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They just wanted to help

Post by News Tribune Staff on Jan. 4, 2008 at 3:47 pm with No Comments »
January 4, 2008 3:47 pm

Want to know how three regular guys decided to help a farmer in rural Lewis County? It happened like this:

Chuck Webster’s business, Sound Mobile Alignment in Tenino, specializes in alignments for tractor-trailers and took a financial hit when the floods forced the State Department of Transportation to close a stretch of Interstate 5. Some of his neighbors’ homes were flooded, but his remained dry.

Webster called a neighbor, Paul McNutt, and the two decided to rent heavy equipment and volunteer their help two days after the freeway reopened. They first tried the FEMA office in Rochester but discovered there wasn’t much tractor work needed. They headed to Adna, Lewis County, parked their cars in the fire department parking lot and drove down the street in the tractor and Bobcat and asked if anyone needed help.

They spent most of the day cleaning up – and there was plenty of work. Some houses were still submerged under 15 feet of water. In other places, where the waters receded, layers of mud and muck 8 feet thick remained. Roads and driveways buckled and crumbled in the floods. Trees and power lines bent under the wind and crashed through buildings and blocked roadways.

Some people were so emotionally shattered by the experience that they didn’t even seem affected by the destruction, Webster said. County officials, though, seemed more than gracious for the help: They would wave them through checkpoints blocking closed roads.

They soon heard of a sheep farmer who lost most of his livestock in the floods. They returned the next weekend, teamed with Paul Wendler, a concrete designer from Olympia, and the three helped clean the sheep farmer’s property.

"We basically did nothing but move mud for days," McNutt said. "Twice we started before the sun was up and finished after the sun set."

The farmer’s tractor was stuck in seat-high mud; the group pulled it out, and they pulled it out and transported it to Tom Erker’s shop in Fife.

That same day, the three met Griffiths, who thought they worked for the government and asked for help with his tractor. Webster explained he was self-employed and didn’t want to speak for Erker, so he told Griffiths he wasn’t sure.

Griffiths, they discovered, had a reputation for helping his friends. When he offered to help mow a neighbor’s fields, he was attacked by bees. He’s deathly allergic to them and managed to inject himself with an antidote, but he was so panicked in the process that he fell off the tractor. His leg was mangled and doctors amputated part of it. A donation jar sits atop a counter at a local gas station.

Griffiths was scheduled to meet a doctor about a prosthetic the day the floods came. He remained in his house as the waters rose. A helicopter crew from the Air National Guard rescued him from his roof.

Webster, McGill and Wendler returned to Griffith’s farm the next week. The entire property was under about four feet of mud.

"You start at the road and with the driveway and just work your way into the property," Webster said. "And then we figure out how we can get them into their house. And then try to clear them an area for stuff coming out the door. You just carve it out, one bucket at a time."

They’ve been back four times to help clean up. Webster estimates they’ve put in about 40 hours of work into Griffith’s farm – not including Erker’s labor on the tractor.

December 2007 floods
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