By Amy Bickel The Hutchinson News firstname.lastname@example.org
CUNNINGHAM - If Dwayne Elliot had a choice, he'd be planting his wheat crop.
Yet, as he lay in a hospital bed last week, the 77-year-old Cunningham-area farmer didn't know what to do. It's his busiest time of year, especially with acres upon acres of cultivated ground to sow.
However, on this bright fall day, Elliot could only be thankful for good neighbors.
"They make all the difference," he said.
On Monday, about 20 men gathered at Elliot's farmstead, eight bringing tractors and grain drills. Others came with grain trucks for hauling seed wheat and a few drove back and forth with pickups pulling fertilizer tanks or fuel.
By evening, more than a week's worth of planting was done in a day.
"There is no way to truly say thank you," Elliot said softly as he sat on his back porch as his crew of neighbors took a dinner break after a morning in his fields. "I'm so appreciative. It's taken a load off my mind."
Two weeks ago, Elliot became ill. At first, it was thought he was having a stroke, said his wife, Karen.
Doctors still aren't sure what is wrong, she said. They now are treating him for a viral infection. Elliot is now home recovering, although he has a hard time keeping food down, is on oxygen, and is still undergoing therapy and tests.
Despite not knowing what was wrong, Elliot's worries turned to his barren fields. His doctor, however, told him there would be no fall work this season, he said.
Concerns continued to grow, but Elliot was too sick to even talk about it to Karen.
"It was on the back of his mind," Karen Elliot said. "I know he's been so worried about it, but you can only take one day at a time."
George Hageman said he had his own wheat ground still to drill, but when he learned his longtime neighbor wouldn't be able to plant his crop this year, he and his brother, Dave, began organizing a sociable get-together.
"When somebody needs help, you help," Hageman said. "That's just what everyone does in our community."
Other Cunningham-area farmers began calling the brothers, saying they would take a day off from their own farms to help.
Farmer Ryan Ruckle brought his tractor and grain drill, along with his 7-year-old-son, Jack, who didn't have school Monday. Ruckle said that after he broke his arm last fall, neighbors helped him re-sow wheat that didn't emerge amid the drought.
"You have your own work," he said, "but in times like this, you answer the call."
No one wants recognition, added local resident Joe Sterneker, who, along with his brothers, local farmers Tom and Gary, was helping where needed.
"It's just the right thing to do," he said.
Moreover, said his brother, Gary, "it could be me next time."
It was also the right time for planting, Tom Sterneker said. After a dry September, conditions were bolstered by 75 hundredths of an inch of rain Saturday morning.
That will help give the newly seeded wheat a chance to emerge, he said.
And that's where they'll leave it, Ruckle told Elliot as the dinner of pizza ended and everyone headed back to the fields.
"We'll get it growing," Ruckle told him, "and then you have to cut it."
Elliot smiled optimistically. "Sounds good," he said.
Karen Elliot said she didn't know how to thank everyone, but added that the gesture isn't uncommon in a community like Cunningham.
"They are our neighbors," she said. "All are friends."