Working around large equipment, farmers can easily become complacent about the dangers of their jobs. Age and experience aren’t always a factor with accidents. Just ask Curtiss Shaver of Pike County, who was 18 years old when he lost his left leg below the knee after he became entangled in a combine; or 86-year-old Orval Pounders of Franklin County, who’d been farming most of his life when a manure spreader almost took off his arm.
Shaver was gathering corn in the field with his father, Jimmy, Sept. 2, 1993. The elder Shaver had just left the field when the young farmer noticed the combine header wasn’t working properly. Leaving the combine motor running, he left the cab and climbed on top of the machine, opening a door to view the feeder housing.
“I saw what the problem was and started to climb down to turn the combine off,” Shaver said. “My foot slipped and slid down into the header. It entangled my left leg around the augur that brings the corn to the center of the header. My leg was entangled all the way up to my groin; it was pulling me in. I was able to reach a wrench mounted on top of the header and jammed up the rest of the header with it, but that caused the belts to begin to slip.”
A new fear arose. Smoke began to bellow from the combine.
“I thought that I was surely done for when that happened,” Shaver said. “I thought to myself that I got the header to stop pulling me in, only to get burned up when it caught on fire.”
Between prayers, Shaver yelled for help. After almost an hour, nearby power company workers heard his cries. When they arrived, they turned the combine off.
“At that time, I was just hoping to survive,” Shaver recalls. “Another nearby farmer came to help, and he brought a torch to cut the auger head. It was almost cut into when his torch gave out of oxygen. But it was cut enough that the medics could pry it to get me out.”
Following rehab that included the fitting of an artificial leg, Shaver eventually returned to farming and another career – as a firefighter for the City of Troy. He is a lieutenant there now with 11 years of service.
“Before my accident, all I ever wanted to do was farm,” Shaver said. “I still love farming, but being a firefighter and paramedic is my way of giving back. I know what it’s like to be totally dependent on someone to help you. I think that makes me better at my job as a paramedic, a fireman and a farmer. It makes me better at everything I do.”
Shaver said he also serves as a living example of how dangerous it is to take safety for granted.
Pounders said he is an example to others.
With decades of experience on the farm and an otherwise spotless safety record, on June 14, 2008, Pounders learned taking shortcuts can be costly. That day, he was washing a manure spreader with the tractor engine running. The spreader’s chains snatched the garden hose, pulling it and Pounders’ left arm inside the rollers. With his right hand, he grabbed and snapped the belts of the spreader, but he could not stop the tractor’s engine.
When help arrived, paramedics used the Jaws of Life to free his arm. Pounders remained conscious through the extraction and the helicopter ride to a trauma center in Huntsville. Doctors saved his arm and hand, but he has limited use of both. He also lost the tips of two fingers on his right hand when he snapped the belts.
Pounders, who still raises cattle and hay, advises other farmers to slow down and be aware of risks associated with different pieces of equipment.
“Don’t rush or be in a hurry around moving parts or machinery,” he said. “You get in a hurry, maybe take some shortcuts, and that’s when you come into contact with different parts of machinery. Don’t think you know it all or that it won’t happen to you.”
“Most of the so-called shortcuts we take to save a few seconds here and there don’t really add up to much saved time anyway,” he said. “And believe me, they just aren’t worth it.”