Rex’s uncle drove to Ottumwa with the three horses in an old truck that didn’t have much for side boards. When he screeched to a halt at the corner of Main and Market, one of the horses reared up with its hoofs on the roof of the cab. Looking back, Rex, should have recognized this as a forewarning. The three horses were Dolly, Barney and Charlie. Charlie was the one that reared up, and Charlie would also become known as the lazy horse. When pulling with the other two horses, Charlie’s traces would often be loose.
The year was 1942, and Rex was 4 years old. His father Wilbur Kimple farmed 200 acres, one mile north and two miles east of Packwood. Rex had a brother, Max, who was two years older.
Older brother Max jumped off the school bus and ran into the house to change clothes and get Rex. Pretty soon they would have to milk. Max asked his mother where their father was. She pulled the curtain back and looked out the window toward the south field. Max took off with Rex. Their dog, Spot, barked wildly, turned circles, and joined in the foray. Max and Rex raced each other, up their sledding hill and over the fence, careful not to step in cowpies. Max being older, was of course, faster. They could see the three-horse hitch attached to a disk. Their father was off gathering fenceposts while the horses rested. Pretty soon their father would be sowing oats. Max was ahead, and was running to where their father was, behind the hitch. Max, not thinking, ran in front of the team, along with Spot. Charlie spooked, rearing up in the harness, and took off with the other two horses following. Their dad watched in shocked disbelief.
Little Rex was just getting over the fence, having climbed over using a crooked hedge post for support. He looked up and saw the team racing wildly toward him. There was nothing he could do. He stepped back a little, against the barbwire fence and beside the hedge post. He thought to himself, “I’m not back far enough.”
He must have shut his eyes. He heard the trampling of hoofs, felt the hot horse breath and slobber, and heard and felt the iron clang against the hard hedge wood. Sparks flew. The outside disk hit the hedge post, and the whole disk bounced out and around the petrified boy. Rex scurried back over the fence. He remembers looking up and seeing the home place. The three horses came to a halt about a half mile away. Rex’s father was too stunned for words. The only thing he could finally muster was, “Better get them cow’s milked, boys.”
That was 72 years ago. The hedge-post fence is still standing, the original barbwire is still strung, and the crooked hedge post that saved Rex’s life is still in the ground, complete with the notch where the disk struck it.
Rex, now 76, lives in Ottumwa, and remembers the event like it was yesterday. He has painstakingly recreated the scene in a photoshopped, pieced-together photo. He cut out a three-horse team and a straight-line disk, took multiple photos of the original hedge post, and placed a picture of himself as a little boy, standing between the hedge post and the runaway team.
He never wants to forget that day, wants to be able to show the picture to his grandkids and tell the story of how a hedge post, cut from the farm’s own hedge row, saved his life. Hedge wood is tough as iron, never rots and, like his memories, indelible, lasting forever.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com. Curt also reads his columns at www.lostlakeradio.com.