November 3rd, 1981

November 3rd, 1981 [1]. A Tuesday. I was 24 years old.

We were harvesting corn. It was a wet fall and we were slopping through the mud to get the corn in.

I was taking German that year at IPFW and the class met Tuesday and Thursday evenings. About 4 PM on the 3rd I was running the combine at the Harrold Place and the combine went down in a mud hole and I stuck one of the snouts [2] in the mud and bent it up.


Well, I wasn’t going to make it to German class that night. Annoyed, mad at myself, and in a hurry I pulled the snout off. We went back up to our shop, 3 miles up the road, and hammered and welded the snout straight.

Then back to the field. I started bolting the snout back on and said to my brother Dave, “While I’m finishing this, tighten up that hydraulic line that’s been dripping.”

As soon as he put a wrench on that hydraulic line the fitting broke and, because I was in a hurry, we hadn’t engaged the lock that would hold the header up and the header dropped onto me.

By modern standards that’s a tiny combine, and a 3 row corn header is quaintly small, practically a toy. But still it weighed something over 3000 pounds, and without hydraulics to hold it up, every one of those 3000 pounds dropped on me.

I was sitting under it, bolting the snout on, when it came down. It folded me forward, driving my head into the ground beside my knee. I discovered later my right ear was cut by a cornstalk as it was driven into the ground. I screamed once and then was so compressed that I couldn’t draw another breath.

My brother Dave was strong as a bull. He ran around the combine and heaved up on the snout, bending it enough that my head and torso came free and I could breath.

My leg was still pinned under the header. My Dad was there and he said, “We’ve got to get it off him. Dave, back it away.” “Bleeping, bleeping no,” I yelled, “you’ll drag it right across my legs!” “Do it, Dave,” Dad said, “he may be bleeding out under there.” Dad was a strong man too, and understood what was important.

And Dave did it. The combine had my right ankle pinned but I wasn’t bleeding. I did have a dent in my ankle that was made by a bolt head and the dent was visible for years. It’s gone now.

Free at last I went to stand up and discovered I couldn’t straighten up. I was bent at 90 degrees.

The Harrold Place is about as remote as you can get in Whitley County. I got into Dad’s pickup, this was long before cell phones and 911 and we were miles from anywhere. Dad drove me to Dr. Minnick’s office in Churubusco. Dr. Minnick looked at me and said to Dad, “You better take him into the hospital in Ft. Wayne.” Then he turned to me where I was bent over the examining table, grabbed a sheet of paper, and started drawing, “Here’s what happened,” he said.

Dr. Minnick's Sketch
Dr. Minnick’s Sketch [3]

A compression fracture of several vertebrae. Then he got behind me, grabbed my shoulders, put his knee just above my butt and pulled me upright. “There.” he said. I was upright all right, but I couldn’t bend forward now. Dad got me into his pickup and away to the hospital we went. They took x-rays of my back and Dr. Minnick was exactly right.

3 weeks flat on my back, another 3 months in a back brace, and I was as right as rain.

And I got an ‘A’ in German, despite missing 3 weeks of classes.

I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry on November 3rd.

1.I meant to post this on November 3rd…

2. Bent the one the second from the right.

3. My recollection of Dr. Minnick’s sketch. Wish I’d grabbed the original.

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