Duane King sits approximately where he and his brother, Dean, were sitting when a bluegrass stripper violently jerked and sent Duane flying over the stripper which then ran over him, the spinning drum of nails chewing his body to shreds. The strippers were manufactured in Maryville, Mo. Photograph taken in Rush Museum, Griswold, Iowa
In June 2019, Farm Collector published an article by Don McKinley on bluegrass strippers. It was an article that resonated with many of our readers, but none more than Duane King.
Just looking at one of the machines would convince a person that there is no way to live through such an experience. More than 200 spike nails grinding on a body at high speed should mark the end of life. Yes, it should, but I believe God did a miracle that day.
A simple movement magnified into tragedy
It was probably 1945. I think I was 7 years old. My brother, Dean (8 years older than me) and I had joined our dad to strip bluegrass seed just north of our farmhouse west of Skidmore, Missouri. Bill Coston was the entrepreneur who loaned us three bluegrass strippers that Dad fastened in tandem behind our John Deere tractor.
The three made quite a wide swath through the field. When time came to empty the strippers, Dean and I helped Dad so that time was not wasted. Rain or darkness would put a sudden stop to bluegrass stripping. We needed the 5 to 10 cents per pound that we might receive from the seed; the amount depended upon the year.
Duane as a boy, before his tragic encounter with the bluegrass stripper.
There was a metal seat on each of the strippers, but Dean and I sat together on the lid of the back stripper, our feet hanging over the back edge. Each stripper had a drive wheel and a light-weight wheel at the other end. As Dad pulled the strippers, the lighter weight wheel of the first stripper must have dropped in a hole. It caused a terrible jerk.
Since the second stripper’s tongue was fastened right behind that wheel, of course the second stripper jerked, its force being magnified because of the leverage gained by the way the strippers were connected. The jerk was huge by the time it reached the third stripper.
The stripper jerked so violently that I flew right over it, dropping right in front of it. Dad had apparently felt the jerk, turned to look back from the tractor, and tried to stop – but it was too late. The stripper had already come over me, the drum of nails spinning at full speed. The nails were not like knives. No, they were like nails, not cutting and slicing, but tearing and ripping skin and muscles.
Transported by local doctor
When the stripper stopped, the lighter weight wheel was on my ankle. In fact, the tragedy was so painful that my body seemed to suddenly cancel all feelings of pain except for the wheel on my ankle. I don’t remember, but I’m guessing my very strong dad lifted the wheel and moved me from under it.
Dad shouted to Dean, “Go tell Mom to bring the pickup.” Dean ran, but by the time Mom had got into the pickup, Dad had arrived at the house, carrying me. Dean says, “Duane, you were a bloody mess, and Dad was blood all over.” Mom put me on her lap in the pickup, and Dad got behind the wheel. He was crying so much, sure that he had killed his son, that he couldn’t drive. I can remember it as if it were yesterday when Mom shouted out to him, “Elzie, get this thing going or else I’ll drive it myself.” He got it going, rapidly covering the almost 3 miles to town.
Grass seed harvester. Patent granted to Hugh Armstrong, Nov. 10, 1953. The drum of each stripper could be raised or lowered by a handle. As a tractor pulled the stripper across a field, the drum rotated very rapidly, with steel nails measuring 1-1/2 inches long protruding from the drum.
Our little town of 498 had a doctor. One look at me, and Dr. Buxton knew that my wounds were “out of his league.” He gave me a shot of something, put me in the back seat of his car, and drove me the 13 miles to Maryville, Missouri. I could see the speedometer that showed we were going up to 90 miles per hour over hills and around curves.
Narrow misses saved young life
We went to Landfather’s Hospital, as I recall. There, they cleaned my wounds and sewed them up with an innumerable number of stitches. The doctor said I’d probably never be able to use my left arm again because a large tendon was cut. And he said that the nails had missed my heart and lungs by only 1/4-inch.
Of course, I had wounds everywhere, from my feet to my head. The largest number of them were on my left side and front. I’m 82 years old, now, and many of the scars have disappeared with time, but many of the larger ones still remain.
One of the worst scars was on my cheek, and it is still faintly visible. It is amazing that one of the nails tore at my eyelid and left a scar, but it did not touch my eyeball. In fact, when I was on Mom’s lap in the pickup, the blood had blinded me. I remember asking Mom, “Will I be blind?” I’m sure my words were hard to understand, and she was terribly upset. She interpreted my question as, “Will I be OK?” and answered, “Yes, Duane, you’ll be OK.” All I heard was “Yes,” and I guess I let out quite a yelp.
The more I think about it, I don’t see how I lived through that. It had to be God. He has blessed me in so many other ways through life, and helped me begin Deaf Missions and serve other people. I feel very responsible to use my life for Him.
I occasionally have fun with my experience, showing people a picture of the wicked-looking bluegrass stripper, telling of the tragic event, and then explaining that most men have hair growing on their chest. I don’t. “They didn’t get all of the seed, so I have bluegrass growing on my chest,” I tell them. “Sometimes, I have to mow it!” FC
For more information: Duane King, 3140 Kings Way, Council Bluffs, IA 51530; (712) 323-1380; email@example.com.