He farmed all 188 acres all on his own—or did he?
Five a.m. Time to get up. I run our family’s 150-year-old farm pretty much on my own, so I had to get up early to get a day’s work done. Feed the animals. Check to see that all are healthy. Then to church, since it was a Sunday.
Helping hands, I thought, seated in my pew. So much to do. If you can hear me up there, Lord, I sure could use some help.
Following church, I hurried home and wolfed down breakfast. The farm is 188 acres. I grow wheat, soybeans, corn and alfalfa hay, and today was the day to start the harvest.
“I’m going to do the soybeans today,” I told my wife, Susan, pulling on my coveralls and heading out the door.
I climbed aboard the combine and drove to the fields. It was a nice day, about 50 degrees, unseasonably warm. I finished one five-acre field and motored toward an adjoining field.
That’s when I heard a banging sound. What’s that? I shut the machine off.
I hopped down to the ground and set the safety lock on the header. The header is 15 feet wide, and looks like a giant snowblower.
It cuts the soybeans, separates the beans from the pods and then deposits them in the bin inside the combine. The lock would keep it in the raised position. By now there was smoke. A bearing had burned out, destroying the pulley.
Just my luck, I thought. One more thing for me to take care of. I hiked the mile back to the barn, fetched some tools and a new bearing, and fixed the problem right there in the field.
Better make sure it’s 100 percent, I thought. I turned on the engine, then the combine and did a thorough visual inspection. Everything looked fine.
I climbed back into the combine, ready to go. I moved a lever to let the header down, but it barely budged. Darn, I left the safety lock on. In a hurry now, I hopped off the machine without shutting it down.
In front of the safety lock was a spinning belt, attached to a pulley. I’ll just reach in between the belt.
Carefully, I threaded in my left hand, freed the lock and began to pull my hand back from behind the belt. Slowly, I cautioned myself, slowly. I was just about free when I felt a tug on my shoulder.
Before I could react, I knew I was in trouble. My coveralls sleeve! It was caught in the shaft!
Pull, I told myself. Too late. Next thing I knew, my hand was wrapped like a pretzel around the shaft. The pulley was reeling me in! It wanted to suck me into the combine, like a soybean stalk.
My head slammed against the header. My legs were pulled flush against the machinery as the spinning shaft started burning the skin from my thighs. I couldn’t hold out forever.
The nearest help was a mile away. Susan wouldn’t even think to look for me for hours. I’m going to die, I thought.
I remembered what I’d prayed for in church that morning: Helping hands. But there was only me out here. And there was only one way to save myself. You have to pull your hand off, I told myself. You have to sacrifice your hand.
I took my right hand, placed it on my left bicep, pressed my head against the header for extra leverage, and pulled. The pulley was relentless. It kept sucking me in. I could barely breathe. “God, help me!” I yelled.
I felt something pull free. There, spinning in the shaft, was my hand.
Saved, I thought, too much in shock to think about my severed limb.
But I wasn’t. My coveralls were still caught in the shaft, which was spinning around, pulling me in tighter and tighter like a tourniquet, squeezing the life out of me. The pulley kept reeling it in. “God, help me!” I yelled again.
I gritted my teeth. With my good arm and what was left of my other one, I pressed my head against the header once more and pushed as hard as I could.
As I did, the strangest feeling came over me. I was sure someone was standing directly behind me, hands on my shoulders, helping pull me out. I swiveled my head, trying to see who it was. But no one was there.
The smell of smoke grew stronger. The belt and my coveralls were burning together. The pulley kept pulling me in. I’m almost out of time, I told myself. I braced myself for one last effort.
There they are again, I thought. Those hands on my shoulders, this time even stronger. The smoke and its acrid smell grew worse. The smoke was so thick it burned my eyes until I could barely see.
The invisible hands kept pulling. And then, somehow, I was free. Completely free!
I stared down at myself. Blood dripped from my arm. I was all but naked. The shaft and pulley had ripped off and eaten my clothes.
I climbed into the cab of the combine and shut it down. I grabbed an old sweatshirt sitting there and wrapped it around me.
There was a country road not too far away. I lurched toward it, crossing the soybean field. But there was no traffic in either direction. I walked nearly a mile before spotting my cousin, who lives down the road from my farm.
“I need help!” I cried.
My cousin phoned 911. When the EMTs arrived, I’d lost so much blood they couldn’t get a pulse. A helicopter flew me to a trauma hospital in Syracuse, 30 miles away.
I was in the hospital a week. Three weeks later I was back to feeding my animals. My neighbors pitched in and finished the harvesting with their combines.
I was working again, planting crops. Three months later I was fitted with a prosthetic hand.
“You have a guardian angel looking after you, for sure,” Susan said the first day I came in from working the fields.
“I know I do. Probably more than one,” I said.
I still take care of the farm. I do everything I used to do. I just do it differently now, knowing I’m not doing it alone. There’s always an extra pair of hands helping me.
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