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‘Just what you do’: Farmers rally to harvest wheat of farmers killed in murder-suicide

Farmers from far and wide came to help on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, with the harvest of two of the men killed in what authorities have labeled a murder-suicide near Maza, North Dakota, earlier in the week.

A man in a plaid shirt stands in front of a green combine.
Brian Engstrom, Leeds, North Dakota, helped out with the harvests of the late Doug Dulmage and Justin Backen on Sept. 2, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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LEEDS, N.D. — Red and green combines rolled up and down fields, dust billowing behind them. Wheat flowed from augurs into grain carts pulled by tractors. Loaded semi-tractor trailers rolled down gravel roads.

Neighbors helping neighbors.

That’s why farmers from far and wide came to help on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, with the harvest of two of the men killed in what authorities have labeled a murder suicide earlier in the week.

Douglas Dulmage, 56, Justin Bracken, 34, and Richard Bracken, 64, all of Leeds and Robert Bracken, 59, from Cando, North Dakota, died in a field west of Maza, North Dakota, on Monday, Aug. 29. A .357 revolver was recovered at the scene, the Towner County Sheriff said.

The hows or whys surrounding the deaths weren't speculated or talked about on Friday when at least a half dozen farmers brought their combines, grain carts, tractors and semis to the fields of Dulmage and Justin Bracken.

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Instead, the harvest effort was about doing what needed to be done.

“This is just what you do. It’s as simple as that; help where help is needed,” said Tyler Sears as he wheeled his combine down Bracken’s wheat field northwest of Leeds, watching as the Case headers clipped off wheat heads and separated the kernels, and, across the field from him, two other combines went up and down the field doing the same.

Two green combines harvest a wheat field.
Farmers volunteered to harvest the wheat fields of the late Doug Dulmage and Justin Bracken, Leeds, North Dakota. This photo was taken Sept. 2, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

It took Sears more than an hour on Thursday, Sept. 1, to drive his dad’s Case 8230 across country from Cando on gravel roads to help harvest Dulmage’s wheat. On Friday, Sept. 2, Sears was one of three farmers working on taking off one of Bracken’s wheat fields.

Helping their neighbors in need is just something people in rural communities do and that makes Sears glad to call one of those his home.

“Makes you proud of the community you live in,” Sears said.

He and the other men who lent a hand during Dulmage’s and Bracken’s harvests were working on an as-needed-basis in the effort coordinated by Lee Simon, owner of Simon Total Ag Consulting Inc., Oberon, North Dakota.

Simon, an agronomist for both Dulmage and Bracken, didn’t need to put out a call for harvest volunteers — people called him and asked how they could help.

“People just started contacting me — many dozens. I started keeping track of everyone who called me because it became so overwhelming. I have pages of names.

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“People called me from Fargo, neighboring counties. Anybody with Leeds roots who knew Doug and the kind of guy he was. I had a feeling there was going to be an outpouring, and that’s what happened,” Simon said.

Down the road about a mile, Brian Engstrom, Dulmage’s friend since childhood, was helping harvest another wheat field on Friday. He volunteered his harvest equipment, crew and time when he heard about Simon organizing harvest shifts.

“Everybody’s taking their turn,” Engstrom said.

After the wheat harvest is completed, volunteers will combine the flax, soybeans and corn when those crops are ready to be combined.

“All of the early wheat will be off by the end of the day,” Simon said on Sept. 2. After that he has people lined up to harvest the flax, and then late-planted wheat.

“After that will be soybeans and corn,” he said.

Engstrom wasn’t surprised there were more offers to help harvest Dulmage’s and Bracken’s crops than there were fields to harvest because it’s common for many people to respond when someone they know — and even that they don’t know — needs others to come to their aid, Engstrom said.

“It’s just the community we live in,” he said. That community extends beyond the city and county borders to include the entire state of North Dakota, because Dulmage was active in the North Dakota Farm Bureau, where he served as Benson County president and was a Pioneer Seed dealer.

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LEEDS3.JPG
A volunteer who offered to help with harvest unloads wheat into a grain cart driven by another volunteer in a field of the late Justin Bracken, Leeds, North Dakota, on Sept. 2, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“Personable, just a really personable fellow," said Lanny Moore, who manages Engstrom’s farm operation and was driving one of his employer's combines on Friday. ”Everybody knew him. I don’t know if you could ask for a nicer guy.”

Moore also knew Justin Bracken, who worked for Dulmage and farmed some land on his own. Bracken was outgoing and it was obvious he enjoyed life, Moore said.

“You would have a lot of fun talking to him,” he said.

Not helping with the two men’s harvest was unimaginable to Moore.

“It’s something that you do. Neighbors help neighbors.”

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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