Matt Rubel was just in town to take some engagement pictures.
The family farm, located near a small Illinois town called Monticello, was a familiar place for Rubel. And the picturesque spot was to be the backdrop for the photos he would take of his cousin and her fiancé that late September weekend. But the 39-year-old was soon introduced to a different, more intimate look at farm life.
Before Rubel wrapped up the shoot, his uncle, a farmer in Monticello, mentioned that he was driving two of his Meece Farms tractors to a tribute on the other side of town. A local farmer named Kyle Hendrix had died following a fight with cancer. Hendrix was 31, and he left behind a wife, two children, and yet-to-be-harvested fields.
A fellow farmer and friend of Hendrix's hoped to gather 20 tractors or so and line them up along the fields across from the cemetery in time for the funeral service.
Before the sun rose on September 28, the farmers began assembling their tractors, and Rubel began capturing the movement.
"(The pictures were) absolutely on the fly," Rubel wrote in an email interview. "I very much wished I had a tripod with me. It was dark, stuff was moving, and it was early and cold."
During the harvest season, farmers run on little sleep, lots of coffee, and plenty of Carhartt. There's a small window of time to complete a large job, and that window had opened a few weeks before the tribute to Hendrix.
Nonetheless, dozens of nearby farmers steered their cumbersome equipment off of their golden, husk-filled land and onto the pavement, making their way in single and double-file lines to the cemetery.
"In the middle of harvest time, to see such an outpouring of community support was staggering," Rubel wrote in a note to Modern Farmer. "It seems to me that farming communities all over the country may still hold the key to what makes this country a shining beacon in a world of trouble."
By the time the sun rose high into the sky, more than 60 pieces of machinery lined the field.
"I really got a sense of how many of them there were, and how big of a deal this was becoming," Rubel wrote.
Rubel did not photograph the service itself, though he did watch the funeral from afar.
"Kyle's two semi-trucks were placed at the entrance, and the trailers filled with yellow and green balloons," he wrote. "When the funeral procession arrived, the John-Deere-colored balloons were released."
"It was amazing."
Friends of Hendrix are harvesting his fields this fall, and they've also set up a scholarship fund for the two children. Rubel passed along the following information from Hendrix's family:
If anyone would like to donate to the Kaleb and Khloe Hendrix Scholarship Fund, they can do so by contacting: First State Bank of Monticello, 201 West Main Street, Monticello, Illinois, 61856, (217) 762-9431.