Thursday, March 23, 2006

NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE

Shortly after I moved to Jefferson City located in East Tennessee; I became infatuated with the great lakes of the area. They screamed out "adventure" to me. I could envision myself cruising along the banks inspecting the coves for wildlife and photographing many of the amazing creatures and panaramic views surrounding the lakes. I soon acquired a small bass boat of 16' in length and equipped it with a 50 horsepower Mercury engine. It was narrow and did not ride the choppy water and swells very good, but it moved along pretty well and I loved the freedom it provided. Just like Big Red, my motorcycle. One day I finished up my run in the government boat at about 1:00PM and decided to take my little craft out for a spin on Lake Tellico. Lake Tellico is gorgeous and much of it is still primitive. Society is marching in at an alarming rate of speed though. The following story is about that day. And on that day I truly almost, (like the uniform in the story Last Run), was no more. It is as near to death a person can come. I am still amazed I got out of the situation.
THE DAY I CHEATED DEATH
I had just pulled the government rig, (truck, boat and trailer), into the Wildlife Management Area just south of Vonore, Tennessee. The place sits adjacent to Ft Loudon State Park. After backing the truck and trailer into its spot I thought it would be a great time to put my bass boat into the lake and enjoy sloth and soak up some sun. I opened the door to my old 1980 Chevy Silverado and told Douglas to "in the truck". He jumped in gladly, and off we went to get my boat. The ride to my little shack in the hills was only about fifteen minutes away and we made it quicker than normal as I was excited to be on the lake. I ran the government boat on Lake Melton Hill and Ft Loudon Lakes so Lake Tellico would be a treat. After hitching up the boat trailer to the Chevy, I went back inside the house for the life jacket and even picked up a fishing rod just in case. The little boat dock was very close to the state park and we would be there in short order. As we pulled into the dock area I noticed that not a soul was present. No one. We were alone. Just the way I liked it. I let Douglas out and he promptly raced to the water and splashed in. He is a swimmer. I moved the truck and trailer to the side of the parking lot and began to remove the safety attachments that secure the boat to the trailer. Finally the bow stop hook and strap assembly was removed from the bow eye and the boat was sitting free on the trailer bunks. The last thing to do was to secure the long nylon rope to the bow eye and the other end to the trailer crank. This would keep the boat attached to the vehicle after backing the trailer into the lake to allow the boat to float off the trailer. I then drove around a bit to align the rig with the boat ramp. The last thing to do was to back down the ramp and into the water until the craft floated off the trailer. Just as I started to back down the boat ramp I remembered something. The plug. All small boats have a plug that allows water to drain out of the bilge area inside the boat. If the plug were left out, the boat would take on water. I stopped the truck on the ramp and set the emergency brake. This E brake did not work properly. It needed adjusted. It barely created enough drag on the brakes to be effective. Oh, how I wish I would have attended to that little detail. I jumped out of the truck and walked to the back of the boat and inserted the rubber plug into the hole. There. Now we were ready to launch. Back into the driver seat I went and pulled the shift lever down into reverse. Something was wrong. The lever flopped freely up and down. It lost its attachment to the shift linkage either under the hood or under the chassis at the transmission. At any rate I was stuck on the boat ramp. Not a soul around. I looked for the problem but could not find it. I started thinking of a way out of this mess. My TWRA friends were all up at Clinton which is an hour and a half away to the North. I couldn't expect any of them to drive clear down here to get me. Money was tight and a tow truck was not a desirable option due to cost. Then a thought struck me. I could crawl under the truck and apply channel locks to the transmission shaft and rotate it into drive. The truck was on a steep boat ramp and the combination of the steepness of the ramp and the truck in drive should hold the truck stable in one position. I could place a couple rocks under the wheels as a cautionary measure. I waited for another ten minutes and still no one appeared at the boat dock. So I put my plan into action
I searched for and found two thick rocks which I placed behine both front wheels. I then pulled out a pair of channel locks from my tool box behind the truck seat. I left the truck running. After glancing around the lot once more and seeing no one; I lay down on my back under the driver side of the truck. I could see the shaft coming out of the transmission where the linkage attached. The space under the truck was fairly tight. Laying on my back, I could not raise my knees all the way up to shuffle around on my back without them contacting the underside of the truck bed. But I inched under a little further. My position under the truck was that my right shoulder was behind the driver side front wheel. I was on my back feet toward the rear of the truck. I grasped the channel lock pliers in my left hand and reached over to clamp them on the transmission shaft. It was easy. Now all I had to do was rotate the shaft counterclockwise until the transmission clunked into gear. As soon as I put pressure on the shaft with the pliers and as soon as it started to rotate ever so slowly; a terrible thought flashed into my mine. It struck me in such a way that I felt a wave of heat rise in my chest and flow out through my limbs in a split second. But it was too late to react to the error. The realization I had was that Reverse was between the Park gear and Drive. Instead of putting the transmission into Drive; I put it into Reverse. And back came the truck!
It started back slowly. I inched to my right to try to clear the underside of the truck. But the truck was moving faster than I could move. I did move far enough to my right that my shoulder cleared the wheel but my head was in direct line with the tire that was coming back ever faster. I tried to scoot down the ramp away from the wheel but I could not raise my knees up high enough to allow my feet and legs to help out the effort. The truck was picking up more speed. I could not move down and away from the wheel. It made contact with my head directly in the center at the top and rotated against my skull. The rotating wheel drove me down the ramp on my back in front of it. I was being pushed down a concrete boat ramp by a truck wheel that was rotating against my head, tearing out my hair. I could in no way escape. The only thing I could think of was to reach out with my left hand and grab the hot exhaust manifold pipe and pull myself further under the truck so that it could roll entirely over me. I should come out from under the front bumper if it worked. I reached out and took hold of the pipe but could not hold on long enough to pull. All I succeeded in doing was burning my hand badly. There was nothing I could do. I was helpless. My mind raced through a thousand thoughts. "Never thought I'd go this way." "Made it through a war and now this". "Bet this is going to be a mess when they find me". And down the ramp I still went on my back with the wheel still rotating against the top of my head. I simply put my arms down along side my body and gave up. I was powerless to improve the situation. My feet were now in the water. I had a thought that maybe I would be drowned instead of mashed. Interesting what goes through ones mind when distressed. But then a miracle. The boat trailer jacknifed when it entered the water and finally lodged against the adjacent pier. This must have put just enough pressure on the rear of the truck to push it off to the right slightly. The big wheel left the center of my head and rolled over my shoulder grazing my rib cage and I saw blue sky as the truck rolled over me and went into the lake sideways. I came out under the front of the truck and remained laying on my back as I was afraid to move. I slowly raised to a sitting position. The first thing I saw was the little golden dog sitting in the front seat of the truck , which was horizontal to the boat ramp about thirty feet out in the lake, all alone staring at me through the window. I had put him back in the truck just before launching.
This was Lake Tellico and I doubted I could get cell service but I ripped the cell phone off my belt and hit 911. I told the lady who answered to listen carefully to these directions as I probably would be going into shock any second and couldn't repeat them. I really thought my chest must be crushed and just didn't know it. My back started to feel warm. I noticed a red smear all the way down the boat ramp to the water. It was my blood. Later I would discover that all the flesh was torn off my back from sliding down the concrete grade on my back. It only took fifteen minutes for the ambulance to arrive. A tow truck would extricate the truck and boat. Douglas, I later found out, would spend the night in the care of the tow truck driver. I would spend five hours in the Sweetwater hospital receiving X rays and catscans. My back was raw and the back board stuck to me. An attendant had to peel me off the board. The results were no broken bones and the head was undamaged. Amazing! The doctor told me to wear white shirts to bed in order to avoid the toxicity of colored garments. Each morning, for a month, I would have to shower with the shirt on so it could be soaked loose by the warm water. It would stick to my back. Eventually scabs would appear and that nonsence could stop. Incidently, I never missed a day of work over the accident. It was painful, but I was on the job at 7:00AM next morning.
So thats the story. A close one indeed. I have since sold the boat to acquire money to build a porch on the old house at Smoky Branch. The truck has a dent in the side of the bed where the bow stop crushed it when the rig jacknifed into the lake. The most foolish thing I have ever done in my life. And it nearly cost me my life.