Although now going through rehabilitation at an Iowa City hospital, Craig Noring considers himself a lucky man that may have had a guardian angle watching over him.
The 66-year-old farmer, trying to clear the windshield on his combine from dust soaked rain, lost his balance and fell eight to 10 feet from his outside cab to below his John Deere S 550 combine early Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, shattering a leg and hip.
“I’m a one-man show,” said Noring, pointing out there was no one immediately going to come to his rescue, realizing he could have been in the isolated field for hours, beyond sight of local roads.
Fortunately, Noring said he was lucky enough to have his cell phone in his pocket, but when he couldn’t dial out to anyone because of a phone malfunction, he punched the 9-1-1 emergency button, sending a distress call out to the West Liberty Fire and Rescue team who located Noring in a corn field on the nearly 900 acre farm north of West Liberty under the modern combine.
He said normally, his first call would have gone out to his brother-in-law, the late Curt Newcomb, who was a long-time member of that West Liberty first response team.
“I told my sister (Curt’s wife Lisa), God was looking out for me,” he said. “She told me ‘Don’t thank God, it was likely Curt looking out for you.’”
He called the rescue team “professional and wonderful” in getting him to the hospital, although there was no paramedic on duty at the time, so he had to suffer through the pain of being moved without the help of any medicines, but said the ambulance taking him to the hospital hooked up with a paramedic from West Branch to help that situation. “The pain was incredible,” he said.
He was transported to Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, where he was actually born, and underwent a 45-minute surgery that day to save his leg and repair his hip, discovering two bones had been broken in the fall. By midweek, he was transferred to Mercy’s rehab center in Coralville, where he said the slow process of getting him in walking condition again started.
He said the first day of rehab was terribly painful, not even being able to take a step. The next day, he went 18 feet, pointing out he was “exhausted.” By the third day, he doubled that yardage and said, by Sunday, he was actually able to get out of his own bed for the first time on his own power.
He said the rebab will take at least three hours a day, seven days a week, for about 10 weeks and doesn’t anticipate operating farm machinery again until next Spring.
Since, Noring said he did learn about a windshield cleaning tool that would have cost him $100, “much less than this hospital stay is going to cost me.”
Noring said it was the first time he’d been seriously injured since he was a teenager in another farm accident.
Neighbors help out
Noring said he wasn’t sure how he was going to get his crops harvested after the accident, noting his father, Wayne, is 92 “and I wouldn’t expect him to do it.”
But his neighbors, Chris Hinkhouse and Tom Lehman, surprised him, utilizing three combines (including Noring’s unit) to harvest 350 acres of soybeans in 10 hours last Wednesday, Oct. 7, something Hinkhouse said would have likely taken Noring a week to accomplish.
“I didn’t ask anybody,” Noring said of the gesture. “But I was pretty concerned about what I was going to do.”
Hinkhouse, who operates Hinkhouse Custom Farms north of West Liberty, said he does a lot of grain hauling and fertilizer spreading for Noring and didn’t hesitate to use his 10-man workforce and equipment to get Noring’s crops in, asking Tom and Susie Lehman to help out as well with their combine and grain cart.
“It made the most sense for us,” Hinkhouse said of working to harvest the entire crop of soybeans on the farm in one day starting at about 11 a.m, noting soybeans don’t take up as much space in grain trucks as corn, although Noring reported getting about 60 bushel per acre.
Hinkhouse, who farms 3,000 acres, called it “a pretty straight forward operation,” noting getting the aid of the Lehman’s was crucial in the operation. He said it was the first time he’s been involved in a volunteer harvest project like that since the death of Harvey Peden more than a decade ago. Hinkhouse said he’s been farming for about 20 years on the several generation farm that’s been in the family since the late 1800’s.
He complimented his team for pitching in during the situation, noting it continues this week with the corn harvest on the Noring farm that totals nearly 500 acres, half of which he said was completed by Sunday.
“I’m just thankful my neighbors came in to help,” said Noring, noting he knew he’d be out of service for weeks. “I found out my neighbors were truly neighbors.”
Noring said the two neighbors have been friends of his “forever,” but he still never expected them to pull through for him like they did. Noring said he’s the fifth generation to farm his land, first operated by his German immigrant ancestor Joe Achem in 1865.
Lehman, who said he was about half done with his own soybean harvest next door, said he didn’t hesitate to help Hinkhouse with the Noring harvest when he got the call.
“I’ll do anything for a neighbor. That’s what neighbors do,” Lehman said. “You do things for neighbors when they’re down.”