into the woods
One Ozark logger doesn't let
slow him down
| Josh Woodcock sits in his new Timberjack 430B loader. A quadraplegic as
a result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident, Josh delimbs
and loads trees into the family’s
logging truck for eight to nine hours a day.
Logging is a dangerous
profession that requires strength, stamina and coordination. Imagine
performing the job without the use of fingers or legs.
doesn’t have to imagine; the 21-year-old quadraplegic
runs the loader for a five-man logging crew based in Summersville.
Five days a week, Josh gets up before sunrise, maneuvers his wheelchair
to his 2002 Chevy Silverado and heads to work for the family business.
Two years after a
life-threatening spinal cord injury, Josh works a full-time job. “I
definitely wasn’t going to sit around
the house and do nothing all day,” he says. “I’d
go crazy if I did that.”
Josh still talks
about the maintenance work he did on the family’s logging
equipment, and his bedroom wall sports antlers from trophy bucks he shot
with a rifle. A one-car accident ended those activities, but
it didn’t crush
his spirit. Family and friends note Josh’s determination, and his
job marks his achievement in a long road to recovery.
On the way to Bible
school on Jan. 23, 2004, Josh crashed the family’s
1992 BMW outside of Mansfield. He was ejected 20 to 30 feet from the
vehicle. Within minutes, a registered nurse found him with his eyes
rolled back in his head and his jaws clenched shut. Josh was breathing
only four times per minute, so the nurse used a Buck knife and the
tube from a ball point pen to clear his airway and keep him alive.
The crude emergency procedure worked until paramedics arrived.
a work site outside of Licking, Josh uses the loader’s
mechanical arm to pick up a log. Most of the Woodcock family’s
logging business comes from cutting pine trees for lumber and
spent eight weeks at St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield
recovering from his injuries. He had broken his neck at the fifth
vertebrae from the top of his spine. His arms and wrists had only
limited movement. Circulation and support problems also kept him
on his back. He couldn’t
sit up for more than 10 seconds without passing out, and leaning
in any direction would cause him to fall over.
His condition wasn’t
much better when he returned home. Jerry Woodcock, Josh’s
father, remembers that time well. “He was 97 percent dependent
on the family,” he says.
For the next 10 months,
Josh underwent rehabilitation in Lebanon. The going was tough at first.
He had full control of his biceps, but he was so weak he could only
curl the weight equivalent to eight paper clips. Therapists worked
on other muscles, which were stiff with disuse. “It just about
killed me; it hurt so bad,” Josh says. “It felt like
they were tearing me apart.”
|Josh drives himself to the jobsite each morning in a specially
adapted pickup truck.
The routine of stretching
seemed endless, but the therapists’ words of
encouragement helped Josh along. “They’d say, ‘That’s
good therapy,’” he recalls. “Everything I did
was good therapy because I couldn’t do anything for a couple
Little by little,
Josh’s strength and coordination
improved. Near the end of his rehab, he was nearly yanking
therapists off their feet, Jerry says.
Now Josh eats, answers
the phone and pushes himself around in his wheelchair without help.
He and his family say his progress is one of God’s miracles — one
of many since the crash.
But something was
still missing, and it had been on Josh’s mind since
his accident. He wanted to go back to work. It was impossible
when therapy took up all his time, so Josh watched and learned until
he felt he could do all the exercises at home. One year after his
accident, he quit rehab to return to his family’s logging crew
in the Ozarks woods.
Woodcocks used a little “redneck engineering” to
modify their loader to accommodate Josh’s needs.
another guy out there, and I knew I could do it,” Josh
says. “I didn’t want to be inside all my life.
I wanted to be back out working with my brothers.”
dad needed little convincing. “I said, ‘I
don't know how it will work, but we’re going to
give it a shot,’” Jerry
The Woodcocks, who
primarily log pine trees for lumber and utility poles, have a truck
and three pieces of logging equipment. Their loader, which picks
up and moves logs, stays in one place and requires
an operator who can sit for long periods. Josh knew where
he was going right away.
But finding his place
on the crew was the easy part. Most loaders are controlled with hands
and feet. That wasn’t an option for Josh, so the Woodcocks
modified the machine.
|Josh and his brother Joe share a laugh as they try to figure out
a problem with the loader.
Using Plexiglas from
the loader’s windows, Super Glue and a little “redneck
engineering,” the family adapted the loader
to meet Josh’s needs.
Joysticks with support pegs and a couple of --hand-made
switches allow him to control the equipment with
his arms and hands.
Josh still remembers
his first load back on the job. Stacking logs on the crew’s
truck took him 45 minutes. “My brothers
were so happy for me,” he
says. “They wouldn’t tell me I
was slow.” Now he can move
a 30-ton load in 10 to 15 minutes — an
average time for most loader operators. His
fastest time, Josh states, was 30 tons in four
minutes and 50 seconds. Regardless of speed,
many disabled loggers like Josh out in the
woods. Joe Long, a forester for Current River
Pole Company in Licking,
oversees the Woodcocks and eight to nine other independent contractors
in the area. “I’d say it’s quite rare,” he
But Josh doesn’t
see himself as exceptional. “Some
people say they think it’s really impressive to be back at
work and everything, and yeah, it is,” Josh says. “But
impressed that I have support. I actually don’t take any credit
gets some help from his brother Jeremy as he lowers
into his wheelchair after work. The winch system the Woodcocks
installed helps Josh get in and out of the family’s loader.
That support has
shown itself in many ways. After the accident, Josh’s
parents and five siblings moved into
St. Johns for 25 consecutive days. Five of them didn’t go home
Jerry remembers Josh
being worried he was a burden to the family. Jerry told him he was
forbidden to say that word again. “I said, ‘Don’t
you cuss like that again,’” Jerry
recalls. “We’ve had
an understanding since then.”
also had more than 800 visitors while
at the hospital, which included friends,
family and members of the Summersville
Boosted by those
around him, Josh refuses to let his disability get him down. After
all, he says, paralysis doesn’t end a person’s
“If I can glorify
God through making the best use of what he’s given
me, and help somebody else in that,
that’s my goal,” he says.
From his perch in
the loader, Josh seems to be making that goal a reality.