With the biggest blizzard of the century supposedly about to hit Minnesota, i pulled out this story of mine as a warning to any who dare defy mother nature.
Assumptions can cost you dearly. One I made once almost cost me my life.
This story takes place in the Amish country in southern Minnesota near Canton in 1987. I would travel down there periodically from Rochester where my wife was going to Mayo Medical School to buy walnut and cherry wood. The Amish sold their fine hardwoods for about $1 a board foot compared to the $5 to $10 you would pay at a lumberyard, and their wood tended to come from smaller trees that provided unusual grain patterns for the end tables that I had a hobby [hobby: euphemism for failed business] of making and selling.
The Amish don't use electricity and don't have phones, so if you want to do business with them you have no choice but to hunt them down which I took pride in doing. I'd go to one Amish guy to buy the wood, rough sawn, and go to another to get it planed. This may sound simple but actually you had to drive long distances on unmarked, unpaved country roads to get the job done.
It so happened that I went on one of these runs on the wrong day. It was Winter, and a bad storm hit. The snow started accumulating, and it took me a long time to purchase the wood and get it planed. It was getting late when I finally headed back home with a car load of planed hardwood only to have disaster strike. I slid on a curve and barreled into a big snow drift and got stuck.
So there I was with the temperatures dropping and no real sense of where the nearest homes were or how far I was from the main roads. There were no cell phones back then by the way. People freeze to death in Minnesota every year after their cars get stuck.
After what seemed like hours but was probably more like 30 minutes, a horse-drawn carriage happened to pass by with an Amish man, his wife and several children. They gave me the look "Crazy English" [Amish call all non-Amish "English"], and I had to be careful not to give the man the look either because he had no arms. Both arm stubs puffed out from his vest and stopped somewhere around the biceps.
The shock of seeing him made me assume he wouldn't or couldn't help. I expected them to just keep on going. They didn't look friendly. I would just freeze to death I thought. Irrational? Yes, but totally human and typical behavior - we assume away our best opportunities.
Fortunately, he broke the ice and asked if I wanted help. "What can we do?" I asked, whereupon he hopped out of his carriage and reached into its trunk with his arm stubs and yanked out a chain. "Hook that up to the front of your car," he told me.
Amazingly he had his end of the chain hooked up to his carriage in seconds. He waited while I crawled under my car to look for a place to place the hook. After a couple minutes of failing to find a spot to hook, he crawled down beside me and grabbed the chain. He found a spot for the hook in a flash and had me pulled out of the snow drift moments later.
A few years ago we had a French exchange student stay with us, and we took him on a trip down through southern Minnesota and went on a tour of the Amish farms. The guide knew all about the amazing no-armed man who apparently still astounds people with his dexterity.
Pictured here: an unsold black walnut table I made from the wood purchased on that infamous day. The legs are hand-sawn into my own Monrovian variation. The picture doesn't show it, but the table top gleans with the burls and knots that you can only get with wood from the smaller walnut trees the Amish harvested.