MARIETTA, Ohio – For as long as Neil Lane can remember, he never wanted to do anything except farm.
He loves the open space, the fresh air, the hard work.
But after a farm accident left him partially paralyzed 24 years ago, some people said he’d have to give up his dream.
A quadriplegic can’t run a farm, they told him.
At 32 years old, Lane had an entire lifetime ahead of him and he just wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Farming was all he knew.
It took him five years to get back to working on the farm, but he was determined to prove the doubters wrong. He could farm, he would farm.
With the help of a part-time employee, some family members and a motorized wheelchair, Lane now operates a 350-acre farm in Washington County where he raises corn, hay and beef cattle.
He’s working the same land his father and grandfather worked and he can’t imagine doing anything else.
Farming is in his blood.
* * *
It was getting dark on Aug. 3, 1983, when Lane was stacking round bales in his barn.
He used the front end loader to hoist a bale high above his head, just like he’d done a hundred times before.
But on this night, something went wrong. He raised the bale too high and it fell backward, rolling down the frame of the front end loader and right into Lane.
A family member who’d been helping him move the hay that night found his body slumped over the steering wheel five or 10 minutes later, crushed by the 1,000-pound bale.
The farmer spent the next nine months in the hospital, first at St. Joseph’s in Parkersburg, W.Va., and then at Mount Carmel West in Columbus after his lungs collapsed and he had to be put on a ventilator.
Lane’s C5 and C6 vertebrae had been fractured, but doctors originally hoped he would recover.
Unfortunately, the damage was too severe. Lane lost the use of his legs and fingers, although he could still move his arms and upper body.
Before he was even out of rehabilitation, Lane decided his injuries weren’t going to keep him from farming.
He remembers making the simple decision: “It’s all I know,” he said. “It’s what I’m going to do, if I can do anything.”
* * *
Getting back to farm work came naturally for Lane. There were new challenges, but it beat the alternative.
“I just couldn’t stand to stay in the house,” he said.
In the summer of 1984, Lane found another reason to keep moving toward his goal. Just months after Lane returned from the hospital, his father died in a farm accident that seemed nearly impossible – he was crushed when a round bale fell on him.
It made Lane even more determined to farm.
Now, he had to fulfill a legacy.
* * *
Lane uses a modified full-size van to get around the farm and nearby areas. His neighbors are used to seeing the gray E20 Ford whiz by, headed to the sale barn with a trailer full of cattle in tow.
Some day, Lane would like to get a modified truck, something that’s better suited for farming.
A motorized wheelchair lets him do the feeding, buy parts, order equipment and take care of anything else that needs done.
Lane has spent a lifetime raising cattle – first, his dad’s polled Herefords and later, his own Charolais. Today, his herd consists of 20 purebred Charolais cows and 20 crossbred cows.
Using his arms and upper torso to push and pull, the farmer can cut strings on hay bales and scoop feed without any problem.
Through the years, he’s developed a way to do almost everything around the farm. A pair of binoculars lets him check cows from the driver’s seat of his van. And he has cattle guards and electric gate openers for easy access to the pastures.
Lane doesn’t see how he’s different from any other farmer who went back to work after an injury.
“I don’t have no problems,” he said. “I just can’t walk.”
Lane can pinpoint only one major difference in his farming career since the accident – he can’t operate equipment anymore.
“I never did get used to that,” he said.
Through the heartaches and setbacks, Lane found serenity in something his father taught him. Work hard and make it on your own.
For this farmer, there’s simply no other way.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)