True Story: Grandpa’s Big Accident

When I was a child, at bedtime my mother would always tell me one of the stories her father, my grandfather, had told her when she was younger. Most nights, I would ask her to tell the story about my grandfather’s accident, which is the story I’m going to share with you, here, almost word for word as my mother told it to me.

My grandparents had three sons, the youngest of which was born in Juntura, Oregon, shortly before the time of this story. My mother, the youngest of her parents’ children, wasn’t even a twinkle in her mother’s eye then. To support his family, my grandpa was working with the road crew. Juntura is one of those little postage stamp towns that my grandfather would say you tend to miss if you’re driving through them and blink at just the right moment. The road crew and their families lived in Juntura and went from there to wherever they were working that day. Back then, most of the roads were paved with gravel. After a while, this would get rutted and bumpy, so they would send in the road crew with a grader to smooth out the road and dig the gravel out of the ditches. The crew would choose a section of road and send the grader up one side leaving a berm, or hump, in the middle of the section. On the second pass, it would scrape up the gravel on the other side. Then, on the third pass, the grader would go down the middle of the section and smooth out the berm.

This particular day, Shorty Jensen was driving his pickup truck. My grandpa was sitting in the middle, right behind the gear shift knob; and another man, Mr. King, was sitting in the passenger seat, with the heel of his left foot propped up on his right big toe. They drove out to where the crew was working that day, which was the main road between Burns and Vale. It was a hot dry day with no wind, and the crew was already working. There was a huge dust cloud hanging over the section, so Shorty could tell where the crew was. What Shorty didn’t realize was that the road grader had already made the first pass down the section and was coming back up through the dust cloud.  Shorty tried to swerve, but he couldn’t manage to get over the berm.  So they had a head-on collision with the road grader. Shorty, the driver, broke his arm against the steering wheel. Mr. King broke his big toe.

My grandfather, broke his leg just above the knee on the gearshift knob, hit the top of his head on the rear-view mirror, went through the windshield and almost cut his throat coming back through it. (At this point my grandfather would always show my mother his scars. There was a long one on his head, starting just behind the top of his forehead, and a jagged one on the left side of his neck just under his chin and just an inch or so in front of his jugular vein.) So, now the road crew had a seriously injured man that needed to go to a hospital and they couldn’t take him in Shorty’s pickup truck, because it was wrecked. The situation was further complicated by the fact that they were out in the middle of nowhere in particular, with the nearest hospitals 50 miles to Burns in one direction, and 90 miles in the other to Ontario.

General area of this story

Right then a man drove up in a big Oakland and wanted to know what was going on, and asked if he could help. The crew supervisor explained the situation and the man said that he had just taken delivery of his car in Portland the day before, and had never really let it out to see what it could do. It was evidently a four-door car with a large back seat. Most of the cars in this area were two door cars, mostly model T or model A Fords. The man offered to take their injured man to the hospital in Ontario, as that was the direction he was going, but he asked that they send someone with him who knew the road, as he had never been over it. Since Shorty had to go to the hospital as well, to get his broken arm set, it was decided that he would call the turns and my grandpa would be put in the back seat with the supervisor.

Let me tell you about Shorty. He was, to quote my grandpa, “an old cowman” and thought anything over 25 miles per hour was SPEED. Speed scared him. The route to be taken was down the Huntington Canyon (very winding and narrow and through 2 small towns in the canyon). Shorty came to see my grandpa in the hospital later and said, “There were times that I wanted to kill you.” The driver started off and every time that my grandpa would moan or groan, he would say, “Don’t worry buddy, I’ll get you there” and he would step on the gas. It took them an hour to an hour and a half to get to Ontario. (a distance of about 90 miles over roads that were not up to present day standards). Shorty told my grandpa later that by the time the people in those little towns knew they were coming, they were already gone. They went through Vale’s main street with the horn blowing. My grandpa came to consciousness in the hospital and never knew who the man was who had saved his life. I’m grateful for him, whoever he was.

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