There's strength in a small community.

By Kimberly Holland
May 29, 2019
Grain Bin Rescue
Credit: Courtesy Franklin County EMA & Rescue

Jackie Loyd, a 76-year-old farmer from Stevenson, Alabama, was trapped up to his waist in a grain bin filled with corn for almost an hour before his older brother, 79-year-old George Loyd, heard a faint voice over the rumbles of nearby equipment and vehicles. That George, of all people, was the one to hear his brother's pleas for help is, in a word, miraculous.

"I can't hear nothing," he says.

"I was in the truck, loading it. I pulled up, and I thought, ‘Man, I heard somebody.' But I didn't hear it again," says George, who agrees when his wife Anne calls him hard of hearing. "Then I backed up, and I thought I heard somebody again. The truck was running, tractor was running, elevators were running, so I shut them down. Then I heard him say, ‘Help, I'm trapped.' George, who turns 80 in August, leapt up the narrow ladder affixed to the side of the grain bin. He peered over the top and discovered his younger brother stuck in the corn.

Jackie had been cleaning the inside of the storage container when the scoop he was using got away from him. Fearful the oversized shovel would clog the funnel system that moves the corn out of the bin, he went to grab it. When he did, the corn gave way, and he began to sink. "As long as the grain was going out through the auger while they were loading it, [the corn] wasn't gaining on me. I didn't get excited. I thought I'd be alright as long as it kept going," Jackie says. "But then they cut it off."

With the corn still pouring into the bin, George tried to grab his brother out of the corn, a task the two would soon realize was impossible. "I had him around under his arms, holding him, trying to pull him back on my knees," George says. "I thought we won't go any deeper, and I don't think we did, but the corn kept coming in." The corn was soon over Jackie's neck and surrounding his face. "When it got completely over me, when it got dark, I thought that was it," he says. He and George compare the weight and pressure of the grain on the body to quicksand or concrete. When you move in it, you sink more.

Employees of the Loyd brothers' farm, which sits just a few miles south from the Tennessee state line and far from any cell phone reception, immediately called local rescue. The fire department responded, but because a grain bin rescue isn't an everyday occurrence, they had to call in back-up from neighboring agencies with specialized equipment. Federal, state, county, city, and even volunteer rescue workers showed up. Employees of a nearby mine even brought in heavy equipment to move the corn that was drained from the bin as rescuers tried to save the two brothers.

One worker became stuck as he tried to shovel corn away from the younger brother. What's more, in the intense late May sun, with temperatures topping 90 degrees, some of those rescue workers had to be treated themselves.

Scottsboro Fire Department, a city about 30 miles to the south of the Loyd brothers' farm, had purchased specialized equipment and trained with it two weeks prior to the incident. That the crew from their neighboring town had only just received the gear that eventually saved Jackie's life is not lost on the brothers. "Three years ago, you didn't hear of this. They didn't have it," Jackie says. "You can't believe how tight that grain gets. If it gets over your hips, it'll pull you in two before you get out."

"There aren't many people who come through a grain accident," George adds. "All you could see of him was his eyes." Both brothers were eventually sent to a hospital in Chattanooga, George by car and Jackie by helicopter. There, doctors ran a battery of tests. George stayed two nights. Jackie was released but had to return to the hospital two days later for an evening of observation and treatment. "That grain, it combines on you after you've been in there so long, it makes your muscles start breaking down. It overloads your kidneys, and you've got to go get these IVs," George says. Both are home now, under the watchful eye of wives, children, and neighbors.

The community rallies to clean up

Grain Bin cleanup
Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Timberlake Poole

Stevenson isn't a particularly big town. The most recent census counts just over 2,000 people in its population. Most are spread far and wide, among valleys and hollows, in old homesteads and farmhouses. But what the community lacks in size, they make up for in spirit and comradery, which the accident at the Loyd brother's farm makes very clear. Two days after the accident, four thousand bushels of corn lay on the ground after rescue workers drained it from the grain bin. Both of the Loyds were still recovering, in and out of the hospital, so Josh Harding, principal of North Jackson High School in Stevenson organized a group of student athletes and volunteers to help clean it up and save as much corn as possible.

"It's really a testament to the impact that the Loyds have had and continue to have on our school and community," Harding says. "They are great supporters of North Jackson High School and have been since the doors opened in 1988." Harding called brand-new football coach Chandler Tygard and told him what had happened and the plan he had to help. Tygard and baseball coach Cole Porter sent out text messages to their teams. Any and all who were able should meet them the next morning to lend a hand, the messages said. "They had no idea what they were about to do, and honestly, it didn't matter," Harding says. "They showed up, ready to get after it."

Both teams, as well as some parents and neighbors, joined together to scoop, shovel, and tote as much of the corn as they possibly could. In about four and a half hours, the makeshift farm workers had cleaned up almost every speck of corn. One of those students, 16-year-old Johnny Gilliam said he and teammates were responding to a neighbor as they were raised to do.

"Our coach provides us a lot of chances to help like this. That's how we were raised around here. You help when a neighbor's in need of help," Gilliam says. Tygard points out that sports is one of the threads that pulls a community together, and he wants the athletes to have a sense of pride in their home and the work they do. "I really believe that a football program is the front porch to a school and a small-town community," Tygard says. "If one of your own is in need, our football team will be more than happy to assist."

"We talk to our kids often about being high character students on and off the playing field, and this was a great opportunity for them to showcase that they have bought in," Harding says. "I am proud of them."

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No signs of slowing down for the Loyd brothers

George and Jackie's parents started the farm the brothers work today in the 1940s. The brothers have been running things since the 1960s. A near-tragic accident in a grain bin may temporarily slow them down—Jackie still has bruising and muscle spasms a week after the incident—but it's not stopping them. "We have 2100 acres of row crops this year," Jackie says, laughing when asked if he has thought about retirement. That's a no. But both George and Jackie, along with their wives, feel an immense sense of gratitude for the rescue workers, as well as the people who helped salvage the corn. That, if nothing else, is what they say they take away from these events. "Until something like this happens, you can't believe how many good people are still out there and how many people will pitch in and do everything," George says. "They'll come right in there, in danger, and get right with you."