Reformation Lutheran Church A Congregation of the ELCA

Wednesday, March 22

Facing Death

In the mid 1960s, I was working for a general contractor. We were laying a water main under highway 54 in Liberal. The process was to open a ditch on either side of the road bed. A cleated plank was staked to the bottom of the ditch on one side. Then a pilot hole was created so that water could be fed through it. The water washed mud out of the pilot hole and, with a fair share of luck, you would hit the ditch on the other side of the road. Because we were now boring about a 12-inch hole, there was a considerable amount of dirt and mud to be removed. The water technique could only wash about half the mud from the hole.

I had concocted a cast iron broach to clean the hole. A halter was fitted to the broach and a cable pulled through the crossing hole. By pulling the broach through the fresh crossing hole, we could effectively clean the crossing.

The construction company owned an F1000 Ford semi tractor used to pull the crane and large ditcher, either of which could weigh upwards of 70,000 lbs. It was a powerful truck. It was brought to the construction site, positioned, and blocked in a parking lot on the opposite side of the highway to winch the broach across.

I had taken a position in the ditch to start the feed of the broach into the crossing hole. The broach pipe needed to be hand fed into the crossing hole opening. The problem I ran into was that the bank above the crossing hole had caved away, and I found it impossible to lift and guide the heavy pipe to the opening. The extent of the problem began to dawn on me when I felt the tail end of the pipe come up behind me pinning me to end of the ditch. The men watching from above the ditch began yelling at the driver across the road probably 75 yards away. I knew he could not hear them above the roar of the truck engine.

The thought passed through my head that this was a heck of a thing to do to my pregnant wife. I was concerned with her being stranded there in southwest Kansas all by herself, but I was trapped and did not see how I could free myself. I felt I was about to be crushed against the end of the ditch. Suddenly from across the road I heard the engine on the winch truck cough and die.

There are only two reasons to explain why that engine stopped. Either there was divine intervention by God - or that truck was just a Ford. I always considered the former.

Richard McDiffett

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