A Service Project with a Special Meaning
May 1976

“A Service Project with a Special Meaning,” New Era, May 1976, 16

A Service Project with a Special Meaning

Out of near tragedy …

The sudden jerk about knee height on my pant leg told me I was in trouble. Caught in a power take-off shaft that powered a hammering hay baler, I scarcely had time to realize what had happened when I was pulled in tight against the machine and thrown around it.

The day had begun quite routinely. I had gotten up early to bale a hillside piece of hay. There would be a little dew on the hay, and I knew this would keep the leaves from falling off as the hay was compressed into bales.

But the moisture always made hay tough to bale, and so as I made the first round, the frustrations of broken bales of hay coming out of the baler confronted me. Several periodic adjustments to the knotter didn’t seem to help, and I knew a growing row of broken bales wouldn’t ever get the job done.

It was a typically frustrating situation as I jumped from the tractor, leaving the baler running so that I could examine the knotter at work. The hay plunger pounded in rhythm as I watched the mechanical knotter pull a loop in the twine and bundle the leafy hay into a rectangular bale.

“Just temperamental; whenever you watch it, the bales come out perfect,” I thought as I watched a seemingly well-knotted bale move through the bale chamber.

“Try it one more time,” I decided as I walked toward the tractor again. With my mind still back at the knotter, I stepped forward, past the flywheel, and approached the tractor hitch.

Suddenly I felt my pant leg tighten and heard the heavy denim trousers tear from my leg. Instantly I knew what had happened. I had brushed against the power take-off shaft near the second universal joint, and it had caught my clothes. I remember the split-second thought that raced through my mind as I knew I was caught and hoped that it would tear off just a piece of the trousers and release me. But it didn’t.

Before I had time to brace myself, it pulled me in tight, and my clothes began wrapping around the shaft as it tore them from me. Turning clockwise, it worked down my leg toward my right foot and caught my sock and leather work shoe. Completely overpowered by the strength and persistence of the machine, I found myself defenseless as it twisted my ankle until the heavy work shoe shredded loose. I hardly remember being thrown by my foot across the menacing shaft, eventually landing on the short alfalfa stubbed ground.

Fortunately, my shoe had torn loose, and though my ankle was dangling disjointed on the end of my leg, I was free of the still spinning machine. I lay on the ground for a moment barely comprehending the fact that all of my clothes except my upper shirt collar and rolled up arm sleeves were still flapping around the shaft.

Unaware of how or where I was injured, I tried to get up to turn the machinery off. My right foot wobbled out from under the weight of my body, and I realized as I stumbled to the stub of my leg that I couldn’t walk. Pulling myself up to the tractor seat, I pushed in the power take-off gear and flipped the switch to turn the tractor off.

When the momentum of the baler stopped, I began tugging at my clothes that were tightly narled around the power take-off shaft. Not really thinking, I expected to pull a complete pair of trousers off, but torn pieces were all I could salvage to wrap around me.

Had I been at the far end of the field, it is doubtful that I would have been able to drag myself to find help. The pain sharpened as I hopped on my left foot and watched my cut and bleeding ankle swell up with fluid. I limped to the nearest fence post and clung to it. As a truck rounded the curve and headed down the road not far away, I waved frantically, and the driver, my neighbor, saw me and stopped.

I was conscious throughout the painful, ten-mile ride to the hospital. The terrifying fear of losing a limb and the despair of at best being laid up for months plagued my mind as they wrapped me in a blanket and hurried me to the emergency room.

The operations that followed, the plaster casts, and the awkward crutches are but a few of the memories of that tragic experience. However, the greater memory is not one of pain and hardship, but rather one of gratitude to the young men in an LDS priests quorum whose service in a moment of misfortune was remarkable.

Recognizing that I wouldn’t be able to return to my carpentry job of building a house, the priests quorum, whom I serve with as an adviser in the Mendon (Utah) Ward, responded with the ambition of youth, determined that they could provide the manpower to complete the house-building project if someone with experience would offer the direction.

“It didn’t matter how big the job was,” commented Michael Anderson, one of the organizers of the project, “we knew we could do just about anything if we had the cooperation of the quorum.”

And so, with some help from Bishop Stanton Barrett, who is also a building contractor, a spirited quorum of priests, armed with hammers and saws, undertook to finish the framing of a 1,200-square-foot home.

“As fast as the bishop laid it out, we’d nail it together,” Michael stated in explaining afterwards how the group succeeded in framing the complete house, from foundation to roof trusses, in only two days.

“Of course it took some organizing,” he added, “We called each quorum member, told him our plans, and got a commitment from him. The commitment was important.”

The owners of the home in progress, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Findlay, helped out too. “Bob was in there working with the rest of us, and his wife brought us lunch. That kept a hungry crew going,” Michael said. “Sure, there were a few bruises and some thumbnails got whacked, but there was just a special spirit there despite the hard work. The guys planned it and came out because they wanted to help, and that made it fun,” he added. “It was something I’ll remember all my life.”

Bishop Barrett suggested one reason for the success of the undertaking when he said, “The young men were working not because their adviser had planned a service project for them but because they had planned one for him … and that made all the difference.”

As the last nail went into the roof late Saturday, the physical work was done, but the surprise in announcing their accomplishment was still to come.

An unusually quiet quorum of teenage boys greeted me as I met with them the first Sunday after being released from the hospital. A shy and somewhat out-of-character member of the quorum stepped forward and said, “We’ve got something for you … because we wanted to help.” He handed me a homemade, booklike get-well card consisting of a set of photographs that documented their construction work. The room was silent as they anxiously watched me thumb through the pictures.

In the powerful moments of silence that followed, my mind went back to the many times before, when, in the same classroom, I had unconvincingly talked from the lesson manual on the subject of service. Suddenly we were experiencing that joy which before was only a subject of discussion. The lesson that day wasn’t expressed in words.

Finally, I broke the silence by saying, “Now you know the real joys of service—but let’s leave the hay baler out of the next project!”

What began as a tragedy was suddenly forgotten. Long after the plaster casts and crutches are gone, the memory will live of the young men who wanted to help and did.

Photos by Michael Anderson and Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett helps in laying out the floor joists

Mendon priests quorum member Reed Yonk

Neil Sorensen (left) and Reed Yonk work to nail the sheeting on the roof of the house

Quorum member David Willie fastens a top plate to the interior wall