“The Will to Survive”
By Ron Page
The soil in my home area of northern Illinois is black silt loam of glacial origin. The terrain is flat as a pool table and trees are seen only in farmyards. In the middle part of the twentieth century, we tilled the soil with mouldboard plows that cut deep into the soil and overturned it, and it was a job for our biggest, most powerful tractors with perfectly tuned engines. A plow of that type consisted of multiple razor sharp disk blades, each followed by a pointed plowshare.
Tractors didn’t have cabs then and plowing was an opportunity to smell the freshly turned soil, watch crows rush to it for worms and insects, and enjoy the loud exhaust of the tractor straining to its maximum. Plowing was mostly uneventful. The soil was soft and we had no rocks or hills to contend with.
One occasion, however, was quite different. Dad was plowing alone near the village of Flag Center, Illinois, in a field adjoining a residential area. As he plowed close the fence in the normal uneventful manner described he failed to notice a tree just on the other side of the fence. Its roots stopped the tractor as abruptly as hitting a wall, but the plow automatically lifted from the ground, just before the engine died. The tractor lurched forward and Dad did was thrown to the ground where he was sliced and diced by the razor sharp coulters and stabbed by the big plow shares, one of which entered from the back side of his leg and protruded several inches out from the front of his thigh.
Dad was being dragged away from the village with no way to control the tractor as it tore through fences, passed from one field to another, and crossed a road and road ditches, taking down a utility pole along the way. Electrical power went out in Flag Center, but no resident could know that the cause was a driverless tractor pulling a plow with a critically injured man riding beneath it.
Dad was no stranger to fights for his life. Once, when trapped in a burning building, he ran into the worst of the fire, not away, to the only exit, then rolled in the snow to extinguish his flaming clothes. Twice he escaped from an overturned tractor.
Farming then required lots of manual labor and Dad developed tremendous upper body strength. I liked to watch him lift 250 lb. pigs into and out of a water tank where they enjoyed a cool swim. This strength helped when a tractor transmission under repair fell toward his chest and it helped when he was charged by a giant enraged sow. In that case, he intentionally fell backward as it charged and brought his feet and then his hands up and under the sow’s jaw and throat.
But this fight with the plow would be his toughest one yet. Bleeding profusely and hooked like a fish, he found steel and iron to grip and held on for a mile-long ride, eventually working his leg free from the plow share and escaping to the ground with minimal additional cutting and bruising.
Now he is lying in a field nearly a mile from the closest house and a quarter-mile from the closest road, a road with little to no traffic. He will bleed out shortly – too many wounds in too many places for tourniquets or compression. Using only his hands, he pulled himself through the dirt that quarter mile, one agonizing lunge after the other; then, using one of the fence posts broken by the tractor, he pulled himself up to semi-erect position and flagged down a distant truck. The receiving nurse at the hospital found no pulse, and Dad’s ability to communicate was his only sign of life.
A few weeks in the hospital and a year for his wounds to heal over and he was back to his normal self. A slight limp and kidney trauma did not prevent Dad, and Mom, from spending winters in Venice, Florida, where Dad was pretty well known as a skilled snook fisherman – the friendly guy with the big chest and the slight limp.