A bur oak tree on John and Dorothy Mach’s Webster property survived a fire and severe weather conditions for over 300 years, but it was no match for Tuesday’s storm.
Around 4:30 p.m. June 11, John peered outside the front window and watched the tree he and Dorothy preserved for 27 years come crashing down, narrowly missing their garage.
“The wind was so strong it picked [the tree] up in the air and blew it over,” said John. “I thought part of the house was going to go.”
Dorothy, who was in the living room at the time, said it felt as though the storm sucked up the house and brought it back down when the tree was struck. Nothing on their home was damaged, but the fallen tree takes up the Machs’ entire driveway.
“You feel kind of sad because it seemed like family,” said Dorothy.
Added John: “When you look out the window now, something’s missing.”
John and Dorothy purchased the 1905 45th St. W land 37 years ago and moved onto the property in 1992. The previous owner lived in a house only 16-by-26-foot in size, so the Machs decided to tear it down and build a new house for themselves. John said he chopped down around 100 trees on the land, but neighbors begged him not to touch the oldest — and largest — bur oak. John and Dorothy agreed, and built their house around the tree to protect it. Since then, it had served as a multi-purpose tree in the community where people gathered under its branches.
“We were having all these people tell us what to do,” said John with a laugh.
Almost three decades later, John and Dorothy agree they’re glad they kept the tree standing.
Around 25 years ago, Dick Peterson, who served as the Rice County forester at the time, began inspecting the tree. After measuring the circumference of the trunk and the span of the branches, he confirmed the tree was at least 300 years old. Peterson monitored the tree every year until he was promoted to another Department of Natural Resources position. After that, John said no other forester has prioritized monitoring the Machs’ bur oak.
According to the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, it’s not uncommon for bur oaks to live between 200 and 400 years, some of them up to 450 years. The tree’s thick bark makes it resistant to fires, as the bur oak in the Mach’s front yard proved many years ago.
Any history John and Dorothy have learned about the tree they learned from stories the previous owner and neighbors shared via word of mouth.
Perhaps most notably, the bur oak survived a horrid fire in 1943 that spread from one farm site to another and managed to skip over that property and the tree. John said the March winds fire completely warped a new grain binder machine in a nearby shed, and without a fire department at the time, the flames had to die out on their own. The bur oak tree and two other trees on the same property survived.
“That tree has gone through many storms,” said John. “A tornado went right across the house … it must have seen the tree and decided not to touch it.”
The Machs’ grandchildren volunteered to help clean up the mess in the driveway Friday. The twigs they’ll scatter in the field while the larger pieces will be used as firewood.