Fast-moving wildfires consumed the Midwest on March 6, sparking blazes in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado and inspiring a truckers rally. Winds gusted up to 60 miles per hour, ravaging livestock and wildlife, leaving charred remains everywhere in its wake.
Thousands of animals burned to death, helpless against the flames. The horrific loss of livestock, property and yes, even human life, hit ranchers in these states hard.
When truck drivers got word of the fires, they rallied in a huge way. Those who helped the cause walked away from it forever changed.
Organizing the effort
Matt Schaller, a truck driver for Hunt Farms in Michigan, was among the drivers organizing the effort. He orchestrated the donation and transport of hay from Michigan to fire-ravaged towns.
“We started putting our plans together for the first trip on March 7th, the day after the fires started,” he recalls. “I read an article about a couple in Texas who was killed trying to rescue cattle, and it made me want to help. I wanted to help the cause.”
Schaller encountered a friend who wanted to send his truck to the Midwest, but he didn’t have any hay. So Schaller called a contact in the farming business and began seeking hay donations.
It ‘kept building’
“My initial idea was to load two trucks with hay,” Schaller says. “Before I knew it, I had seven truckloads going down that first weekend.”
Schaller put the word out on Facebook, and more and more people began donating hay and trucks. United by the cause, “everybody came together for what we were doing,” Schaller adds. “It just kept building.”
Trucker Daisy Delaney, Schaller’s friend, got wind of the movement and volunteered to help, too. “I asked him, ‘You got room for another truck on there?’” Delaney recalls.
Delaney, an owner operator leased to NRG Carriers, ran a load of hay from Ohio to Kansas.
She even went a step further, using her social media account to acquire powdered milk for calves to drink.
“I was talking to the guy I was going to pick up from in Ohio on the phone, he was telling me all these stories about how bad the fires were,” she explains. “I thought, ‘If they have this bad of fires, these baby calves are losing their mamas. We need milk replacer,’” Delaney says.
So Delaney called Superior Farm Supply in Montpelier, Ohio, and asked if they had milk replacer. They did. Delaney took to Facebook to ask truckers to pre-purchase bags of it that she could add to her load when she picked up there the next day.
Before long, her friends had called the store and bought 23 bags of milk replacer. “It’s about $70 a bag, so I was impressed,” Delaney says. “It was quite the little mission we were on.”
Delaney picked up her load of hay and milk replacer in Montpelier, Ohio, and began driving it to Ashland, Kansas. En route, she got calls from people who’d heard about what she was doing, including a rancher who was taking ammunition donations.
He said, “Yesterday my family and I put 600 of our livestock down in one day because they were so badly burned,” Delaney recalls. “He said, ‘We raised these things. Emotionally, this is horrible.’”
Halfway through her drive to Kansas, Delaney began to ponder the emotional weight of all the calls she was getting. “Nobody was covering it,” she says. “Nobody on the major networks had said anything about it.”
So she got on Facebook Live and started telling some of the stories she was hearing. Delaney has 900 Facebook followers, and her video began to spread quickly.
Schaller, meanwhile, was deep in recovery efforts, too.
After he had put the word out, momentum had built so fast that he had no choice but to tell his boss, Bill Hunt, what he had done.
“He was on board 100 percent, and he donated the truck and the fuel,” says Schaller, who would take two trips to fire-ravaged areas.
On that first trip, Schaller was part of a convoy delivering $15,000 worth of hay, milk replacer, calf starter feed and cattle medical supplies from Michigan to Oklahoma, a 1,200-mile journey. The convoy consisted of trucks from about 10 different companies, including MB Trucking, Corrigan Oil and Helena Chemical.
“We left at 9 a.m. Friday morning,” Schaller says. “As we got going, we all started talking about what we might see there. Everybody turned into a big family by the time we got down there.”
Schaller and his crew also had set up a Go Fund Me page to help offset fuel costs. It was featured on the news. Soon, people began donating to it in droves.
“That first night, we talked about what to do with all the money that had been donated,” Schaller says. “None of the company owners wanted to use it for fuel. They all wanted to use it to donate to the farmers out there.”
So Schaller’s convoy stopped in Miami, Okla., and bought $4,600 in hunting supplies and products for the 4-H kids caring for orphaned cattle.
Once Delaney arrived in Ashland, Kansas, she stayed there for three days—unpaid—lending support and working to absorb the catastrophic damage she witnessed.
Everything was scorched. Ranch owners Gina Kirk and David Noll took Delaney on a tour of their property, showing her what they had lost.
“The houses were completely gone,” Delaney says. “Metal machinery had burnt, just melted. Gina took me to the highest point and gave me a bird’s eye view. That was eye opening. I saw a lot of dead animals.”
Emilie Campbell gave Delaney a tour of Gardiner Ranch, or, what was left of it.
“Emilie’s father-in-law was a Vietnam war veteran and he said, ‘I can describe this in one word: napalm.’ And that’s what it was like,” Delaney says. “It was like everything was wiped off the map. You felt like you walked into a war zone. The ground smelled burnt. All your landmarks are gone. It feels like you’re all alone in the world, like you’re on another planet.”
Schaller’s convoy, moreover, arrived in Oklahoma at 3 p.m. on a Saturday.
“The ranchers had a lot of emotion,” Schaller says. “We delivered to Bar-B Ranch, a big outfit in Oklahoma, with 45,000 acres. Eighty percent of the ranch’s grass had burned. They only had 20 percent left for their cattle to graze on.”
Consuming a full semi-load of round bales a week, the ranch only had a week’s worth of hay remaining when the convoy arrived.
“I got some of the firmest handshakes I’ve ever gotten in my life out there,” Schaller says. “They’ve got a long road ahead of them. I think it’ll be years before everything is back to normal.”
Sometimes trucking is so much more than just a job. What moving experiences have you had on the road? Connect with us here to share your story.
Want to find a job you love?
Drive My Way matches drivers with jobs based on their qualifications and lifestyle preferences.