Water is a precious resource for many farmers and ranchers, especially this time of year. Too much or too little can hurt you – economically, agriculturally, or worse. You only need to turn on the evening news to see the record flooding along the Mississippi River as residents from Memphis to Baton Rouge brace for even more water.
Unfortunately for those in the Midwest the thick, white, parallel bands of altocumulus clouds, like the ones stretching over Osage County in northeastern Oklahoma, look promising but all too often yield little rainfall. This offers little relief from the already dry spring and potentially drier summer.
However, unlike other parts of the country where severe drought conditions and wildfires make national headlines, we have been relatively lucky. Over the last 30 days our part of the state has seen almost 6 inches of rainfall - over an inch above normal for this time of year. Yet, looking back over the last 60, 90, and even 120 days it becomes increasing clear that the ground is simply too dry. Coupled with warm and windy conditions the threat of wildfires is ever-present.
So when my friends the Drummonds, who have been cattle ranching the Osage continuously since the late 1800’s, invited me to help survey their ranch as they assessed the current fire danger I jumped at the opportunity. I always jump at any chance to help a neighbor, get outside, and out of town. Lucky for me the youngest Drummond lives next door. Passing through my garage I grabbed my classic 6” Sorrel engineer boots, a pair of gloves, met Jackson Drummond in the driveway, jumped in the truck, and headed north out of Tulsa.
While dove hunting with Jackson and his Dad Gentner Drummond last September they mentioned a ranch fire truck. Impressive I thought, and an odd and awesome thing to own, I considered. Then I recalled the rural and unmanned volunteer fire station, on a non-descript stretch of two-lane blacktop, miles from the turn. Then I thought about the miles of dirt road separating the highway from the ranch headquarters. The remoteness began to gently sink in and the obvious necessity and utility of the big tanker became clear.
Like a lot of resilient ranching families the Drummonds are self-sufficient. With 20,000 acres of prime tall grass prairie, covered with cattle, and multiple ranch structures, I guess you’d have to be. Their vehicle of choice - a repurposed M35A2 two and a half ton cargo truck originally deployed by the United States Army!
Retrofitted with a 600-gallon water tank, heavy-duty fire fighting platform, generator, pump, fire safety masks, and 50 feet of fire hose on the front and back ends - this things was ready for business. Rated to carry 5,000 pounds off road and 10,000 pounds on roads the “deuce and a half” is pretty hard to beat when it comes to battling rural wildfires. Designed in 1949. Put into production in 1950. And still in use today. It’s a serious piece of equipment for serious conditions.
Jackson and I made sure the diesel and water tanks were full, inspected hoses for cracks, checked couplers, and pretty much played rural firefighters for the afternoon. Lucky for the sun parched landscape and us we didn’t see a puff of smoke in any direction. When it was all said and done everything was left just the way we found it - in order and ready for anything!