Seth Pascoe takes a fiery roadtrip across North America

Prior to hay season, I jumped in the farm lorry and set off for Nebraska to collect a used cultivator.

Fast forward a-day-and-a-half and we are in the middle of Wyoming. The scene is like Hollywood portrays it: the road is straight, continually disappearing over the horizon with the heat haze shimmering off the tarmac. There is no traffic and nothing but scrub and rocky outcrops as far as the eye can see on either side of the road.

In the far distance a tall, white water-tower appears, isolated on top of a hill. As we gradually get closer we are able to read the bold red writing on the side: “This is the greatest place on earth.”

We chuckle, mutually agreeing that it’s anything but the greatest place on earth. Seeing the comic irony in such a statement my friend winds down the window to take a picture. She takes a couple of snaps and then tells me that there is no need to slow down, as the pictures are good enough. Puzzled by her comments I glance at the dashboard and notice to my dismay that the speedometer and engine RPM dials are plummeting. I then look at my right foot, which still has the throttle pedal pressed firmly to the floor.

The lorry coughs and splutters and then, with one final gasp admits defeat on the hilltop. In the distance we can see helicopters flying back and forth to a big wildfire. I notice the wind is blowing the fire and smoke directly towards us. The local radio informs us the fire has engulfed 33,386 hectares and is firmly out of control. It’s 36C and we are stranded in the middle of nowhere, with only a litre of water and a handful of Skittles between us.

Seth Pascoe

Luckily I have cellphone signal, so I quickly get on the case of tracking down a mobile mechanic. But it’s Sunday and in the God-fearing state of Wyoming on-call breakdown trucks are as rare as rocking-horse excrement. A gopher scuttles across the road, pausing briefly in the middle to look in our direction, I’m certain it smirked.

Eventually I track someone down and eight unbearable hours later the lorry is up and running again. The problem? A fuel line had rattled out of its clamp, fallen on the exhaust and melted. The mechanic was most surprised that the lorry hadn’t caught fire.

Seth Pascoe is assistant manager on North Paddock Farms, at Taber, southern Alberta, Canada. Crops on the 730ha of irrigated sandy-loam include potatoes for McCain Foods, durum and soft wheat, GM oilseed rape for seed and timothy for hay

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