HAPPENINGS OF OCTOBER 9th, 2018
By Steve Moreland
Lately here in the northern Nebraska Sandhills, we have had several days of unseasonably cold wet foggy dreary days. On Tuesday, October 9th our ranch hand Bryce Weisser and I moved a bunch of cattle first thing in the morning. Poor visibility on account of fog made it somewhat difficult to gather the sizeable pasture, which was south of Highway 20. Finding and pushing the cattle to the far end of the pasture was the hard part, but once there we just had to go through one fence to get them located on fresh pasture. Shivery cold-backed horses desiring to unload their riders wasn’t part of the equation, as we “cheated” by each using a Polaris Ranger. I am not proud to have fallen so far away from my long-held cowboy traditions, but am only stating the facts.
Next on the agenda was to load the two Rangers on our 24’ Titan stock trailer, and travel to the Circle M Ranch north of Highway 20 where my sons and their families live. We had pregnancy checked 222 cows there this past Friday, and had a few open cows to sell. We unloaded the Rangers, and I backed up to the loading gate. Conditions were quite muddy, so I had to drive “just right” so as not to get stuck. We sorted off 10 cows for me to take to the Gordon Livestock Auction, loaded them, and I was soon on the way.
Arriving at the sale barn, the cows were unloaded, and I went in to watch the auction. It was about 12:45 p.m. when my cows sold. The weigh-up cull cow and bull market seems a bit lackluster. It takes a “real good cow” to bring 60 cents per pound, and a “pretty good cow” to bring 50 cents. After my cows sold, I then went to the sale barn café to partake of their noon special. It was delightful and consisted of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and a dinner roll—all for just seven dollars. Then I went back to the ring again to watch feeder cattle selling.
The weather was cold and wet enough and area roads were muddy enough that several consignments were cancelled for the day. They will be coming at another time. One nice offering of Angus steer calves, right off their mothers that morning, weighed 657 pounds and brought $174.75 per hundred weight ($1148 per head). This was a very respectable price considering the cold wet conditions and small crowd on hand.
After the sale was over, I could feel no particular urgency to head for home. The local Gordon Shopko store is closing down on December 1st of this year, so their current inventory is greatly reduced in price. I stopped there to browse for a while, but saw nothing that I particularly needed. At this point, I just about headed back to Merriman, but decided to stop at Pump and Pantry first to see who was inhabiting the coffee tables. Usually there is a bit of information to be gleaned from these encounters. There undoubtedly was, but at the moment I am hard pressed to recall any knowledge of particular importance. I did buy a 15 ounce can of Double Shot Mocha for the trip home.
As I left the Pump and Pantry the weather had a “feel” to it that soon moisture would be happening, but so far it was just cloudy and the roads were dry. Being in no big hurry to get home, I set the cruise-control of my 2012 Ford F350 diesel crew-cab pickup right on the 65 mph mark. It was still pulling the empty 24’ Titan stock trailer. I noticed a black SUV-type vehicle a ways ahead of me. Evidently they were traveling at the same speed of 65 miles per hour, as the distance between us seemed to not vary. I left the cruise-control engaged while climbing the rather steep “Six Mile Hill,” and remember the six-speed automatic transmission shifting down two gears before reaching the top of the hill. Continuing on east a couple more miles, the black car was still about the same distance ahead of me. Just as it was approaching the crest of another fairly high hill, a white car came over the hill from the other direction. It wavered across the center line, right into the eastbound lane, and the two cars crashed into each other. Still being a safe distance behind, and with adequate time to get slowed down, I immediately grabbed my cell phone out of my left-hand front shirt pocket. Not having my glasses on, and being distraught, my fumbling fingers at first dialed 011 instead of 911. It took a few valuable moments to figure out how to back out of the wrong number to correctly get 911 dialed. A lady dispatcher listened to my information and asked if there were any injuries. I stated that I was sure there was, after having just witnessed the head-on collision.
I’m going to jump ahead at this point to say that there was only one occupant in each vehicle, and neither of these ladies suffered life-threatening injuries.
I stopped my pickup and trailer to the west and behind the wreckage of the two cars, and turned on my emergency flashers. After analyzing the situation, I realized that the black car was out in the middle of the highway, just to the west side of the brink of the hill. Any oncoming west-bound traffic would not see this until topping the hill, with no time to safely stop. My priority at this point was to get to that hill to stop traffic. Driving my pickup and trailer through the wreckage and litter-filled pavement, I kept the left wheels on the asphalt and the right wheels in the grass of the ditch. I arrived at the top of the hill with emergency flashers on. An oncoming semi-truck didn’t seem to be slowing down very much. I turned my headlights on and off several times, and he still didn’t seem to slow down. I got out of the pickup and waved my hands frantically back and forth, and he finally seemed to notice that there might be trouble ahead. Even then, he was going fast enough as he went by me that he couldn’t come to a complete stop until he was nearly upon the black car in the middle of the road. At this point, the driver put his truck in reverse and backed up the hill until he was even with my pickup and trailer. Another semi-truck was barreling in from the east, and he didn’t seem any more eager to slow down and stop than did the first truck. Finally with both trucks stopped to block additional traffic, I felt confident enough to leave the top of the hill to go back to the wrecked vehicles.
As I walked hurriedly back down the hill, a young lady came running down the hill from the east, where she had parked her car near the two semi-trucks. She said she was a trained EMT, and I was glad to have her be in charge of whatever needed to be done next. She also had her phone out, and had called 911.
Both cars were still in upright positions, even though they were badly damaged. The whole right fender of the black car was gone, with the right front wheel completely detached from the rest of the car. The air-bag had gone off, and an elderly lady was sitting behind the steering wheel, awake and coherent. She was visibly shaken, but at least there was no sign of blood. When the accident occurred, it set a honking horn into motion. The driver of the first semi-truck had gotten out, and he figured out how to disconnect the honking horn. This was a relief, even for those of us who were unhurt.
The west-bound white car had traveled another hundred yards before it came to stop in the grass at the side of the road. The lady who was the driver and only occupant of that car had run up the road to the black car, but that was while I was on top of the hill to the east. I never got down to that car to observe the destruction, and I never actually saw or talked to that lady.
Soon patrol cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance arrived at the scene. A saw had to be used to cut off the door of the black car, for the lady to be assisted to get out. A neck brace was secured, and she was laid on a gurney to be taken to the ambulance. I think the other lady from the other car also rode in the ambulance to the hospital for observation.
In looking at my cell phone, I see that my initial call to 911 was made at 3:09 p.m. MDT on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. Just 25 minutes later, my son called me at 3:34 p.m., and I told him about the wreck and that the lady from the black car was being stabilized to load into the ambulance. This is quite impressive considering that the firemen and ambulance crew were eight miles away from the scene of the accident when they were first notified.
I am very impressed with the Gordon Volunteer Fire Department, Gordon ambulance crew, Sheridan County Sheriff’s Department, Nebraska State Patrol, and all who took part in this emergency situation. The short response time, professionalism, expertise, and great teamwork were all on display in admirable form.
After the patients were loaded into the ambulance and on their way, even though the black car was still in the middle of the road, traffic was allowed to resume travel. I walked back to the top of the hill to my pickup, and was surprised to see that I had left it running. There were several vehicles lined up waiting to continue traveling west.
In retrospect several thoughts came to mind. When the white car first swerved to the wrong lane, had it not been intercepted by the black car, it could have hit the ditch, rolled several times, and greatly injured or killed the occupant. Had the trucks come blindly over the hill at 65 or 70 miles per hour, they could have hit the black car, or the white car, or just gone off the road and wrecked themselves in the ditch. Shortly after all parties dispersed from the wreck, a cold steady rain began falling. Had this occurred half an hour quicker, the rescue efforts would have been greatly impeded. All things considered, this wreck was quite bad, but the ending results could have been significantly worse.
Life is very fragile. Each day is a gift, and that is undoubtedly why right now is called the “present.” Slow down, smell the roses, and remember that happiness is the journey and not the destination.