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Katie Ryan-Anderson, Forum Communications Co., Published October 18 2011

Harvest of grief: Farmers chip in after family loses 3-year-old in accident

SPIRITWOOD, N.D. – More than 100 friends, neighbors and relatives harvested about 1,400 acres here Tuesday, hoping that the family who typically farms it can instead use the time to grieve.

Three-year-old Brayden Mcclean died Sunday in a farming accident near the Barnes County-Stutsman County line in southeast North Dakota.

The son of Matthew and Dalonna Mcclean of Wimbledon. Brayden was with his family on the farm of his grandparents, Joyce and the late Glen Mcclean, at the time of the accident.

“I think right now, they (the family) can mourn the way they should and not worry about their crop in the field,” said Joe Pesek, neighbor and long-time family friend.

Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said the accident happened about 7 p.m. Brayden was sitting in the driver’s seat of the pickup, which was in park, McClaflin said. Brayden shifted the vehicle into neutral and when it rolled, the boy fell out, McClaflin said, saying the driver’s door was open and he was unsure if Brayden jumped out.

Officials pronounced the boy dead at the scene.

Area residents and businesses have pooled their resources, arranging for 25 combines in addition to semis and grain carts to harvest the 1,400 acres of soybeans north and south of Interstate 94. The work took the volunteers about four hours – but doing it alone could have taken up to two weeks, Pesek said.

Among the volunteers were his grandchildren, Stacey Pesek and Dylan Pesek. Stacey ran errands and passed out lunches while Dylan, 16, missed school to drive the combine.

Red, green and silver combines grazed the field, creating almost a traffic jam in an area of the state where the roads aren’t paved and stoplights don’t exist.

In many agricultural circles, the brand-name belonging to farm equipment is cheered for like a favorite football team. The owners of each color jeer each other in jest, bragging their equipment bests that of their fellow farmer. But despite the red, the green and the silver that passed each other Tuesday, for Joe Pesek, he and the volunteers saw only black and white.

“They’re all one color today. But on any other day, we’ve got a problem,” he said.

The joke was one of a few between neighbors and friends Tuesday, a way to cope with the sudden and tragic loss.

“These tragedies are supposed to happen somewhere else, not here,” said Cole Conley, friend and neighbor of the Mcclean family who organized the crew.

Included in the volunteers was Brian Vrkuehlen, regional sales manager for RDO Equipment Co. in Casselton. RDO doesn’t have any connection with the family, but its combine was in the Spiritwood area. Farm Rescue volunteers were using it to help with a field belonging to Spiritwood resident Russell Carlson, who fell in a recent farm accident, paralyzing him from his chest down.

Residents had recently helped Carlson, and they helped the Mcclean family recently, too, after Glen died about a year ago. This year has been difficult for the Mccleans, Conley said. But the community wants to show its support.

“Because that’s the kind of people they are here. They just try to help out when somebody’s in need,” Conley said.

Vrkuehlen said he and two other RDO volunteers from Breckenridge, Minn., traveled to the Spiritwood area to assist the family. Volunteers from RDO traveled the farthest distance.

“It was great to see that that’s the kind of people we live and work with,” Vrkuehlen said.

Several businesses offered equipment, volunteers and services Tuesday in addition to the local farmers, many of whom have their own crops to harvest.

John Craft lives in Spiritwood, but works in California. He spends about a third of his time in North Dakota. Even though work on the farm is never done, he said he didn’t hesitate to help out the Mcclean family. Craft said he knows what it’s like to have neighbors help out with harvest at a time in need. Spiritwood residents came to his family’s aid in 1983 after his son suffered a head injury in a farm-related accident.

“Losing a child like that is just the worst possible thing,” he said.

Jeff Romsdahl, part owner and sales manager at Central Sales, said his business donated the time of some of its employees as well as the use of one of its 2011 S77 Gleaner combines – the lone silver one in the pack.

“We felt, I guess, that it was the right thing to do. In the farming community, which is a tight-knit community, these kind of things hit pretty close to home,” he said.

Katie Ryan-Anderson writes for the Jamestown Sun.