A brigade of tractors stretched down a Lee County road on Saturday, providing a powerful tribute to two farmers who were laid to rest on a brisk late fall afternoon.
Massive and unyielding, the 51 tractors parked in a row across from Prairie Repose Cemetery in Amboy were waiting to usher in their fallen brothers with flags billowing sharply in the wind.
It was a way for Rory and Ryan Miller’s extended farm family to honor the father and son who died Dec. 5 in an explosion after striking a natural gas pipeline when they were laying tile on a field northeast of the intersection of Ill. 38 and Nachusa Road.
"They were part of the fabric that makes up our Lee County community, and there's a hole left now," said Lee County farmer Katie Pratt, who helped organize the showing of solidarity honoring the men and supporting their family.
If it was harvest season, those tractors would be put to work on Miller's fields helping to bring in the crop – but the farming community answers the call unquestioningly when one of their own is in need.
"It's been a surreal week, and there's a strong feeling of wanting to help, wanting to do something to show support for the family," Pratt said. "People just want to do something to make it better, and this is a way we can show up."
Farming was a shared passion between Rory, 59, of Amboy, and Ryan, 30, of Oregon, as well as working together as CPAs during tax season for Wipfli Inc. in Dixon, Rory for about 35 years and Ryan for three years.
Funeral services for the two were held on Saturday morning at New Life Lutheran Church in Sterling.
Among the outpouring of prayers and condolences during the week, a group of farmers wanted to give a testament to the Millers while respecting the family's privacy during the burial.
Pratt spread the word with a Facebook post asking farmers to join in the tribute, and it was shared more than 500 times.
"It was the simplest way to show our support but also the one that would have the most impact," she said.
Rory and his wife, Kathy, Ryan and his wife Jill, and Mark and Gloria Nusbaum are partners in M&R Farms, at 1684 Nachusa Road.
The accident happened nearby on land owned by Keith Spangler that they were renting.
Two other men on the field that day, Michael Koster, 20, of Sterling, and Kyler Ackland, 20, of West Brooklyn, were injured in the blast and resulting fireball.
Koster was on a backhoe and rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames, which left him with second- and third-degree burns on his hands, arms, legs and back – about 50 percent to 60 percent of his body.
Ackland was treated and released.
In less than two days, more than $16,000 was raised to help the Kosters pay for Michael's medical bills with a GoFundMe account, surpassing the $15,000 goal, and another was created with a goal of $30,000.
So far, nearly $12,000 has been raised.