We all (hopefully) have memories of our first fast car rides. And hopefully good ones. Mine were colored by severely distracting circumstances, but I still remember the thrill of hearing the engine roar and the needle bouncing past 90. It happened in a dusty ’56 Ford sedan quite a lot like this one, in the summer of 1963, but with a Thunderbird V8 badge on its front fender. Driven by a Mennonite farmer, no less. But he had a very good reason to be in such a hurry. Every time he looked over at me in the passenger seat, he sped up a bit faster, and faster.
I was out for my annual few weeks with the Mennonites, in 1963, during haying time. We went to a neighbor’s place, to help with their haying. They didn’t bale; instead they put it up loose in their big dairy barn, using an elevator, something like this, but even bigger. We pulled up in the barn with a load, and I jumped off the wagon or tractor and started to climb up into the elevator, so I could ride it up into the haymow. It was up high, so I grabbed a big steel cable (the drive cable for the elevator), right next to a pulley, in order to pull myself up. Just as I was doing that, it started up, as Mr. Yoder engaged its clutch from the engine that drove it, not knowing where I was. It instantly fed the first few fingers between the pulley and cable. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Mr. Yoder stopped the machine, came and saw my predicament, ran back, and put it into reverse. My little finger of my left hand was mutilated, the ring finger got it scrunched too but not quite as bad, and my middle finger got it too, but lighter, just below the nail. It was an ugly sight when they came out from under that tight cable and pulley groove.
Their farm was about midway between Iowa City and Kalona, a small hamlet to the south. We had driven over in Mr. Yoder’s tired old Studebaker pickup, but the neighbor’s adult son had a ’56 Customline sedan with the memorable Thunderbird V8 badge on the front fender (this one is a six). The’56 Thunderbird V8’s were either a 202/200hp 292 or the 225hp 312. I’m guessing it was the 292 in this one, as I’m pretty sure it was a manual transmission.
He wisely decided to take that, the fastest car at hand. But to the wrong destination: Kalona. That’s where their doctor had his office.
I sat in the front on the passenger side, holding my mangled hand in my other hand. I can still see it in front of me now, as well as every detail of the Ford’s dash, and the low rumble as we headed down the gravel road at 60+ mph towards Hwy 1. Once on that old two lane highway, Mr. Yoder bore down on the foot-feed (as all the Mennonites called the gas pedal). I watched the speedometer work its way up, as his courage worked its way up. It was a bit hard to read inside its covered “safety” hood, but I saw the needle hit 90, and maybe then some. For all I know, it could have been 100.
It was a godsend, Mr. Yoder having access to that Thunderbird-V8 powered Ford, and driving so fast, as it gave me something else to think about, and the speedometer was a good visual distraction form the mangled fingers in front of me.
We rushed into the doctor’s office in downtown Kalona. I remember the looks of the folks sitting in the waiting room. The doctor took a look at my fingers and said: I can amputate them or you can go to Iowa City, to the University Hospital, and see what they say.
Sounds like a plan! He wrapped a big bandage loosely around them, which made riding up the 20 some miles to Iowa City a bit less visually painful. He or Mr. Yoder also called ahead to my father, who worked in the Neurology department. He met us there and I was admitted.
It turned out that the University Hospital was the home of a world-famous hand surgeon, Dr. Adrian Flatt. More like the world’s most famous hand surgeon. Lucky me. Here’s a detailed article about him during his 22 years at the UI.
The accident happened in the morning. it was early afternoon by the time we got there. Fortunately Dr. Flatt was not tied up, and later that afternoon I went into surgery, which took some 4-5 hours repairing my fingers, re-attaching the ligaments and removing hundreds of minute particles of hay. I had to have my arm in a cast for six weeks so as to not place any stretching on it.
By far the most painful part was getting the stitches taken out some six weeks later. They were partially buried in new scar tissue and in tender skin re-growth. A young resident was given the job. He had to dig them out. The pain was absolutely incredible; I screamed and hollered, but had to keep my hand perfectly still. Not an iota of painkiller administered. Old-school… It was the most painful experience in my life, much more so than the initial injury. I both hated that resident as well as felt sorry for him.
But it all turned out remarkably well. I had to have physical therapy, which involved squeezing Silly Putty and flicking checkers with those fingers, and such. And although the little finger was permanently crooked, I was soon able to play violin again, that hand being the fingering hand. Of course I never practiced. Secretly I wished it could have given me the excuse to drop it. No such luck; Thanks, Dr. Flatt!
This Ford is a six cylinder model, and my ride to Kalona and Iowa City would have been a bit more leisurely if that’s what Mr. Yoder had taken. But it does look like a classic Iowa farm car.
Every time I get together with these Mennonite friends, the first thing they ask is to look at my left hand and the slightly twisted and crooked little finger. It’s become a legend in their extended large family… But the unsung hero (beyond Dr. Flatt), is the ’56 Ford that took me on my first fast ride.
What an absorbing and harrowing tale!
Thanks, Paul, for this well written paean to the quick thinking of the farmer and the “Shiote & Git” power of a Ford Thunderbird V8 engine.
So, you also spent enforced summers with Baptist Mennonites? I did too, in southwestern Oklahoma, close to the town of Corn (I kid you not, that’s the name of that small farming mecca) OK.
My otherwise calm, God fearing Uncle “stomped the skinny pedal” on my Aunt’s 352 4-BBL ’64 Galaxie 4 door hardtop quite often when it was just he and I out for a “leisurely afternoon ride.”
Apparently “The Need For Speed” is enjoyed by the pious and the non-believers alike.
Great story! My first high speed experience came at a much older age, in high school in a friend’s dad’s Alfa 1750 Spider (Note, the driver was my friend, not his dad). About 20 years later, when our son was about a year old he had a seizure/convulsion when we were in our 1981 BMW 528i few miles from home; I certainly hit 95 mph on a fortunately lightly trafficked Silicon Valley freeway going to the emergency room. A year later, in the same BMW, I followed my wife’s obstetrician taking my wife from his office to the ER in his Mercedes W126. The BMW started bucking and missing but I made it to the hospital … a few days later it died on the side of the road with a bad airflow sensor. The doctor was a fast smooth driver by the way, before he disappeared in the distance I decided my wife was in good hands. And everything turned out OK, though our daughter ended up coming into the world 6 weeks ahead of schedule.
Paul that fancy schmancy badge was only on the Fairlanes I think didn’t
The Fairlanes all have the hot rod 312 some 56 expert fill us in
Actually David I think it must have been based more on ordering the motor. My cousin has a 56 2 door Ranch Wagon which is the lowest of the low trim wise but it has the mighty Thunderbird V-8 under the hood and the badging on the fenders.
It must have been a bit of a sleeper in its day as it’s only other options were automatic, heater and base radio.
The “Thunderbird V8” was actually the label given to both optional V8s above the lowly 272. It applied to the 292 (200/202hp) and the 312 (225hp). My guess is the great majority of these ’56s carrying the Thunderbird V8 badge were 292s.
As usual Paul you are dead on the money. Checked with my cousin.
292 cube, 200 horse, 4b, dual exhaust Thunderbird V-8
Wow! That’s why I come back here everyday. It’s not so much about cars, but the remarkable place they have in our lives…
And I love cars.
My mom grew up on a dairy farm, and she is missing most of the fingers on her right hand due to a somewhat similar accident. In her case her hand was inside a machine for grinding corn into animal feed, cleaning it out, when her brother turned it on not knowing it was in there. (I know nothing about her car ride to the hospital, however).
It’s honestly shocking just how freaking dangerous so much farm machinery can be.
Farming is dangerous. Farming garners the highest workplace insurance premiums in my province, three times as high as roofers, and six times that of general construction workers, the last time I looked
Closest I can get is a wrestling match (4 of us aged about 10) in the rear footwell of a Wolseley 18/85 (the Landcrab with social aspirations) being interrupted by one of us saying ” We’re doing over 80mph!” and the driver (one of the Dads) saying “Yes, I thought that would get you off the floor!”
Sounds like you were in good hands (a very weak pun you’ve probably heard many times
Outstanding story. Sounds like the Ford and the ride at least diverted some of your attention from the pain, etc.
In my early 20s, a friend of mine accidentally splashed battery acid in his eye. We flushed out his eye right away, but had to get him to the hospital to be checked out. I still recall driving the maybe 15 mi. to the nearest hospital, and I used the opportunity to drive very fast under (somewhat) legitimate pretenses.
Regarding violin playing, one of my kids took violin lessons from a rather strict teacher — the teacher would have her students put on concerts occasionally. Two years ago, one of her students broke his hand, and couldn’t play, but instead of excusing him for the semester, the teacher taught him conducting. Then when the cast came off, it was back to playing violin. I guess there’s no such thing as the million-dollar injury for violin students!
Wow! I’m glad you did okay. I had a similar experience. I was out camping with the Boyscouts. 1 of our jobs was to tear down an old outhouse. I was stung by a bee from a hive inside the outhouse and started breaking out into a rash. Our Assistant Scoutmaster threw me into his 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner. He drove it sometimes up to 140 mph! He took me to a clinic where I was rushed in.
Still conscious but not able to breathe I received several shots to stop the swelling. It took me a couple days to heal. I looked like I had the measles. The doctor told me another 10 minutes I would not have made it.
Wow! This is not the story that I was expecting when I took and posted those pictures! I’m glad things turned out ok.
You have given brief snippets of this story over the years, but even after that, the full tale kept every bit of my attention as I read it. I was fortunate to not have a bad injury like that as a kid, but am sure that I too would have remembered a ride like that.
I am trying to remember if I had a ride like that as a kid and cannot, so I must not have. I waited until I could give them to myself. 🙂
Paul, what a story! I transcribe medical records part time. One of the physicians for whom I transcribe is a plastic surgeon whose specialty is Hand Surgery. These specialists are gifted people. Over the years I have seen the records of many a child and adult whose fingers and hands have been saved because of this fine Hand Surgeon. I have seen records of a person who lost fingers because the particular Emergency Department made no effort to call the top Hand Surgeon in our county to the hospital to make the reattachment. You are blessed by Dr. Flatt. Transcribing the operative reports, I see the detail that goes into these repairs. it is unbelievable. Thanks for the Customline data, too.
My neighbors, an elderly couple, had a 1956 Ford Sedan throughout my whole childhood. The husband could no longest drive the side would drive incredibly slow and probably never went further than the local store. My family did a lot for them. We would do their shopping if she didn’t want to drive. She would bake us cookies and us kids would visit often. Their children lives in another state and visited a few times a year. The grandchildren were kid of obnoxious. The wife promised the car to my brother. It only had 30K miles after 25 years. The husband died first. Then she stopped driving completely. The Ford stayed in the garage for several years. When she died, there was no legal proof that the car was to go to my oldest brother. The obnoxious grandson came to town and took the car. He got it out on the interstate and cranked it up to about 100mph. He promptly blew out the engine. It got towed back to the garage. The house was eventually sold and the car disappeared along with everything else.
I knew the man well.
He had a collection of hand casts of famous people. The most visited site at Baylor.
Adrian died not long ago. His eyebrows were epic.
My first? Dad driving the family Fiat 125S at an indicated 100,MPH and trying to attract my attention while not arousing my mother’s. Back when there was a prima facie limit and the Police had too prove you were driving unsafely. Needless to say, that wasn’t raising enough revenue, so it’s long gone.
My son messed up his hand pretty good also, by accident. A number of tendons and muscles were cut, also requiring a lengthy surgery of several hours. It took a long time, but he regained most of his mobility in his fingers. The ordeal involved sitting in Emergency all through the night (the accident happened late one evening), awaiting the hand surgeon to arrive first thing in the morning, then in to surgery. Months of physio followed.
Your story rings very close to home.
My first “fast driving event” was in our ’68 Country Squire LTD wagon, motivated by a 390/4bbl. I had been entrusted to transport myself and my brothers “solo” to middle and high school, and the route was mostly rural between Athens and Winder, GA. On one hot afternoon, my brother wrapped a kleenex around a stick and hung it out the window so we could see how fast we had to go to blow it off the stick. Memory is hazy at this point, but I expect we were bumping 80 or so. I wasn’t confident enough to push it farther.
Paul’s farm accident account brought up a more vivid memory, however. I had planted an acre or so of field corn in 2007 for use as supplemental chicken feed, and harvested it with a New Idea No. 300 two-row picker, pulled by a 1950 Ford 8N.
With this type implement, you pick the corn after it’s dried down, and the picker uses snap rollers to snatch the corn stalk down to the ground – the ears break off and an auger moves them up to the husking rollers. These are alternating steel and rubber rollers that grab the corn husk and pull it off the ears, leaving the bare. They are then carried up by an elevator and are thrown into a wagon towed behind the picker.
Accidents with this type of picker usually involve the snap rollers, which plug up easily – the safe way to clear the plug is to shut down the PTO so nothing’s moving, but this takes time and more than one farmer has lost a limb by grabbing a stalk and having it suddenly get yanked through the rollers along with their hand.
My accident, on the other hand (so to speak) involved the husking rollers. I had pulled out of the field and while doing a walkaround, noticed a few small ears of corn bouncing around on the rollers and not being moved back to the elevator. Instinct took over (I should have shut the PTO off first) and I reached in to brush the ears back to the elevator pickup. Next thing I knew, my hand was pulled into the rollers and was only stopped by my wrist, which was thicker than the clearance between the rollers. Since the key on the tractor was over 20′ away, I had no way to shut it off. I braced myself against the frame and pulled as hard as I could (leaving huge bruises on my thighs), and thankfully my hand pulled free. I was wearing nylon mechanic’s gloves, which is likely why I didn’t loose my hand. In the attached pic, you can see where my hand burnished the rollers. The injury was a combination burn/crushing injury.
My son had been shooting video of the harvest, but shut the camera off just seconds before my accident. He was still out in the field and heard me yell for help, but afterwards said, “You always yell when something goes wrong, so I didn’t think it was serious.” (c:
My hand was paper-white right after the accident, but the photo shows what it looked like within a day or two. I had no broken bones, thank the Lord, and it took about a year to fully heal. Like Paul, I had to do hand exercises for therapy. It took about three months before I could touch my fingers to my thumb again. I was unfortunately unable to play violin after the accident, but then, I couldn’t play it before, either. I can still play piano, though!
The New Idea No. 300:
What I was trying to clear:
I worked on dairy farms for 10 years. In that time one coworker got his clothing tangled in machinery and was killed. Another was trampled by a bull but lived to tell, and several others had less glamorous injuries, myself included. There are much better ways to make a living.