Donated bridge connects more than just land
Kai Baldwin saw the Nebraska flooding on the television and tearfully asked his mother how the ranchers would be able to save the cattle without bridges? He was determined to help.
By the 6-year old’s estimation, a new bridge would run about $60, so the Vernal, Utah, elementary student went to work collecting donations, including $3.21 from his piggybank. His mother, Kristin Forbis, said he was ecstatic with each cent raised — coins being more exciting to count than bills — and eventually sent $285.28 to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund.
Forbis, a radio news director who was raised in Montana around a family cattle operation, said she could have sent $60 to the fund but she and Kai both learned and benefited from the experience. The check was sent, along with a note that began, “Dear Nebraska, I’m sorry you got flooded …” and included his hopes that the money would help them find bridges so the cattle could be saved, and ranchers could get home.
“I’m glad I didn’t go with that initial thought because the whole point of what has come of all of this is when we don’t take the time to do what we can for other people when they have their tragedies, then we are all alone in our struggles and that’s when it feels like the world is falling short,” she said.
Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Director of Development Lona Thompson, mailed Kai a note thanking him for his donation and asking him to call her directly for updates about the bridge.
Meanwhile in Culpepper, Va., Jesse Wise, a farmer who raises hay and cattle on 170 acres, was watching similar news coverage of the flooding and he knew Nebraska producers needed assistance.
“I feel for those people,” Wise said. “I see my wife cry because we lose a calf, I can’t imagine if we had lost the whole herd, especially something you can’t help. It’s the Lord’s work, there isn’t anything you can do about it, you just have to stand there and take it. It would be a bitter dose, no two ways about it.”
In addition to a hay and cow calf operation, Wise operates Wise Services and Recycling, a multigenerational family business that serves the local community, including many area farmers. Wise has an interest and love for the West, visiting as often as he can to attend events, drive back roads, and visit what he calls mom and pop places. He said he’s fascinated watching the tractors and implements so large they wouldn’t be able to even turn around in one of his sloping fields. And it just so happened that he had a bridge. After a series of unsuccessful phone calls attempting to find a home in Nebraska for the bridge, Wise reached out to Nebraska Farm Bureau. When the call came in, staff members referred to the bridge as Kai’s bridge. The staff members, in turn, contacted Cedar County Commissioner Craig Bartels.
Bartels said two county bridges were out and another 34 sustained varying degrees of damage. County crews have been working to repair 365 miles of impacted roadway and 62 culverts. When Bartels was contacted by Nebraska Farm Bureau inquiring whether his county would like the bridge, he said he thought about it for about 10 seconds before agreeing. He said there are surrounding counties in northeastern Nebraska that sustained equal or worse damage that are shouldering the repairs and rebuilding as well.
Once he had a destination, Wise called Pete Read of Read Transportation. Wise said he explained that he was going to donate the bridge and needed it hauled to Nebraska. Read offered to donate the hauling and the two agreed to split the cost, Wise knowing that he could depend upon Read to be an excellent representative of both businesses and the community they call home.
Jason Neff of Neff Crane Service had loaded the bridge at the original site and when Wise explained what he was doing, Neff offered to donate his services as well. Neff came to load the bridge, bringing with him his father, who had founded the company, and his own son.
“I hope they put it to good use,” Wise said. “I’m not looking for any special recognition or anything like that. If you know anything about farming, how many times have you been in the field late in the evening to get a crop in before the rain or broke down, and someone else just shows up to help? They don’t ask, they just come help. No one keeps tabs on it, you just go help.”
The 45-foot bridge rolled into Coleridge, Neb., Tuesday (May 28) morning, bearing a sign that read “From One Community to Another, #BridgeforNebraska. Transportation costs were divided by Wise Services and Recycling, Neff Crane Service, and Read Transportation, all of Culpepper.
Bartels said the county is still determining the best location for the bridge and how to best utilize the donation.
Forbis said Kai is excited with the donation of the bridge, the gravity of which he may not yet understand.
“When people can be more like Kai or Jesse Wise or the Reads, that’s when people connect, are there to support each other, and it’s a much better world to live in,” Forbis said. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.