We had a shake mill in the early 70's on a farm in McBride
B.C. This was a hydraulic splitter with a sharp 3 foot knife mounted on the
end of a hydraulic cylinder. The cedar shake block was mounted on a tilt
table and the hydraulic cylinder and knife was controlled by a foot pedal.
To cut shakes the cedar block was placed on a tilt table and the foot pedal
was pressed and the knife passed under the block taking off a tapered shake,
then the table was tilted the other way and on the way back the knife took
off another shake. This whole unit was mounted on a platform about 5 feet
high and the shakes fell down into a bin and the packer removed them, placed
the shakes into a special packing table, then they were banded for shipment.
We used to buy shake blocks from local people and also used to go into the
most difficult places to cut and haul shake blocks ourselves, but this is
another story. We operated this shake mill for a long time until THE DAY
that will remain firmly embedded in my mind, and it reminds me every day
when it gets chilly or cold.
It was an overcast day with occasional rain showers as Dave and I opened the
gate and drove through, closing the gate behind us. We drove down the track
which was straight across a field ( about 2000 feet ) to the shake mill. We
had an older chev 3/4 ton pickup with a trailer full of shake blocks hitched
behind us and when we got to the mill we unloaded 1/2 of the blocks up to the
platform for splitting. We were joking around as we started up the engine that
powers the hydraulic splitter and while it was warming up, we had our morning
coffee (6am) and then we were ready to go to work. I was operating the splitter
above and Dave was packing shakes below and everthing was going smoothly. What
happened next, happened so fast, it changed my life forever.
As the splitter got to the shake block, my left hand slipped down the face
of the block and because I was off center, my foot stayed on the foot pedal,
and yes, I cut off 3 fingers and part of the fourth on my left hand. I actually
did not feel it, just a knock on my hand and I thought I had just hit my knuckles,
until I heard a scream from below. Dave had picked up one of my fingers while
he was packing, and totally freaked. I lifted my hand and nearly fainted with
shock myself. I clamped my right hand over the ends and jammed it between my
legs to slow down the blood loss. Dave was totally gone, his mind had taken
a vacation and he came out of the packing area screaming for me to get in the
truck. I was already at the door, but could not open it. He started to undo
the trailer and I yelled at him to let's go damn it, leave the trailer connected,
and get this door open. He had to help me into the truck as I still had my
hand clamped down tight, and I was not about to let go and die of loss of blood.
Dave got the truck started and at about that time I started getting a little
faint. We blasted out of there like a rocket and I do not think he let his
foot up from the floored gas pedal ( lets here it for chev's ) or touch the
brake in the 5 mile drive to the hospital.
We went full bore across the field, shake blocks were bouncing out of the
trailer and going straight up and the trailer maybe hit the ground occasionally,
I couldn't really tell, most of the time it was fully airbourne. Just like
in the movies. Dave did not even slow up for the closed gate at the end of
the field, we blasted right through it, wood went everywhere, and a piece came
right through the windshield. We went straight past the house, down the driveway
and here is where it gets really interesting. At the end of the driveway is
a country gravel road about 40 feet across and on the other side is a 4 foot
ditch, then a sloping bank about 6 feet high. I did not have the strength to
yell at Dave to take it easy, I am not about to die just yet, but it would
not have done any good anyway, as he was out of it, long gone in never land.
His eyes were glassy, and he was muttering, oh God, oh God, over and over again.
I thankfully passed out for a short period of time, but I was told later by
the police, that the truck tracks went straight across the road, into the ditch,
up and over the bank, curved around in another field, through a fence, across
the ditch again, and landed back on the road going in the right direction.
I woke up just as we were going around a curve and actually saw the trailer
sideways to the truck in the air. I tried to warn Dave about the stop sign
coming up at the highway, but I just didn't have the strength to yell over
the noise of the engine screaming ( I did realize at this time we were still
in second gear ) and the wind noise coming through the windshield where the
piece of wood was stuck. We blasted onto the highway ( no stops for this boy
) and to this day, I do not know how we missed getting smacked right there,
ending it all.
I passed out for good at this point and got the story pieced together after,
with people coming forward and the police. Apparently Dave did remember to
shift up to get more speed ( thank God I was passed out ) and blasted along
the highway, sometimes overtaking on the shoulder, sometimes in the other lane
( with traffic coming ) and sometimes on the far shoulder of the highway. He
ran through town and into the long parking lot of the hospital and at the end
of the parking lot, is the main front doors. I was told after that the hand
of God must have been with us, because Dave was going so fast down the lot
that when he hit the brakes he left skid marks that equaled 50 m.p.h.. We stopped
12 inches from the front main doors of the hospital, thank God they were sliding
doors, or nobody could have come out to aid us. Dave was treated for shock,
I woke up in a bed and was told that when they went to move the truck, THE
BRAKES WERE COMPLETELY GONE. Can you imagine what would have happened if they
would have stopped working 10 seconds earlier, we would have landed right in
the hospital reception, special delivery.
There is a sequel to this about my short hospital stay, detective work trying
to find my fingers for a surgeon, my shipping out of McBride by road ambulance
all the way to Kamloops ( hundreds of miles ) so some surgeon could experiment
with the nerve ends of my fingers. To this day the ends freeze anytime it gets
towards freezing, and it always feels like I knocked my funny bone on my hand.
SO people, lets be really careful out there, all it takes is a split second
that will affect you for the rest of your life.
PLEASE THINK & WORK SAFE.