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Published November 17, 2009, 05:11 AM

A farm rescue milestone

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

YPSILANTI, N.D. — No. 100.

It was never a goal for Dustin and Lucinda Lien to mark any kind of milestone for Farm Rescue.

“It’s not exactly the kind of thing you want to be published for,” admits the gentle-spoken Dustin, whose 30-year-old pelvis and lower body were crushed between a tractor and pickup last August.

But he’s quick to sing the praises of an organization that has helped him stay in the profession he’s loved all of his life.

Lien graduated high school in 1998.

His parents, Nels and Harriet Lien, farmed about four miles east of “Ypsi,” as everyone in the vicinity calls Ypsilanti, N.D.

Dustin was the only son; his two sisters are 10 and 15 years older than he.

Farming was always what Dustin wanted to do.

“Absolutely,” he says.

He went on for other education at his father’s urging, starting to study music education at Jamestown (N.D.) College, but then moving to Emergency Training Associates in Fargo, N.D. On the side, he worked at DMI Industries, building wind towers.

In 2001, his father, Nels, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Dustin came home around Thanksgiving.

“At that point, my dad

needed help to farm,” he says. “I needed an excuse to come home.”

The doctors caught his father’s cancer early, so he recovered well. By this time, Dustin was there to stay.

THE NEW OPPORTUNITY

Initially, when Dustin came home, the Lien farm was about 1,400 acres — wheat, soybeans and corn. His father ran about 100 head of beef cows.

“We had a chance to add quite a few acres in the next few years, and we ended up where we are now — about 2,300 acres.”

In 2005, Dustin met Lucinda Nygard, a preacher with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She was serving parishes in Marion, N.D., about 20 miles southeast,.and Trinity-Griswold. Another pastor set them up on a blind date — dessert and coffee.

“Very Lutheran,” they both say almost in unison.

A week later, they went to dinner.

Seven weeks later, they were engaged. They married July 22, 2006.

Lucinda had grown up on a farm near Edinburg, N.D., so farming seemed normal to her.

On Oct. 1, 2008, she took a “leave of call” from her pastoring. She and Dustin were going to have a baby.

“I wanted to come home,” she says. “It was a rough harvest, with the late corn. On Oct 2, I got in a combine and I didn’t leave much until Dec. 12.”

Dustin acknowledges that, despite the poor harvest conditions, the 2008 cropping season ended up just fine.

“We decided to stop trying to combine corn on Dec. 12,” he says. “We got tired of fighting the cold. Starting diesel engines when it’s 20 degrees isn’t always a great thing. We had about 150 acres that had to be harvested in the spring.”

Still, the corn averaged 130 bushels.

Soybeans went well, about 34 bushels per acre.

Ian Lien was born April 10, 2009.

2009’S VAGARIES

In 2009, the spring was so cold and wet that the Liens decided against planting any corn at all.

“I guess that really makes us look really smart or really lucky,” Lucinda chimes.

Soybean seeding went well into June.

Life changed abruptly July 21 — the day before their third wedding anniversary, when things went haywire. It was about 1:30 p.m. Dustin was servicing a piece of haying equipment on his parents’ farmstead just after dinner.

“I was standing between it and a pickup that was parked parallel to it,” Dustin recalls. “The tractor suddenly went into gear and it came forward. The back tire caught me and rolled me along the pickup, like rolling a pencil between your palms. It rolled me three times along that pickup — totaled the pickup. It left an impression, where I rolled, that was pretty much the depth of me,” he says.

Dustin remains amazed about the damage to the pickup.

Somehow, when he was rolled into the driver’s side rear view mirror, the tractor kept going by, and he fell to the ground, he says.

Lying there, unable to walk, Lien realized a bigger problem was approaching.

The tractor still was running, pulling a mower-conditioner, which was now coming toward him. And his feet didn’t work.

“Luckily, the mower-conditioner hit the back of the pickup,” Dustin says. “But that started pushing the pickup truck forward, again on top of both of my feet. I saw the mower-conditioner coming, too, and I was stuck. I couldn’t get out of the way, and I thought I was done for.”

Suddenly there was a turnaround.

On the other side of the tractor, the other end of the mower-conditioner hit something that it could not move — a fuel tank. The tractor engine killed.

“If it hadn’t hit that fuel tank — well, I don’t know how I could have escaped the next tire,” he says.

A FUEL TANK AND A DOG

Now, Dustin was badly hurt and alone in the farm yard.

“My mom was in the house,” he says. “I had enough adrenaline working so I somehow pulled myself up into the pickup.”

Now, he honked, honked and honked, trying to attract his mother’s attention in the house, about 100 yards away, and behind the truck.

Murphy, his parents’ 7-year-old red heeler cow dog soon came up to investigate.

“I waved at Murphy to go and get Harriet,” he says.

Almost unbelievably, the dog did just that.

“Murphy went up to the house and just stood and barked,” he says. “My mother came out to check on the dog, and — she told me later — she thought she heard a bull bellering. It turned out it was me, trying to call her to get her attention. I was yelling at the top of my lungs.”

Now, Dustin, a paramedic, made a surprising decision.

Instead of immediately calling for an ambulance, he told his mother to get a pickup.

“With help, I pulled myself and she drove me to town,” he says. “We picked up a neighbor along the way. The intelligent choice would have been to call and have them meet us halfway, but my parents’ farm is so remote that I thought that by the time I could explain how to get here we’d be halfway there.”

UNBELIEVABLE PAIN

The pain was unbelievable as the pickup made its way to town.

“I cried myself to town, literally,” Dustin recalls.

He somehow knew that his injuries weren’t life-threatening.

“But I kept thinking, ‘Who’s going to do the spraying?’”

Meanwhile, Lucinda was in Fargo for work. The neighbor in the pickup with the Liens phoned her cell phone, but the call was interrupted.

“All I understood was that Dustin was in a farm accident,” she says. “I called Tyler Lautenschlager, another paramedic — a good friend — and said, ‘Are you at work? Dustin’s been hurt and I need you to go to the ER.’ I knew he’d been spraying in the morning, haying in the afternoon, and I didn’t know anything.”

As she drove, she imagined this might have been a chemical accident. She wanted Tyler to phone her en route if Tyler was being transferred to Fargo and she needed to turn around.

Dustin remembers meeting Tyler at the door to the emergency room at Jamestown Hospital.

“Not only Tyler, but so many of the staff I was familiar with,” he says. “It was wonderful to see their faces.”

After a battery of scans and X-rays over several days. Dustin learned he’d broken his pelvis in three places — twice on the left side and once on the hip socket on his right side. His left knee had three torn ligaments and tendons. There were cracked ribs and a lot of bruises.

Amazingly, his feet were only bruised.

“I don’t know how that happened,” he says.

AUGUST 4 REALITY CHECK

Dustin needn’t have worried about the spraying. Jay Graves, a neighbor, was on his doorstep within 15 minutes of hearing Dustin needed help. The spraying got done.

Meanwhile, Dustin looked ahead to the harvest.

He went to Orthopedic Associates in Fargo. They referred him to a specialist at Innovis Hospital.

“I was determined in my mind that we’d be ready to go again, for harvest. I was probably in denial,” he now admits.

On Aug. 4, that denial stopped.

“The doctor said, ‘Don’t plan on harvest — on farming at all — for four to six months,” Dustin says. “He said, ‘We can get you into your house, on crutches, but if we’re not careful, you’ll be on full bed rest.’ That woke me up in a hurry.”

Dustin was well aware of Farm Rescue, based in Jamestown.

Some friends — particularly neighbor Dale Marks and Farm Rescue board member Wynn Rasmussen, county executive from the Stutsman County (N.D.) Farm Service Agency — urged him to apply for the help, but he had to hurry.

The application deadline was the next day — Aug. 5.

“We filled that application out that night and took it in personally the next morning. Board member Tom Olson called us that night and told us we were on the list. They said they already were booked for the wheat harvest, but that they could come and help with 1,000 acres of soybeans.”

It’s been an odd year, made even odder by the injury.

Normally, the Liens’ soybean harvest starts at the end of September. This year, it didn’t get going until the last week in October.

It was “stalled everywhere else, too,” Lucinda says.

The crews came in Nov. 4 and stayed through Nov. 9. The Liens say being a client has been surreal.

They’ve always known how vital this kind of help might be for someone who needed it, but to be on the receiving end has been hard to take in. They say they’ll still have to scramble to get the rest done, with the help of Lucinda, her father and Dustin’s father. Dustin says the family will get the rest done, but says it would have been very tough to ask neighbors this year and also tough to find custom operators.

“Not only is it costly to have somebody take off your entire crop, but custom harvesters can be hard to get, especially if you don’t normally use them every year,” Dustin says. “The neighbors — Dale Marks and Don and Adam Sperr — helped me get my wheat off. I was glad to have them, but when you look at the situation we’re in right now — we’re so confined and limited for soybean harvest — how do you ask farmers to help when they’re already pressed, themselves? We don’t want to put somebody else behind, asking for help.”

As they head into Thanksgiving, Dustin and Lucinda say they appreciate all of the prayers and words of support from their neighbors and friends.

“We couldn’t be more thankful,” Lucinda says.

And they’re thankful for Farm Rescue.

“It’s amazing to me that you find out that there’s help out there. Farm Rescue (volunteers) are neighbors you have that don’t live next door. People who want to help.”

The couple says it’s come clear to them, too, that if they can help Farm Rescue, or can help a neighbor who is in a fix, they’ll do it.

“There’s a thankfulness you want to keep extending,” Lucinda says.

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