On the morning of June 20, Les Smith went into work at Farmway Machinery as usual. No one—not even meteorologists watching the storm systems that were uniquely aligning—anticipated what would happen later that day.
Record-breaking rainfall coupled with snowmelt in the mountains, unexpected wind patterns and large, converging weather systems created an unprecedented storm. With the ground already saturated, the Highwood River, which runs through the town of High River in Alberta, Canada, had nowhere else to go but up and out.
At 7:05 a.m., officials called a state of emergency. First responders did their best to evacuate those stranded by the waters, but by noon traditional rescue vehicles—even boats—could not navigate the swift current of the overflowing river.
“One of the firefighters came up and said they needed something to rescue people from across the street,” says Smith, a combine mechanic for the local Massey Ferguson® dealer. “The tractor they were using was no good because the engine was too low and it was getting water in it. They needed a vehicle with the engine high up.”
Smith, along with other Farmway personnel, including owner Hugh Joyce, waded through waist-deep floodwaters to three Massey Ferguson combines. “The combines are heavy, and they were able to stabilize and not get washed away,” Joyce says. Since the combine’s engine is 12 feet up in the air, it was impervious to the rising water.
The Farmway team, shuttling flood victims in the combine cabs and hoppers, continued their efforts until 10 p.m., when Canadian Forces arrived. Smith estimated that the combines rescued about 1,000 people. “It doesn’t take long to make the decision in that kind of emergency,” Joyce says. “We were trying to do anything we could to help.”
Pets were loaded up too. Children rode in the heated cab. “They were in awe,” Smith says. “We had all the lights in the cab blinking to keep them entertained and distracted from what was going on outside. They loved it.”