Written By: Leah Chester-Davis
With his hand being ripped apart in the corn picker, and despite numerous attempts to stop the machine so he could remove his hand, Sampson cried out to God for help. He noticed a pin that hooked the corn picker to the harvest wagon. He pulled it out and reached over the top side and started ramming the pin into the rollers. “I almost got my left hand caught from the top side into the rollers. I dropped the pin and pulled back. I grabbed my forearm and physically tried to pull my hand off.”
There was an old rusty cotter pin that held the trailer hitch. He somehow pinched the cotter pin together with his fingers (something that almost always requires pliers) and pulled out the pin from the trailer hitch. He then tried to jam the trailer hitch into the rollers but the hitch was too big.
Struggling, sweating, bleeding, desperate, exhausted, weary, Sampson was in a bad way.
Unable to feel his fingers and in deep agony, he then reached for a 12- to 14-inch pin that he had removed from the hitch. All of his attempts had been to throw items over into the picker from the top in hopes to jam it. This time, he remembered that on the side of the machine there were chains and gears that turned the rollers. Unable to see what he was doing he reached around the machine and stuck the pin between the gears and the chains.
“After an hour and a half, I had finally jammed that corn picker. And I thought, man, I couldn’t believe I finally jammed it. All I have to do is pull my hand out, wrap it up in my t-shirt and drive myself to the hospital. I dreaded that call to my wife because I knew she was going to kill me for doing something so stupid. I’ll never forget that part.”
Sampson pulled on his hand and he still couldn’t get it to come free from the rollers. His mind went to the pocket knife he’d stuffed into his jeans pockets that morning. “I’m a guy who doesn’t carry a knife but that morning, for some reason, I had put that knife in my pocket.” Sampson chuckles slightly as if still amazed at the thought that something (or someone) made him reach for that knife on his dresser which had been a gift from a John Deere representative when he attended a NASCAR race.
The Unthinkable Choice
“I reached in my pocket and pulled it out and started cleaning out all the stuff that was inside the corn picker and I started cutting off my fingers. As bad as that sounds I couldn’t feel it. My hand was numb but this corn picker it’s in a heck of a jam because it’s jerking back and forth and the rollers were turning just a little. I knew that if those rollers broke free that would be the end of me because I was so tired. I was exhausted.”
He had cut off three fingers and was still stuck in the corn picker when he smelled smoke. The slip clutch or something was throwing sparks and they were landing on the dried corn shucks he’d cleaned out of the machine earlier. Talk about whatever can go wrong going wrong, Sampson was experiencing it. The corn shucks burst into flames. “It was like a gasoline fire all around me. That’s when I dropped my pocket knife and started pushing the burning corn shucks away from me.”
As he frantically used his free arm and his legs to push the flaming corn shucks away from him, the tire on the side of the machine caught on fire. His arm was still inside the corn picker and now it was burning as well. “The skin was melting like dripping plastic off my arm. I cried out to God, ‘Please help me!’ I didn’t want to burn to death.
“Fire will make you do things that you never thought you would do,” he says as he reflects on the day. “Being on fire was maybe a good thing because I never would have cut my arm off but the fire speeded it up. I had to get free from that machine pretty quick.”
Screaming from the pain and horror of it all, Sampson says that without thinking he reached for the pocket knife that he’d dropped and began jamming it into his forearm in an attempt to cut off his arm. When he hit the nerves in his forearm he passed out. He guesses he was out for a few seconds but isn’t sure. When he came to, he continued trying to cut off his arm by jamming the knife into his arm, attempting to hit the bones. He then rose up as high as he could and dropped forcefully to the ground in an attempt to snap the bones on a sheet of thin metal that edged the back of the corn picker.
At the same moment that he felt the bones snap, the burning tire on the side of the machine exploded. “It blew me back away from the corn picker 2 or 3 feet. And I’ll never forget jumping up screaming, ‘I’m free, I’m free!”
At last, after close to a 1 1/2-hour life and death struggle, Sampson was free from the corn picker but was bleeding to death.
In part 3, Sampson recounts how he summoned help and who he believes God sent to help him.
(This series about Sampson Parker’s fight for survival is part of a broader series on Farm Safety. It includes the stories of two other farmers, Corey Lutz, of Lincoln County, and Lewis Phipps, of Alleghany County.)