Archive for Saturday, July 3, 2010

Farmer recalls grain elevator collapse in Russell

July 3, 2010


— Another harvest day was half over, and Wade Schultze was following a similar routine as a semitrailer neared empty.

“I was standing there beside the truck,” the farmer said, making small talk with a pair of elevator workers, Sean Banks and Max Greve, at an Agco grain elevator in Russell.

“We were just all three right in line,” Schultze, 49, said, recalling the afternoon of June 24.

Then he heard a loud crack, “something like what you’d hear when you cut a tree down,” he said. “I looked up.”

Schultze saw a round concrete bin in the elevator — the second one from the east end — begin to crack.

“It just peeled open,” he said.

Next, he screamed something not worth repeating, and maybe something else. “I can’t remember if I said ‘run,”’ Schultze said.

Then he ran, not knowing where Banks and Greve were.

“I wished I would have looked over my shoulder, but I didn’t,” Schultze said. “With all the explosions and collapses, I’ve always been nervous around elevators, and I’ve always been alert. My instinct said to run.”

There was no time to spare.

“I got 20 yards away from the truck and wheat took my feet out from under me,” Schultze recalled. “I got back up, but I didn’t think there was any way in hell I was gonna get outta there.”

He continued to flee to the southeast and cut around the corner of a storage shed.

“I turned around and saw there wasn’t any more wheat coming. I looked to see where the two kids were who were standing with me,” Schultze said.

Lone survivor

Banks, 19, of Russell, and Greve, 21, of Wakefield, Neb., were nowhere in sight.

As he was circling the shed, Schultze was met by an Agco employee.

“He asked me if there was anybody else. I said, ‘No, there were two guys with me, but I haven’t seen them since,’” Schultze recalled. “That was basically all I could do.”

Three hours after thousands of bushels of wheat and tons of concrete and reinforcement steel came crashing down on the tractor-trailer rig, emergency crews found the bodies of the two young men.

The farmer attended Banks’ funeral Wednesday at St. Mary, Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Russell. The large church was packed, he said.

“I was the last one to see him alive. It was something I felt I had to do,” Schultze said.

He intends to contact the families of both men to express condolences.

Being so close to injury or death himself, Schultze said the ordeal and memory of Banks and Greve is difficult to bear.

“People will ask me about the collapse and it’ll start bothering me. It’s gonna bother me for a while,” he said. “I try to stay busy.”

‘Pleasant young men’

Like anyone trucking his grain to the elevator, Schultze said he had limited contact with the crew as loads were dumped, but he remembers Banks and Greve as hard workers, and friendly, too.

“No more than I talked to them, they were both real pleasant young men,” Schultze said. “A guy hates to see something happen like that.”

Schultze farms with his brother Kendall and father, Roger, mostly in Osborne County.

Word of the collapse of two elevator bins at 2 p.m. June 24 quickly spread across northwest and north-central Kansas. Emergency crews rushed to the elevator, and a crowd gathered nearby.

To stay ahead of the rumor mill, Wade Schultze quickly called his family.

“I told them not to look for the grain truck to come back. The elevator collapsed on it, but I was OK,” he said.

Wade’s wife, Tina, was in Great Bend attending a meeting. Their son Brent called her cell phone to inform her. She hadn’t heard.

“We were really surprised that something like that happened,” said Levetta Schultze, Wade’s mother.

“We’re just thankful Wade was able to get out,” she said.

Schultze’s name has not been released by Russell authorities. Law enforcement declined to confirm Thursday night that he was the truck driver who escaped.

Cleaning up

The Schultze rig was still partially buried Thursday at the elevator in north Russell, likely destroyed.

The avalanche of grain and debris pushed it about 30 feet to the south next to the shed.

“That concrete had to hit the truck,” Schultze said.

Workers were moving the wheat that spilled. Some of it had been piled on the parking lot at nearby Russell High School.

Agco officials said after the collapse that each grain bin or tank could hold up to 25,000 bushels, but neither was full. Schultze said he re-injured his right shoulder in the collapse. He was previously scheduled for surgery in Salina, and will keep the Tuesday appointment.

Harvest appeared to be at full swing Thursday in Russell as Fossil Street was active with grain trucks. In a decorated yard along the major street just south of the grain elevator was a sign that read “In memory of Sean Banks.”

The harvest should end today, and it’s been a somber one.

“I can’t wait for this one to be over,” Schultze said.


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