As the diesel instructor at Northeast Technology Center, Trent Peper is never too surprised when the teenage boys in his classroom tune out his lectures. However, that was not the case when he spoke to his students about the devastation left behind by the fires in northwest Oklahoma.
“The fires started on the Monday before Spring Break, and my son and I took a load of hay to ranchers in Buffalo over the break,” Peper said. “When we came back to school, I was speaking pretty passionately about the experience to my students, and for two of them, it really got their attention.”
Two of Peper’s students, Blake Gerber and Trent Harris, not only heard what their instructor said, but they were motivated into doing something to help recovery efforts.
“I grew up on a ranch raising cattle, and if a fire came through and tore up my place, I’d want help,” said Gerber, a first year student from Inola. “I think it’s kinda like paying it forward.”
Harris and Gerber shared with Peper their desire to help, and shortly after that conversation, Peper received a call from a local couple wanting to donate hay.
“I got a call from Jack and Bonnie Kerr, and they had multiple bales of hay they were willing to donate, but they didn’t have the equipment to get it across the state,” Peper said.
That’s where Harris and Gerber came in.
“Both boys donated their time and equipment to load up the hay and drive 14 hours roundtrip to make the deliveries,” Peper said. “They’re just good kids who wanted to help, and I’m pretty proud of them.”
Harris, an Oologah native and also a first year student in the Diesel Program at Pryor, still recalls the experience from two weeks ago.
“Everyone was waving and so thankful,” Harris said. “Even the place where we delivered. Those guys lost everything, but they were still in such good spirits – it gives me chills to think about it.”
By the time the duo made their delivery to Gate, Okla., the fires had been extinguished and the grass was beginning to return, but they learned the recovery is far from over.
"The grass has to have time to put down roots before the cows can eat it or they’ll pull it all up, so they’ll be needing hay for most of the summer,” Harris said. “Now I watch the weather and pray for rain for those guys.”
Gerber and Harris are planning another trip in the next few weeks, and they’re hoping to drive a bigger truck with more supplies.
“We’re going back within the next three weeks, and we’re planning to take a semi-load of supplies,” Harris said. “They need lots of fencing supplies. We talked with one rancher who has 153 miles of fence to rebuild.”
Those willing to donate T-posts or barbed wire are welcome to drop off their supplies at Northeast Technology Pryor Campus. Harris and Gerber will take all the collected materials on their next haul westward. Anyone wanting to donate hay should contact Peper at 918-724-6013 to arrange for a pick-up.
“Everyone has something to give,” Gerber said. “We learned that someone who didn’t have hay donated Gatorade to the firefighters who were working three day shifts. Just pay attention to what’s going on around you and use the resources you have to help. People sorta think the fight is over, but really it’s not even close.”