people would soon need help. The skid loader which protected Will during the storm would be used for many days to help his neighbors and others in the city south of him.

Although his corn was blown over and his machine shed was strewn out in the bean field, Will knew he would recover and in future years continue doing what he and his neighbors do best: plant, tend, harvest and sell.

Surviving the storm reminded him that he could survive the rest of 2020.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.