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1981. Mt. Gretna House Tree Felling

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Within two years of building my carport in 1978, I managed to fill it with the six cords of firewood I burned each year to heat my house, along with a rapidly growing accumulation of antique cars, hardwood lumber, and paraphernalia needed for my apple tree business. Fortunately, there was plenty of room to expand the carport to the north of my property and I made plans to do so. However, there was an enormous seventy-foot-tall white oak tree growing in the space for the expanded carport. It would have to be felled. Though I had felled plenty of trees, this one was beyond my skill set as it had a base diameter of over three feet and was growing within 15 feet of the back of my house.

So, I needed to hire someone with the equipment and expertise and figured that the cost of doing so would be offset by the fact that the felled tree would yield a tremendous amount of lumber and firewood. Since Tom Bouch lived down the street from me and worked for a tree company, I asked him if he would take down my oak tree. He came up and looked and it and said, “Yes," provided I would provide two or three other men to pull on the guide rope he would tie thirty feet up in the tree. I said, “Yes,” as I was sure I could get Aaron and my neighbor, Max Hunsicker, to help.

The tree felling was set for a Saturday in March so Aaron, Max, and I would be available, and the leaves were still off the tree. The plan was to drop the tree in a northeasterly direction, directly away from the house. The tree guy climbed up and fastened a long and heavy rope about thirty feet above ground. Aaron, Max ,and I walked the rope out in the direction we wanted the tree to drop and the tree guy used his professional-grade chain saw to first make the appropriate directional notch on the northeast side of the base of the tree. He then surveyed the situation, made sure that the three of us had pulled the guide rope taut and that we were positioned far enough out on his rope that we would be beyond the tree’s uppermost limbs once it crashed to the ground.

Tom began making the felling cut on the opposite side of the directional cut. He knew what he was doing and planned to leave an appropriate “hinge” of wood between the directional cut and the felling cut as this hinge, along with the directional cut, would determine the direction the tree will fall. As the felling cut was being made, the tree began coming towards the three of us who were pulling on the guide rope as well as starting to walk backwards through the woods.

Unbeknownst to any of us was the fact that the tree had a hollow spot on the east side of its base, so instead of the hinge traversing from one side to the other, there was only hinge-wood on the west side of the tree. The result was that the tree bean to pull in that direction. So now visualize that this enormous tree, which had started falling in a northeasterly direction, changes course and pivots to start falling in a westward direction. The immediate consequence was that the guide rope had to immediately follow the new direction the tree took, and instead of coming towards the three of us who had been pulling on it, it began to pull us, quickly and with unlimited power, in the westward direction the tree was falling.

Our first reaction might have been to hold onto the rope with the idea of redirecting the falling tree, but any such thoughts vanished when we each let go as the guide rope shot through our hands. The bullet we fortunately missed would have been the horrible consequences of what would have happened if we had wound the guide rope around our wrists and arms for a stronger grip. Any of us so entangled would have been jerked off our feet and flung through the air to who knows where, undoubtedly with certain major injury. As the tree crashed down, its top came to within a couple feet of the neighbor’s house. Good thing they weren’t home that day.

Lancaster Roof

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1980. Lancaster, PA

I learned the basics about putting up an asphalt shingle roof when I built a large carport at my house in Mt. Gretna Heights in 1978. I'd had a good experience owning a rental house in Maryland, so it wasn’t long before I was making mortgage payments on half a duplex in a blue-collar neighborhood in Lancaster. That summer, the owner of the house across the shared alleyway asked me if I would go in with him on re-shingling the roof of the shared garage at the back of the property. This we did in one easy morning and we ended up with an excess of more than a dozen bundles of shingles. The garage and house shingles were the same color and texture, and since the roof of the front porch of the house needed to be re-shingled, and since I had all the tools on-site, I bought the neighbor’s share of the shingles and decided to re-shingle the porch roof. So the next day, I borrowed the neighbor’s 20-foot aluminum extension ladder we used for the garage work and set it up against the front porch. There was only one layer of existing shingles and they could be shingled over, as we had done on the garage.

Next, I had to carry a dozen or so 60-pound bundles up the ladder to the porch roof. The only way one person can do this is to put a bundle of shingles on your shoulder, steadying it with one arm and hand, and use the free arm to steady one-self as you climb the ladder. It’s a bit of a balancing act. I decided that to lessen the climbing effort, it would be smart to move the bottom of the ladder away from the house, thereby lessening the angle of ascent. I moved the bottom of the ladder out until it was at about a 45 degree angle, making it more the angle of a stairway.I shouldered the first bundle, and started up the ladder. I was nearly to the gutter when the bottom of the ladder began moving away from the house. It happened quickly, and I knew there was no chance that I could do anything to arrest it since the top of the ladder had been resting on the edge of the metal gutter, and these two metal surfaces were metal to metal and nearly frictionless. I hadn’t anticipated how moving the bottom of the ladder away from the house would make it so much more likely to start scooting away from the house as the load on it increased. I and the ladder were now obeying the laws of gravity, and I remember pushing the bundle of shingles away from me and grabbing for the gutter.  My next memory was some moments later.  had had the breath knocked out of and had probably been briefly knocked out. I was lying on my back on the grass. I looked to my left and six inches away was the front concrete walk. As I turned over and began to get up, I looked behind where my head had hit the ground and less than four inches away was the raised concrete edge to a flower bed. If I had landed just a few inches either way, my skull would have certainly been fractured, and it would have undoubtedly been a mortal injury. Another lesson in applied physics learned the hard way.

 

Accident on Route 322

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The sleepy little village of Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania, where I live, lies in a valley between two ridges of the Appalachian mountains. Since I worked in Hershey, which is in the flatlands twelve miles west of Mt. Gretna, every morning I chose one of four routes to cross the ridge as I made my way to work. The best choice, at least in fair weather, was to drive over “TV Hill”, turn west onto state highway 322 and follow it straight through farmland and two villages into Hershey.

 And so it was that I was driving my '73 Datsun 510 station wagon to work one Monday morning in February, 1977, on Route 322. Just after I passed the junction where PA Route 934 T’s onto 322, I came up behind a stake-bodied farm truck which was slowing down and whose right turn signal was blinking. There was a lane off to the right leading to a cluster of farmhouses and he was obviously intending to turn into that lane. After the truck had moved to the right and I began to pass it on the left, the driver suddenly began turning left, directly into my path. I reacted instinctively and pulled further to the left, fully realizing I would go off the left side of the road. What I didn’t know was that in a microsecond I would smash head-on at thirty miles per hour into the concrete base of a large Exxon sign. My car hit the base square on and stopped instantly as the engine and transmission were rammed into the passenger cabin. Datsun’s three point safety belt did its job and saved my life, although body flew forward enough so that my face crashed into the steering wheel and my knees into the underside of the dashboard.

My next memory was of my body involuntarily thrashing up and down on a cold X-ray table, and Dr. David Nahrwald saying, “Sorry, we didn’t know you would have such a reaction to the contrast dye, but I really do need to see if your left kidney is bleeding.” I was sedated enough to keep me asleep for a couple days and next remember Dr. Steve Miller, the medical center’s lead plastic surgeon, standing at my bedside saying, “You need two procedures because your left eye has a blown-out orbit and your left maxilla requires repair.  I’d like to do them separately, but I need your consent.” I remembered from my Pharmacology course the warnings about the risks of general anesthesia and asked Dr. Miller if he would do the two procedures in one, lengthy, operating room visit. which he agreed to do.

My recovery was not uneventful. As I came out of the anesthesia, I realized my jaw was wired together and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I was sure that I was going to die. Someone must have then given me an IV sedative, and when I next woke, even though I hurt all over, I knew I wasn’t going to die. After five days in the hospital I was discharged and my friends, Howard and Hanne Kulin, kept me at their house where I spent most of my time asleep. Then, back to my house and six weeks of me preparing liquid meals with my trusty Hamilton Beach blender while my maxilla healed.

Finally, the day came when Dr. Miller removed the two horseshoe-shaped, stainless steel wire arches he had used to wire my jaw fast. I asked him for them and later joined them together as a circle which has hung ever since from my cars’ rear view mirrors as a talisman and a reminder.

 

May.1977. Route 322 Car Accident.

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The sleepy little village of Mt. Gretna, PA lies in a valley between two ridges of the Pennsylvania Appalachian chain. Since I worked in Hershey, which is in the flatlands twelve miles west of Mt. Gretna, every morning I chose one of four routes to cross the ridge as I made my way to work. In 1977, the best choice, at least in fair weather, was to drive up and over “TV Hill”, turn west on state route 322 and follow it straight through farmland and two villages to Hershey.

And so it was that I was driving my little 1973 Datsun 510 station wagon to work Monday morning, February 7, 1977, was on route 322, had passed the junction where PA route 934 T’s on 322, and came up behind a stake-bodied farm truck which was slowing down and whose right turn signal was blinking. There was a lane on the right leading to a cluster of farmhouses and he was turning right onto that lane. The truck had moved to the right and I began to pass him on the left when he suddenly began turning left, directly into my path. I reacted instinctively and pulled to the left, knowing that I would go off the left side of the road. What I didn’t know is that  a microsecond later I would smash head-on at 30 miles-per-hour into the concrete base of a gas station’s large Exxon sign. My car hit the concrete base square on and stopped instantly. The engine and transmission were forced into the passenger cabin. My body flew forward, with my face hitting the steering wheel and knees the underside of the dash, but Datsun’s three point safety belt did its job and saved my life.

My next memory was of my body involuntarily thrashing up and down on a cold X-ray table and Dr. David Nahrwald, leaning over me saying, “Sorry, we didn’t know you would have such a reaction to the contrast dye. But I really need to see whether your left kidney is bleeding.” I was given enough sedatives to keep me asleep for a couple days and next remember Dr. Steve Miller, our medical center’s lead plastic surgeon, coming to my bedside and saying, “You need two procedures because your left eye has a blown out orbit and your left maxilla require repair. I’d like to do them separately, but I need your consent.” I remembered from my Pharmacology course the warnings about the risks of general anesthesia and asked Dr. Miller if he would do the two procedures in one lengthy operation. He agreed to do.

My recovery was not uneventful. As I came out of the anesthesia and found my jaw wired together, I couldn't breathe and was sure I was going to die. Someone must have then given me an IV sedative because when I next awoke, I hurt all over, but at least knew I would live. After five days in the hospital I was discharged, and my friends, Howard and Hanne Kulin, kept me at their house where I slept most of the time. Then came six weeks of me preparing liquid meals with my trusty Hamiton Beach blender while my maxilla healed.

Finally, the day came when Dr. Miller removed the two horseshoe-shaped stainless steel wire arches he had used to wire my jaw fast, I asked him for them and later fastened them together as a circle which has ever since hung from the back of my cars’ rear view mirrors as a talisman and a reminder.

Rock Climbing

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1963.  North Wales, Rock Climbing. In the fall of 1962, I was introduced to rock climbing in the Snowdonia mountains of North Wales by members of the University College of North Wales Climbing Club, several of whom lived where I did, in Neuadd Reichal, the men’s residence hall for the University College of North Wales. I had no experience in rock climbing, but after purchasing a sturdy pair of climbing boots at the climbing shop in Capel Curig, I was keen to learn and start doing climbs with the club. For each climb, we followed a known route, selected from a guidebook of climbs in Snowdonia, and always with an experience leader. There were usually four of us on these climbs, and we were always roped together. I enjoyed the sport more and more as I learned the basic techniques, especially those having to do with belaying and finding and using hand and foot holds. I had no delusions about my beginner status, and on two occasions clung to a rock face as I and the two other guys on our rope watched and waited as Bob Bunce, our experienced leader found himself “frozen” and had to spend several minutes  trying to figure out the proper route.

From December through March the cold and rainy Welsh weather kept our club off the rock faces. Finally, April brought climbers back to the mountains, and so it was that one of the guys in the club suggested he and I go to a nearby quarry and practice. That seemed like a fine idea to me and off we went. I didn’t give a thought to the fact that the two of us would be free-climbing, that is, climbing without being roped together. Heck, we were just going to practice on a quarry face that wasn’t more than 40 feet high. Yes, it was sheer, but it had plenty of ledges that were 4 to 8 inched wide. I was also too naïve to consider there were no “routes” we would be following. Rather, we would each, presumably, find our own routes.

My partner was a more experienced climber. After he started up one of the quarry cliffs, I followed. After about twenty minutes he was near the top of the cliff face and I was substantially behind since it took me a lot longer to find foot and hand holds. Since we were not roped together there was not the intermittent waiting period as the person ahead advanced and you watched where they put their hands and feet on the next “pitch.” So it was that I must not have followed his route exactly since at about thirty feet up the face I ran out of hand and foot holds.  Worse, I couldn't see how I could reverse my route—I was stuck. I was spread-eagled to the face, knew that I could not hold my position for more than a few minutes, and that my partner had reached the top of the cliff. We didn't have a rope and were too far from any habitation for him to get help in less than an hour. In any event, I knew I could hold my position for no more than a few minutes. I honestly don’t remember how terrified I was at that point, but I knew that I was in a serious jam. My partner saw my plight and offered a suggestion. There was a wide ledge just over the top of my head and he asked me if I thought I could pull myself up to and on it. But the rock face in front of my chest and torso didn't have a single hand or foot hold, so to get to this ledge meant I would literally have to pull myself straight up using only the muscles of  my hands, arms, and shoulders. Humans are known to manage remarkable feats of strength when in do-or-die situations, and that is exactly what happened with me. I first did what would be a front-facing chin-up, followed by somehow getting my elbows onto the ledge. Then I managed to bring my legs up far enough to swing a leg and a knee up to the ledge. Once I had one leg up, getting the rest of my body up was easy. The ledge led to an easy scramble to the top where my partner said, “Well, that was impressive. You’ve got quite a future in rock climbing.”

 “Thanks,” I replied. But I clearly remember saying to myself at that moment, “Buddy, you were in way over your head and you should stop rock climbing.” I never climbed again.

Current River, 1959

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1959.   Current River, Missouri Ozarks. 

During the Boy Scout camping season, summer 1959, one of the other camp counselors, Bill Gorrell, and I decided that after camp we would do a week-long canoe trip down the Current River, soon to be protected as part of the Ozark national Scenic Waterways. Bill was a couple years older than me and had been in charge of the waterfront at Camp Joy for a couple of years. We were both excellent swimmers and canoeists. We chose to take six days to cover a particularly pretty 100 mile stretch of the Current river, starting at Montauk State Park and taking out at Big Springs State Park. One of the other camp counselors, Don Schlueter borrowed his Dad’s 1954 Chevrolet and he and Tom Haluson ferried Bill, me and our borrowed wood Old Town canoe to the put-in. We had arranged for my folks to pick us up at the take-out a week later.

The Current river has a gravel riverbed and twists and turns as it snakes below tall limestone bluffs on one side and hardwood forests on the other. The Current is fed by a series of clear springs so it remains canoeable through the summer and it has sufficient drop to give it pleasant Class II rapids every mile or so. Bill and I had a blast, canoeing several hours a day, soaking in the wildlife, and camping on gravel sandbars at river’s edge each night. As we came around a river bend in the middle of day three, we were faced with an enormous riverside sycamore tree that had been uprooted by a storm and blown squarely across the river, creating a classic “sweeper” with half of its branches under water and the other half pointing skyward. We immediately beached our canoe and scouted the situation. There was no way to canoe around the blow-down, so we undertook a portage. First, we unloaded the canoe, carried our gear through the riverside brush to the far side of the blow-down, then hoisted the canoe over our heads and made our way again through the brush to the downstream edge of the river where we had left our gear. Bill needed to attend to a call of nature, so I went back to look at the sycamore tree.

At its base, the tree had a diameter of thirty or so inches and I clambered up on the trunk and walked out over the river just to see what was what. I was about twenty feet out from shore when I slipped and fell on the upstream side of the tree trunk where the force of the river going under the tree immediately pinned my chest against the trunk with me holding on with both arms. I knew at once the gravity of my situation. Sweepers are notorious deathtraps. If you are swept under the fallen tree you will almost certainly become ensnared in the underwater branches and that’s the end for you. The diameter of the tree trunk where I was pinned was about twenty-four inches and the river was pulling mightily at my legs and torso. I knew I couldn't hold on for more than a few more seconds and had only two options: let go and almost certainly be drowned or someway pull myself up. I managed to pull myself up. I was shivering by the time I got back to the canoe where Bill was waiting.,

“Why are you wet and shivering?” he asked.

"Oh, I fell in the river, no big deal,” I said.

Just Plain Lucky: Appendicitis,1956

In the spring of 1956 I was eager to graduate from Junior High School, mow lawns all summer and enter the big-boy world of Fairfield Community High School in September. But a sharp pain developed I my lower right abdomen in April, and by the second day the school nurse called my Mom who drove me to Fairfield’s only medical clinic, the Fairfield Medical Center. After WWII, Fairfield had a handful of physicians, but no hospital. So in cases like mine of suspected appendicitis, the patient would have to be taken by car to Mt. Vernon or Evansville. The same forward-thinking city fathers who got the public swimming pool built recognized that a hospital would bring long-term benefits to the community and they succeeded in obtaining funds from the community and state and federal governments to build an impressive three-story, seventy-four-bed hospital. The hospital was scheduled to open in 1950 and the hospital board realized that in addition to their local physicians they would need a board-certified surgeon. Dr. Frankel, one of Fairfield’s general practice physicians recommended Arthur Marks, who he knew from the University of Illinois School of Medicine, which they both had graduated from. Dr. Marks had served in the medical corps in WWII, had recently completed a surgery residency, and was starting to practice in Chicago.

Arthur was a city boy, so when he arrived in Fairfield he hired additional physicians, set up a free-standing clinic, and became the chief surgeon at the newly completed state-of-the-art (1950) operating room at Fairfield Memorial Hospital. And so it was that as soon as Dr. Marks finished examining me and saw my elevated white blood count, he told my Mom to get me to the hospital pronto. Later that day Dr. Marks put me under ether anesthesia and removed my inflamed and ready-to-rupture appendix. What if there had been no Fairfield Memorial Hospital or no Dr. Arthur Marks? Would I have survived if my appendix ruptured on the way to another hospital? A ruptured appendix creates widespread peritonitis and requires a major surgical procedure to lavage the abdominal cavity followed by days of intravenous antibiotics. Patients often do not survive. I was lucky, again. When I was in Los Angeles at a scientific meeting in 2000, I made a special trip to La Jolla to take Dr. Marks to lunch and thank him for saving my life. 

Just Plain Lucky: Fairfield Community Swimming Pool. 1952

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Public swimming pools were a rarity in little towns in America’s mid-west in the post WW2 years. But the oil boom and manufacturing of war goods had been good to Fairfield, Illinois. And this, along with forward-thinking town leaders, were the right equation for getting a standard “Olympic” (23 meters long) community pool built in the town’s public park in 1949. I learned to swim there at age 7, the summer the pool opened. Every day from age 10 on I would roll up my swim suit and season pool card in a towel and bike the two miles from my home on West Delaware to the pool. The pool had three diving boards, two low ones and one three-meter board, and one life guard who usually stayed in a raised chair towards the deep end. During summer weekdays the pool was packed with kids, and we played all kinds of games.

Pool tag was one of the most popular, though it was officially forbidden by the life guards. It's rules were simple: you could tag the next guy anywhere, in the water or on the pool deck, but if you were on the deck you had to be careful not to run since if seen by the lifeguard you would be thrown out of the pool for the day. The only other rule was that if you were on the pool deck you could not walk/run around any of its four corners. Instead, you had to either dive into the pool and hope you could swim faster than the guy who was “it” or you could dive across the corner, come up and clamber out of the pool on the opposite side. Naturally, if you were being chased on the deck you tried to make your cross-corner dive as fast as possible.

And so it was that at age ten I attempted a quick dive across a pool corner but miscalculated and smashed head-first into the concrete pool gutter on the opposite side. I was knocked unconscious, slipped down into the deep end, and wasn’t immediately seen by the lifeguard. Fortunately, a teenager by the name of “Slick” Fitzgerald saw what happened, dove in, and pulled me out. I wasn’t unconscious for more than a minute or two. But I was bleeding like crazy since my mouth was open when my head hit the concrete wall which closed it instantly, driving my four lower incisors through my lower lip. Someone called my Mom, and she drove me to the Fairfield Medical Center where the good Dr. Arthur Marks, without bothering with a local anesthetic, carefully explored the gash, picked out fragments of chipped teeth, and put four stitches in my lip. I’m sure my Mom thanked Slick, but from time to time I’ve wondered if he knew he had saved my life.

 

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