In harms way
While posting about agriculture I remembered a tidbit of information from my youth, that the most dangerous job in the world was on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.Â Taking a fairly distand second was being a farmer.Â Which, I was, in a youthful and immortal sort of way, so naturally the Navy seemed a step up from life on the High Plains.
That was quite a while ago, and of course miningÂ and logging have now caught up, mainly due to better safety devices on farming machinery.Â It’s getting to the point that you almost have to rip the warning labels off, disconnect the alert siren, and have an accomplice bodily throw you into the machine in order to have a farm-related fatality these days.
That’s not what I wanted to talk about.
We all have Sea Stories.Â Tales of glory and derring-do and stupidity run amuck, mixed in with tales of heroes and screw-ups and during it all we civilians recognize that these are the folks protecting our way of life, serving a higher calling.Â I thought I’d tell a tale of a couple of farmers I know, so the next time you eat that bowl of Malto-Meal or grill that steak you’d know.Â You probably want to stop eating before reading further.
In 1902 we could harvest enough wheat in an hour to make roughly ten loaves of bread.Â Today my renter has a combine that is physically larger than my first home, burns 20 gallons of diesel fuel per hour, and harvests aÂ 20′ wide swath at 8mph.Â Such is the stuff of mechanization.
Jim Sullivan went to war in Vietnam back in the early 70′s.Â Short guy, maybe 5’5″.Â Bouncing Betty popped up when he wasn’t looking, instead of losing his Courting Tackle he had a stomach full of shrapnel.Â Eight months in the hospital, he returns home to the family farm with a gut that looks like a checkerboard, but he’s alive.Â That fall he’s picking corn, steps off the machine to drain the main vein, brushes a wayward stalk into the rollers…
For those not in the know, pickers and combines have v-shaped rollers moving at several thousand RPM’s.Â The idea is that the corn stalk is pulled down and the ear of corn is shocked loose to be later shucked and de-kerneled.Â If you take a 3′ long strip of paper and attempt to place it into the rollers, your hand will be in the rollers before you can let go the strip.Â This was a popular demonstration when the first corn pickers came out, and one saw a lot of one-handed farmers who had to learn the lesson the hard way.
Back to Jim. His hand is in the rollers, being ground down.Â He has a watch on, he can’t pull his hand out, all he can do is look at his watch and wait for the rollers to finish.Â Four minutes, I believe it was, he was able to remove the stub of his left hand.Â Drove the tractor home at 14mph, hopped in his car, drove the 40 miles to a hospital.Â Seven operations later, he has the meaty parts of his thumb base and the remainder of his finger-side operable.Â Place your hand upwards, touch thumb to pinkie.Â The inch of padding in the center of the palm?Â That’s all he has, but he’s happy with it — he can hold a cigar and grip the wheel of his tractor.Â Hasn’t slowed him down a bit.Â Has a lovely wife, two children, and raises some of the most prized Simmental cattle in the midwest.
Toughest man I’ve ever met was Old Man Jensen.Â Raised row-crop and cattle, was about 60 when Bad Things Happened.Â I never did know his first name, I just did chores for him for 6 weeks while he recovered.Â Feeder Wagons are tow-behind wagons with tank-like treads on the bottom internal side leading forward, made of angle iron and chain links.Â To the front there’s a ramp with the same arrangement, moving faster.Â This all feeds another chute to the side, and there’s an iron bar in the middle of the wagon to provide support.Â The idea is that you can fill this thing with whatever you want, pull it next to a feed bunk, and it’ll force its cargo forward to the elevator chains, discharge it out the side, and you canÂ just drive past your cattle and it’ll spew food to them.
Until it freezes.Â At which point the whole thing is useless.Â Unless you break the ice up, which Old Man JensenÂ tried to do.Â While the motor was running.Â Got a boot cought under the feed chains.Â Hooked an arm over the support iron to pull himself free.Â Pulled his arm free instead.Â His foot continued, trapped, to the elevator chains.Â The elevator chains removed his boot, as well as his foot.Â Thus freed, he drove the tractor home, minus one arm and a foot, drove to the hospital, and from the ER called this neighbor to please do his chores for him.
Yeah, it’s not exactly flying on a B-17 towards Frankfurt or probing for mines in Baghdad, but it deserves note.Â There are heroes among us, not for what they’ve suffered but for what they continue to do.Â And many do so for so little in return, so most aren’t even known.
Next time you have that steak, think of Jim.Â Next time you have that corn on the cob, think of Old Man Jensen.Â Then reflect, so much of what we take for granted is paid for in blood by those noble few.Â Jim and Old Man Jensen are merely examples, our military does what they do on a daily basis.
There are an awful lot of heroes about, most we’ll never know.Â You never knew of Jim or Old Man Jenson until now.Â I’m betting there are more and we would be well to write about them.
Â - Max