PRIMGHAR, Iowa | I watched a farmer churn his combine through field of soybeans on Thursday evening, six miles northwest of Kingsley, Iowa, my first harvest brush of the 2017 season.
The scene had my mind racing 52 miles north to Primghar, where Jim, Kurt and Tom Edwards operate Nicholson & Edwards Grain Company, a multi-faceted firm that's served the heart of O'Brien county for more than a century.
"We found a newspaper article on the main house, it was built in 1915," Kurt Edwards told me.
That main house and its annex, which held 80,000 bushels of grain at the time, burned to the ground Sept. 8 and into the next morning. An additional two bins behind the elevator were destroyed in the blaze as well. All told, the company heads into harvest down in storage capacity by 180,000 bushels.
At least they're heading into harvest. I liked hearing that much.
Kurt Edwards, a former member of the Primghar Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department, was just outside of Primghar at 8:08 p.m. last Friday when the call came in about flames engulfing the top of the elevator. He dashed to the site and met local firefighters as they began the battle.
"Another employee and I went into the office to get as many of the records out as we could," Edwards said. "We got the computer hard drive out, all of our customers' grain records out and some of the essentials that will keep us going."
Soon, fire departments from eight other area communities had reported to the inferno: Men and women from units in Archer, Sanborn, Sutherland, Hartley, Sheldon, Paullina, Granville and Calumet. Crews poured 350,000 gallons of water on the blaze, working until 4:30 a.m. to contain it while protecting the neighborhood on the town's west edge. The Primghar Ambulance, the O'Brien County Sheriff's Office and B&R Excavating assisted at the scene as well.
Primghar firefighters returned Saturday morning and throughout the early part of the week to douse hot-spots.
Jim Edwards, who was in the Iowa Great Lakes when the fire started, hustled back to Primghar to join the local fire department, a unit upon which he serves.
"We can't say enough about the fire departments, the ambulance crew and all the volunteers from here and our surrounding communities who showed up to help," Kurt Edwards said. "Their help was probably the only bright spot of this event."
The fact the business will continue to operate during this harvest season represents a second bright spot.
"Some of the grain elevators around us have said they'd support us, which we would do for anyone else," Edwards said. "Our main focus is getting a temporary office and scale set up so that we can serve farmers this harvest."
Once the 2017 harvest concludes, Jim, Kurt and Tom Edwards, the owners, will move ahead on plans to replace the grain bins destroyed in the blaze. The Edwards family, after all, has been involved with this enterprise since 1956.
"We grew up here," Kurt said. "We've been working here ever since we were old enough to carry a shovel and scoop grain."
The company lost 20,000 bushels of beans in addition to the bins, the annex and the main house. Those items, he said, can be replaced. Kurt Edwards said the company was insured and will be able to replace those physical pieces, components whose valuation may come to $1 million.
Primghar Volunteer Fire & Rescue Chief Gary Lansink said the cause of the fire may likely be listed as "undetermined" as the elevator, where the blaze began, had to be torn apart to finish fighting it.
"We might have to haul grain off-site more than normal," Kurt Edwards said. "And we'll get a warehouse for seed to keep us going this fall."
I told Edwards about watching a farmer combine soybeans near Kingsley on Thursday afternoon. He'd heard of one other getting started that day in O'Brien County.
"I spoke with one farmer who did 30 acres of beans last night," he said. "We've got a 7- to 10-day window to get going. By (this) week, we'll have a scale hooked up."
While it's been a tough week for the Edwards brothers, their families and employees in a smoky, hazy section of Primghar, they remain ever thankful for the volunteers -- people like them, really -- men and women who dropped everything to help protect their town and their livelihood.