The truck started rolling when we were still too far away to do anything about it. Even when it was just inching along through that short grass, we knew there was going to be trouble in a minute or so. The direction it was facing was north, which was normal, but it started rolling to the south, backward. If we’d have been just a hundred yards closer, we might have had a chance, but I guess that’s one of those things we’ll never know.
It slowly gained speed and I’ve heard there’s a mathematical formula for this, though I couldn’t think of it at the time and can’t now. Considering everything, the formula feels trivial. It rolled and gained speed, and that’s as much as anyone really needs to know.
The hill it was backing down was about a quarter-mile long and not downhill skiing steep, but there was enough slope to make it a nice toboggan run. There were holes and ruts in the hill, and the truck kind of grunted when it encountered one. It didn’t bounce because of the load of corn on it, something like 12,000 pounds, but we could see there was a lot of stress on the chassis and tires. We watched it speeding down the hill and decided to walk down after it.
We’d taken only about 20 steps when a rut caused the steering axle to hook everything sharply to the east, and the outcome of that sharp turn was predictable. The truck rolled and when it did, all that corn strewed out across the hill, a big, dusty, loud balloon of yellow and dirt. We started running then, but there was no reason to do so. What could we do? The truck had rolled, the corn had been lost, and we had no earthly idea how to remedy any of it.
The tires were still spinning when we reached the truck and there was still a little corn in the truck bed, but we didn’t view it as a great consolation. The truck body had never looked real good, so we couldn’t tell how much damage had occurred, but that wasn’t our immediate concern. The corn was. We were looking at corn that had spilled in an amazingly precise pattern of a dancer’s fan, the kind the hotties used when they wanted to heat up the cowboys way back when.
It was kind of pretty, in a what-the-hell’s-wrong-with-you way, but I didn’t share my opinion with anyone else. We had to find a way to get that corn into some sort of shelter, and we needed to do it with some vigor. If we couldn’t, it would be lost to the weather and the scavengers, and Lucas, the owner of all this, couldn’t really afford to lose over 200 bushels at market price, no matter what the price was.
Well, the 4 of us hustled back to the yard and hitched 2 wagons to 2 tractors, grabbed 4 aluminum grain shovels, and went to work. It took us the rest of the day, plus most of the next, but we managed to salvage nearly all of the corn. The truck, unfortunately, suffered major structural damage, and had to be put to sleep. Lucas cut it up for scrap.
The next year, in July, that hill was festooned with corn, poorly cultivated but with large stalks and active ears. It was beautiful. Lucas intended to harvest it, if he could, and we said we’d help. It was a spilled field and it was growing willy-nilly, so no machinery would be able to get to it. It had to be hand-picked, which is what we did.
We were kids so we had a blast out there on that hill, picking corn that had no right to be there. We got several bushels that year and we made it a point to spill a few kernels here and there, and it seems like most of them grew, too. After that, it became a ritual for us to spend a few days at Lucas’ farm, picking corn and then spilling more kernels, a sort of bank account for next season.
Even now, many years later, we can see that old truck and the yellow splash it made on the hillside, and we recall the accident that became a party that became a lesson. The truck is gone, the corn no longer grows on that hill, but the lesson is alive, always. It seemed so awful that first day, when the truck started rolling and then when it crashed and the corn flew all over the hill. It could have been a huge loss for Lucas, and for us, but like so much that happens, it looked so bad but really wasn’t. Hidden behind the truck and the corn was something pretty incredible, and we got to be part of it.