DADE CITY — On the morning he died, Harold Wayne Peterson was feeding his cows.
He had climbed onto his tractor, like usual, and scooped up a bale of hay, and had driven through the pasture to where his eight cows ate. Then, for some reason, he stopped.
Barbara Peterson, his ex-wife who lived with him, saw him there as she ate cereal and a banana on the back porch of their farmhouse Sunday morning. It seemed odd. Wayne, as she called him, had built their house and a roping arena out back. He loved roping and tending to the livestock, and at the age of 62 he still rode his quarter horse Joe as often as he could. He rarely sat still.
Barbara ran across the pasture. The front bucket of the tractor was raised and the bale rolled back onto the steering wheel. Wayne's arms hung at his sides. His eyes were closed, and he wasn't breathing. Barbara screamed.
"I can still see him. He was so vibrant, so full of life," she said Monday. "That's why I knew when I ran up to the tractor. I didn't have to feel his pulse."
She didn't want to leave him, but the closest phone was in the barn, so she ran to call 911. Her neighbor, Agnes Besser, scaled the fence and rolled the hay off. A yearling colt Wayne called Sugarboy and another horse named Brownie ran out through the open gate.
A Pasco County Fire Rescue paramedic arrived at the Petersons' 10 acres off Sweetwater Road in the hills west of Dade City around 11 a.m. Responders laid Wayne on the grass and covered him with a sheet. A sheriff's detective wrote the rolling bale could have broken his neck but, by Monday, the medical examiner had yet to say for certain.
Wayne's friends came to the Petersons' farm Sunday afternoon when they heard the news. He had made a name for himself through team roping, where cowboys race to lasso the hind legs and horns of a running steer, and made friends at jackpot roping competitions in Oxford and Tarrytown. They talked about how quick he had been and brought sandwiches for Barbara.
That night, she stared at the ceiling of the home he had built.
"Wayne said he would never, ever sell this place," she said. "That he would die here. And he did."
Drew Harwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6244.