He Lost His Legs—But Not His Heart
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“He Lost His Legs—But Not His Heart,” Ensign, Jan. 1989, 57–58

He Lost His Legs—But Not His Heart

We called him Grandpa, but everyone else in town knew him as P. A.—short for Phillip Alma. My earliest recollection is watching Grandpa in his garden, dressed in blue and white pin-striped overalls and a neatly pressed white shirt, hoeing and pruning.

Perfection seemed to be an obsession with Grandpa Ostler. He even shined his shoes before he went out to feed the chickens. His garden was a masterpiece of engineering. He checked the slope of the ground with a level. Just the right amount allowed the irrigation water to enter the front gate, meander down rows of flowers, in and around the rosebushes, down through the vegetable garden, and out the back gate.

Grandpa was blessed with an appreciation of beauty and was a talented sculptor. When he was a young man, Cyrus E. Dallin, the famous sculptor, reviewed his work and invited him to come to Boston and study under him. Grandpa planned to accept Mr. Dallin’s offer, but in the meantime he worked as a fireman on a train to provide for his growing family.

One foggy day, on a run from Salt Lake City to Denver, there was a mix-up in schedules and two trains collided head-on. Grandpa was pinned beneath the engines of both trains. Heavy coal from the tenders threatened to crush the life from him, and steam scalded his face and arms. Seeing that his left leg was pinned in the wreckage and partially amputated, he freed himself by finishing the amputation with his pocketknife. Life was now pouring rapidly from him, and the faithful priesthood holder, in the name of Jesus Christ, commanded the bleeding to stop. It did. The stump of his leg turned white and did not bleed again.

Later, in the hospital, doctors amputated his other leg a few inches below the knee. During his long period of recuperation, Grandpa spent much of his time visiting and encouraging other patients.

After the accident, Grandpa traveled the states of Idaho, Nevada, Montana, and Utah representing the High Heat Coal Company, taking orders and collecting money. Many a hitchhiker found himself riding in Grandpa’s car, sharing his lunch and his philosophy of life.

Sometimes Grandpa’s generosity got him in trouble. A hitchhiker once pulled out a gun and tried to rob him. Grandpa said, “I have only the money in my wallet. Take that and be gone.”

Knowing the nature of Grandpa’s occupation, the fellow thought that Grandpa should be carrying a few thousand dollars. After a thorough search of every possible hiding place in the car, he had to content himself with the five-dollar bill in Grandpa’s wallet. After dropping the frustrated thief at the outskirts of town, Grandpa chuckled and drove away—ten thousand dollars in collection money tucked safely inside his wooden legs!

Later, Grandpa became the owner of a coach line and cafe. At Christmastime he gave the widows in our town coal and a supply of groceries. Grandpa took very seriously the admonition of Christ to visit the widows and fatherless in their affliction. In fact, no one who came to his door was ever turned away.

One cold winter’s day, a couple with five young children came to the cafe. Despite the freezing weather, they wore no warm clothing.

The family was on their way to California where a job had been promised, dependent on their arrival by a certain date. Their car had broken down, and they had walked many miles to town through the snow. Grandma fixed them a hot meal in the cafe while Grandpa took the father to town and bought complete outfits for all of them. Then he called a mechanic to pick up the car and repair it. The next morning, as the family prepared to leave, Grandpa pressed five twenty-dollar bills into the man’s hand. The man cried and embraced Grandpa, asking God to bless him.

Heavenly Father truly did bless Grandpa. Losing both legs at a young age could have turned him into a self-pitying, embittered old man. But he turned his feelings outward and lost himself in the service of others.