Kathryn Gritton was only 6 years old Nov. 29, 1955, when her father, Jesse Peavey, lost both his legs in a saw mill accident at the Niederhauser Lumber and Construction Mill.
From that point onward, Gritton said, “Everything was pretty focused on Dad’s recovery.”
The family moved from Logan to Salt Lake City so Peavey could more easily get the additional surgeries and treatments he needed. And while the accident was often the topic of conversation, Gritton said, the focus was not on the people involved.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that Gritton began to wonder about Richard Falkner, a man who, according to the few newspaper clippings Gritton had about the accident, helped save Peavey and fellow amputee Virgil Hobbs.
An editorial from The Herald Journal that ran Dec. 1, 1955, briefly mentioned the hero: “We are told that a gentleman from Salt Lake City, Richard Faulkner (sic), who happened to be at the sawmill with Joseph Berger, was probably responsible for saving the two men’s lives. In an effort to stop the profuse bleeding, he used strips of shirts, and women’s clothing as tourniquets, while waiting for the ambulance.”
The misspelling of Falkner’s last name made him difficult to track down, but a few weeks ago, Gritton called a Richard Falkner in Bountiful, and to her surprise, he picked up the phone.
“It surprised the heck out of me,” said 88-year-old Falkner about Gritton’s call, “and she was surprised that I was still alive.”
Falkner said although he frequently inquired about Peavey and Hobbs’ health, he never spoke to them after the accident.
Gritton, who met with Falkner at his home Tuesday night, said “He was never thanked, never known about, and he never found out what happened later. It’s strange that people can share such intimate life-and-death moments and never speak again.”
Falkner’s memory of the accident hasn’t dulled over 57 years. On the day of the event he happened to be in Logan visiting his friend Joseph Berger, who owned Hardware Ranch. They went to the lumber yard to buy some supplies and arrived just seconds after Hobbs and Peavey were thrown into the blades of a saw.
The newspaper clippings from the time indicate the men were using a chainsaw to remove limbs from a large log that was being fed into the sawmill. One of the limbs struck the safety switch, which started the carrier moving toward the saw blades.
“(Peavey) had to watch while his legs were severed,” Gritton said. “When I learned that, it explained a lot of the emotional trauma my father suffered.”
When Berger and Falkner arrived, Falkner said the men in the lumberyard were “running around because they didn’t know what to do.”
Falkner said Berger told him to take off his belt, and the men used their belts and T-shirts to try to stop the bleeding during the 10- to 15-minute wait for the ambulance.
Falkner, who had frequent nightmares about the accident, remembered the men screaming, “My legs are off, my legs are cut off!”
“Blood was everywhere,” Falkner said, “I don’t know how we made it through, but we made it.”
When the ambulance arrived, Falkner and Berger left the scene, and Falkner has rarely spoken of it since.
Hobbs and Peavey, who were 28 and 31, respectively, both had four children and one on the way at the time of the accident. Following the accident, Hobbs had one more child and Peavey had three.
During their meeting Tuesday, Gritton pointed out that if Falkner hadn’t saved the men’s lives, those children, and those children’s children would never have been born.
Ever humble, she said, Falkner insisted it was really Berger who saved them.
When asked if he felt like a hero, Falkner replied solemnly, “No, heck no, never did. I never did feel like no hero, no ma’am.”
Hobbs, who lost his foot and severely injured his other leg in the accident, also moved his family to Salt Lake City shortly after the accident, but later returned to Logan. His widow, Gayle Hobbs, said Virgil was always positive.
“He was just his jolly self and made the best of what he could,” she said. “Our finances weren’t too great, but we found out that wasn’t the most important thing in life.”
Virgil died in 1983 at age 61.
Gritton said life as a double amputee was difficult for her father, but he also used humor to deal with his trials, playing pranks on people with his artificial legs. Peavey died at age 69.
Gritton said meeting Falkner and having the chance to thank him “felt like something was being completed that needed to be done.”
“Saying thank you was insufficient for what he did. It doesn’t cover it at all,” Gritton said. “Some things can’t be described in words, they can only be felt in your heart. Words are just too insufficient, too inadequate to express gratitude for saving a life.”