The Cultivator Incident
The "Shop" looms large in the lives of the Murphree kids.
By Brent Murphree
One of Dad’s continuous warnings was “Don’t go into the shop.”
The shop was a huge iron, skeleton frame barn with a tin roof. It took up about an acre of land and served as the farm headquarters. It was anchored
by an old boxcar. The floor was a great expanse of concrete that was excellent for roller skating and squealing tires on a motorcycle.
There were rows of shelves for bolts, machine parts and a few bird nests. There were engine hoists and drill presses. Dad even converted about a
quarter of the barn into an open hanger for his airplane.
There was always something sharp, hot or poisonous there. It is where the wielding took place, where sprayers were loaded, pickers serviced and
engines were overhauled. There were spikes and saws and knives and blades.
In other words it was a place of pure joy for a kid.
It was on the way to the school bus stop, it was on the way to the horse corrals, it was on the way to the main road and it loomed like a huge
amusement park in front of the big window in the front room of our home. An invisible neon sign throbbed, buzzed and beckoned – Come in, Play,
If we couldn’t go inside, we would skirt the edge of its footprint. Field implements were lined on the west side of the structure. We would climb over
implements like discs, cultivators, rippers and plows on the way to feed the animals.
Even on the outside things that ripped and tore beckoned us. We could make forts along the side of a large abandoned fuel tank. The earth mover made
a great spaceship and the space inside the ripper blades made awesome forts.
Dad and Mom continuously warned us to avoid the places where safety goggles and gloves needed to be worn. The lure was too strong. We always
ended up there.
One day Julie told Lisa that the graphite used to add weight to tractor tires was makeup. When Lisa walked in the house, Mom screamed, “What is
it?” She could only imagine what it was and would have to detoxify Lisa the best she could. Luckily, it was only graphite and all of Lisa’s kids turned
out fairly normal.
One time we were playing alongside the shop (remember the exact words were, “Don’t play in the shop) and a bolt of lightning during a storm struck
a transformer about 75 yards from where we were playing by the abandoned fuel tank. We could feel the power of the strike through our cores. It was
like a sign from God that we had violated the rules.
After a very long, silent pause, we ran back home at top speed. We were back the next day.
Julie once jumped from a cotton picker which was housed inside the shop. As she was turning away from the picker she rubbed the inside of her arm
and said, “I got scratched.”
I looked up and a hay hook was hanging, point out, from the step rail of the machine. It looked like a meat hook and could have easily done much
more damage than a mere scratch. There was a cold moment of silence as we both stared at each other, reflecting on the morbid possibilities.
Our Worst Experience
The worst event of our collective childhood – ok, maybe it was just mine - that took place in the shop was the cultivator incident. It happened when I
That day we were working our way back home from the “playhouse,” an old abandoned labor house we had tried to fix up to play in. We were
playing a kind of follow-the-leader, climbing over the old tractors, disks and barrels around the shop. We climbed over the side of the horse trailer
and inside through a side window. Lisa and Julie climbed over the top of the back gate and hopped onto the top of the nearby cultivator and then onto
the ground. I followed with a couple of kids behind me.
When I jumped onto the cultivator it wobbled. I hit the ground and turned as one of the kids jumped onto the cultivator behind me. His weight knocked
the cultivator forward off its wooden blocks and it flipped onto me. One of the cultivator points hit me on the leg just above the knee and drove me to
the ground. The point pinned me to the ground like an insect in a collection.
My first feeling was pure claustrophobia. I couldn’t move. I rolled my body but my femur was pinned so firmly that it felt as though I had been
encased in solid cement.
I wriggle and squirmed and screamed! I was pinned like a bug.
I knew I was dying.
I was vaguely aware of what was going on around me. I knew the girls were screaming. The kids behind me were scattering and I was dying.
So I screamed my conscience, “I’M DYING!” And, continued screaming.
Julie and Lisa were for a few seconds dumbfounded. Then they too screamed.
Mom remembers that she heard some screaming and thought maybe someone had seen a snake.
Julie and Lisa tussled a bit over what to do and who should do it. They both ended up running to the house.
Mom met them outside the house but couldn’t understand what they were saying but knew something was really wrong.
She was stunned when she reached the cultivator. There was no one around but kids who in no way could lift the heavy piece of equipment off me. I
was screaming and trying to pull my leg but the weight and they way it was piercing my leg wouldn’t budge.
I pulled and pulled…and screamed. Mom kept telling me not to pull. She said she felt useless as I was squirming and pinned to the ground. There was
nothing she could do.
Mom said the word, “Jesus.” She grabbed the main bar of the cultivator, telling me once again not to pull. I kept pulling.
She did the only thing she could do which was to try to lift up on the huge bar. She pulled up with all her might. The tremendous piece of iron at first
wouldn’t budge but she refused to let up.
“Don’t pull!” she yelled.
I pulled. And pulled, but the leg would not move, pinned as it was.
At some point the pressure eased as Mom lifted with every ounce of strength she had. I pulled my leg out and rolled away from the cultivator. Mom
dropped the cultivator and ran to me. She picked me up and ran to our carport.
She told the girls to get a dish rag. They grabbed one and Mom wrapped it around my punctured leg. I remember lying on the back of the car, feeling
its cool surface on my back. That’s all I remember.
The damage to my leg was amazing for what the cultivator didn’t do. I can still slip my thumb into the hole between the large muscles of my leg.
Instead of slicing off my limb, the point of the blade slid cleanly between the muscles and pinned my femur to the ground. It went no further. It did not
break the bone or damage the muscle. It bled very little.
Like a few other times in my life it seems as though it was an event, perfectly choreographed by God to make a point but not to do major damage.
God, and grace, and Mom.
A few days later Dad took three of the guys to the cultivator to lift it back upright. They couldn’t even budge it.