Survival At All Costs: Rancher Escapes Hay Baler Tomb

Survival At All Costs: Rancher Escapes Hay Baler Tomb

From, Retrieved June 1, 2022

As fast as silk slides from a pocket, Doug Bichler slipped within inches of eternity. When the North Dakota cattleman was savagely contorted by a hay baler and trapped by the machinery for almost an hour, his survival chances dwindled to the likelihood of snow in summer.

Alone on a farm, with a cell phone maddeningly perched beyond his grasp on a tractor tire, and a pain level threatening to reach insufferable levels, Bichler was wedged in a vise of belts and rollers, his voice alternating between unrequited cries for help and pleas to God.

“I reached a point where I had no options left,” he recalls. “Anything. Anything to get out and back to my wife. I decided I’d pull my arm out.”


Ten miles east of the Missouri River, in the southcentral pocket of North Dakota, Bichler’s Emmons County operation sits in the heart of topographical change, between rugged hills and buttes to the west, and grassland and farmland to the east. Sweeping. Grand. God’s country.

Going into June 2017, Bichler, 37, was in a sweet spot, holding strong to youth while maintaining a successful ranching business—Bichler Simmentals. His wife, Maria, was eight months pregnant with the couple’s firstborn, and life was equal parts excitement and expectation. Top of the mountain.

Until late June.

June 26, a Monday of promise, provided Bichler with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-80s—made-to-order conditions for hay season and the first baling of an alfalfa field.

Bichler was positioned directly in front of a converted toolshed, preparing the baler for its intended use that evening. The toolshed, once the milk house connected to the farm’s old dairy barn, blocked Bichler’s view of his home to the rear. Simply, the 2012-model baler was positioned in a blind spot in relation to Bichler’s home.

Exiting the tractor, dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt, old jeans, and work shoes—Bichler proceeded to pull net wrap from the baler, a standard maintenance job. Polyethylene hay bale wrap sometimes tears, sticks to belts, or attracts itself, ultimately creating a clog requiring manual removal.

From a bird’s-eye view, the only anomaly associated with Bichler’s actions or attire was a pair of work gloves. Almost any other day of summer would have found Bichler barehanded, but on June 26, he chose the superior grip of leather—a significant player in the unfolding turmoil.

As Bichler began baler maintenance, Maria walked over from the house and met her husband with the conversational fare of family and marriage, replaying the day’s movements and forecasting the week’s likelihoods. Dusk approaching and Bichler nearing completion of maintenance, Maria returned to the house to wait for Bichler to join her for supper, but she soon tired—an increasingly frequent pattern as her pregnancy neared delivery.

With Maria out of sight and earshot, and only 15 to 20 minutes from completion of baler work, Bichler, once again, was alone.

Into the Tomb

While Bichler removed net wrap from the innards of the baler, the tractor engine was shut down. He patiently extracted the ribbons and clumps of wrap—save one solitary bit. “There was one piece that had kind of melted to a belt and was stubborn. I figured once the belt kicked back on and spun, it would wear and fall off on its own, which is exactly what happened.”


Doug Bichler's Bulls
Doug Bichler attends to a pen of yearling bulls sold in a Bichler Simmentals production sale in February 2019. Bichler culls heavily for docility. (Photo courtesy of Bichler Simmentals)



Finished with wrap removal, Bichler moved to the next item on the baler checklist—oiling the machine. However, he neglected a major step in the routine—unlocking the door mechanism. “There is a mechanism on the baler to lock the door open, so it can’t shut on you. I had the door-lock on while I was working. When I got done removing net wrap, I forgot to unlock the door-lock mechanism to allow the door to close.”

“I then started the tractor because I wanted to oil all the chains on the baler. That was the last thing on the to-do list. I started the tractor and engaged the PTO because it’s easiest to oil chains as they spin.”

Bichler oiled the chains with the tractor engine running, returned the oil to storage, and then unlocked the door mechanism, preparing to close the baler door, turn off the tractor, and shut down.

Minutes away from the safety of his house, Bichler’s eyes caught movement as the last straggler of wrap—the intransigent clinger—dislodged from the baler belt in a freak convergence of timing. Instinctively reacting to the bait, Bichler’s right hand shot out to grab the falling clump of plastic. Instantly, the 5’10”, 170-pound North Dakota cattleman was sucked into a tomb.

Macabre Tangle

Bichler was hurtled along a ghastly ride by the baler belts. “When I reached for the chunk of net wrap, the leather gloves I was wearing acted just like a grip. To this day, I think if I was barehanded, the belt probably wouldn’t have pulled me in.”


Doug Bichler's Livestock Operation
“If I tell my story and help just one person avoid injury, then that one person is enough,” explains Bichler. (Photo courtesy of Bichler Simmentals)



Wrapped over rollers, a series of belts move in a vertical trajectory within the baler. Bichler was pulled into the motion: “It was too fast to describe,” he says. “I was pulled up and around the baler. How? To this day, I don’t know, but it happened. I went up off the ground and crashed back down, and I passed out.”

Regaining consciousness within seconds, Bichler awoke to find himself in a macabre tangle. Standing at extension on his tiptoes—one shoe on and one shoe ripped off in the initial fray—his right arm was held inside the baler up to bicep level, with his hand in the grip of two moving metal rollers and belts. Further complicating the contortion, Bichler’s shirt was cinched tightly around his neck, creating a garrote effect.

“The shirt had torn off me, but the material had gathered around my neck and was choking me. I managed to get my head out of the shirt, and as soon as I did, the baler sucked it in. Literally, I never saw the shirt again.”

Looking at his arm, Bichler took in the sight of shredded flesh and knew from the get-go: His limb was gone. “I don’t want anyone to ever have to see what I saw.”

Whisper to a Scream

Mind racing, body surging with adrenaline, Bichler took stock of his survival chances.

Maria had gone to the house, and Bichler was out of sight. With the tractor running, Maria would never hear a cry for help. Further, Bichler had no means of cell phone salvation. During bailer maintenance, while shuffling between talking with Maria and answering a text, he placed his phone on a tractor tire. Several feet or a million miles away, the cell phone was a non-factor.


Bichler Simmentals sale and auction
From left: Maria Bichler, auctioneer Tracy Harl, and Doug Bichler at their production sale. The Bichlers hold an annual production sale on their ranch, and sell bulls and bred heifers. The sale is also broadcast on DVAuction for online bidding. (Photo courtesy of Bichler Simmentals)



Counterintuitively, Bichler’s blood loss was minimal. Charged by friction of movement, the belts produced ample heat to cauterize Bichler’s wounds as his flesh tore open. “I couldn’t feel anything except intense tingling like when your hand is asleep. It was as if my mind can’t afford to think about pain.”

Weighing his options, Bichler was aware of the most probable outcome: “Nobody was missing me. I knew I could be trapped all night. I knew I would die.”

Several of Bichler’s dogs walked over at first sight of the commotion, but didn’t raise alarm and lost interest, bedding down within proximity of the toolshed. Cell phone beyond grasp, dogs intermittently glancing curiously at the predicament, and location view cloaked by the barn, Bichler began alternating between screams and prayers. “I had faith I would be alright, but I also had thoughts of finality. I was preparing my mind and praying at the same time. I’d yell for Maria until I got tired, and then I’d pray for a while, and then I’d yell again.”

During his entrapment, Bichler maintained a vigil of prayer—all against the backdrop din of a tractor idling and baler rumbling. It was a maddening wedge, feet from a cell phone and yards from home, yet inches from death.

Almost an hour after first reaching into the machine with a gloved hand, Bichler felt a slight extra pull from the baler belts. “It was like my arm was going in a few degrees deeper. Could I have been pulled in further? I don’t know, but I felt the sensation and didn’t want to find out.”

Bichler reached a point of reckoning—survival at any cost: “I decided to pull my own arm out of the baler.”


Nothing to lose but life. From Bichler’s perspective, his limb was a loss—either by hospital amputation or baler extraction. “I was no longer worried about my arm, but even though the tissue was ripped apart, I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it out.”


Doug Bichler at work on his Dakota ranch
Since the accident, the Bichler’s have made modifications to make ranching tasks simpler, including left-handed throttles on 4-wheelers. Additionally, they have transferred the joystick in the tractor to the left side, installed electric gates, and put in overhead doors in the barn. Many of the changes were funded with help from the ND Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. (Photo courtesy of Bichler Simmentals)



Collecting all his strength, Bichler strained downward with his entire body—come what may. No dice. He reared up and repeated the maneuver a second time, but the baler belt maintained its hold.

Once again, a third go, Bichler lurched away from the baler, thrusting for his life. “I pulled as hard as I possibly could and my arm came out. I have no idea how it came out of that machine, but I was free.”

First Concern

Upon Bichler’s escape, despite a shredded arm with no function, his first concern was for Maria—eight months pregnant. He could not allow her to see the gore. Bichler climbed into the tractor to turn it off, walked to the house, and grabbed a sweatshirt from the car. He then wrapped the arm and entered the house to call an ambulance.

“I went inside, called for my wife, went downstairs, and dialed 911. My mind was racing, but we were in the process of remodeling the house, and I wanted to go to the utility room in case I got blood on the floor. It was the most irrelevant thought process, but my ideas were muddled at the time.”

Answering Bichler’s voice, Maria woke, admittedly groggy, from a nap and walked downstairs, eyeing a drop of blood on the floor. In the immediacy of the moment, she had no reason to connect the blood to trauma. Bloody nose?


Doug Bichler tends to cattle
“I don’t know where this will go as far as my healing. All I know is that I’m so blessed, and if I’m one-handed for life, I’m content,” says Bichler. (Photo courtesy of Bichler Simmentals)



In a calm, tempered tone, arm covered and damage hidden, Bichler offered an explanation. “Maria, I’ve had an accident. I’m going to lose my arm, but I’m going to be OK.”

“Maria looked like I said something nonsensical,” Bichler adds. “I wouldn’t let her see my arm. She tried to look and I just said, ‘It’s gone. It’s all going to be OK.’ I was on the phone with paramedics the moment she came downstairs, and she took over the call. Help was on the way.”

One Person is Enough

Several months after the tumultuous loss of his non-dominant right arm and a grueling physical ordeal, Bichler fought a second battle—a cage match against himself. He was a first-time father in the realm of a no-sleep existence with an agriculture business to run, all while learning the new physical rules of ranch labor for a one-armed cattleman.

“That was the worst time right there,” Bichler describes. “We had a new baby daughter, but I couldn’t contribute and it was hard. I had family and friends all around—an amazing group of people—but reality had set in and I felt defeated.”

Bichler made a conscious decision to avoid the pitfalls of isolation and leaned even harder on supporters. “When you are in a compromised state, sometimes you just need someone to listen, and if it’s not a physical injury, it can be any problem. I’ve now got buddies around me, in North Dakota, across the country—even in Australia—that visit with me and I also check on them.”


Bichler checks a group of registered Simmental cattle: “God spared me that day for a reason and I share this story with a bigger purpose.” (Photo courtesy of Bichler Simmentals)



Five years after the accident, following multiple surgeries, Bichler battles nerve pain that impedes the use of a prosthetic. “I don’t know where this will go as far as my healing. All I know is that I’m so blessed, and if I’m one-handed for life, I’m content.”

“Injuries are part of agriculture because we push so hard and that’s the nature of what we do to make ends meet,” Bichler continues. “We get tired and take shortcuts. If I had just gotten out of the tractor and unlocked the door so it could close, I’d still have my arm. I greased the chains with the baler running because my family has always done it that way and it’s easier, but that is bad reasoning. Turn your equipment off. Don’t make excuses.”

Bichler rests on a certainty: He should have died in the baler. “God spared me that day for a reason and I share this story with a bigger purpose. If I tell my story and help just one person avoid injury, then that one person is enough.”

Source –


Farmer, 51, Who Was Driving A Tractor When He Crushed His 4-Year-Old Nephew, Evades Jail

A farmer who accidentally killed his “loving, caring, kind” four-year-old nephew after falling from a tractor while illegally driving outside the cab has avoided jail. Harry Isaac Lee suffered a catastrophic brain injury when he fell under the wheel of a JCB telescopic handler at Sabden Old Hall Farm in Newchurch-in-Pendle, Lancashire, on 8 July 2019.

He rode on the cab footplate of the tractor driven by his uncle, but stalled when the vehicle turned into a field and was crushed by its wheels. Harry, who lived on the farm with his mother and grandmother, was rushed to the Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital but died despite extensive efforts to resuscitate him.

Brian Nutter, 51, appeared before the Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court Monday after previously pleading guilty to violating Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison, of which 18 months were suspended. Nutter, of Newchurch-in-Pendle, was also ordered to perform 250 hours of unpaid work and pay costs of £5,154.

Prosecutor Peter Hayes told the court that Harry had a passion for farming and had a “very close relationship” uncle. The JCB had only one seat and “nowhere for another passenger to sit inside or outside the cabin.” As a result, Harry stood on the curb and held on as Nutter drove the short distance from the farm to a field.

However, the boy fell off the step and passed under the rear wheel as Nutter made a turn, the court was told.

Nutter carried his cousin back to the farm and an ambulance was called, but it was clear he had suffered fatal injuries.

Harry Isaac Lee (pictured) was crushed to death by a tractor driven by his uncle on a farm in Newchurch-in-Pendle, Lancashire


Harry Isaac Lee (pictured) was crushed to death by a tractor driven by his uncle on a farm in Newchurch-in-Pendle, Lancashire

The court heard that an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that insufficient measures had been taken to ensure the safety of children on the farm. The probe also found that the tractor was not designed to carry passengers, nor did it have a working seat belt, there was no door in the cab, and the step Harry had been standing on had a dent in it – raising the risk of a fall.

The probe also found that the tractor was not designed to carry passengers, nor did it have a working seat belt, there was no door in the cab, and the step Harry had been standing on had a dent in it – raising the risk of a fall.

“He lost a cousin but also a friend in Harry’s father.”

After the sentencing, Harry’s mother Sarah Nutter said the family “will never recover from her son’s death.”

She continued: ‘Losing a child at any age is a traumatic experience, but losing a child in such deeply tragic circumstances is completely life-changing.

“The event of Harry’s death has and will have a lasting effect that I and my family will never get over.

The JCB telehandler driven by Brian Nutter when the fatal incident occurred in July 2019

The JCB telehandler driven by Brian Nutter when the fatal incident occurred in July 2019

‘Agriculture is a lifestyle and a way of life. If we could go back and make different decisions and do things differently, we certainly would. We had to learn it the hard way.

“The dangers to children on farms are often not appreciated when you live with them, but they should be at the forefront of all our thoughts every day.

“I hope the consequences of Harry’s accident will change the attitude of people living on farms and make them think about the dangers their children are exposed to and how easily accidents can be avoided.”

Harry’s father, Martin Lee, added: ‘Harry, even at the age of four so passionate about farming, was my legacy, the person who would take over the farm.

Always smiling, Harry had a love of life that brought joy to everyone around him and he certainly lived his life to the fullest.

“He was a loving, caring, kind and cheerful child, full of affection for his family. It is a tragedy that he was taken from us unnecessarily too soon. His death has traumatized and deeply touched the entire family.”

The current rules, under the Prevention of Accidents with Children in the Agricultural Ordinance 1998, prohibit children under the age of 13 from driving or operating vehicles used for agricultural activities.

It is also forbidden for children to ride on the footplate of an agricultural machine.

HSE Inspector Shellie Bee said: ‘This is a deeply sad and disturbing incident for all concerned. Harry, a four-year-old, was killed in a completely avoidable incident caused by failing to protect him from farm activities.

Harry shouldn’t have been in the workplace or riding farm equipment. Farms may seem exciting places, but they are busy workplaces with moving machinery and vehicles, livestock, chemicals, and many other significant hazards.

“Every year, children are killed and many more are seriously injured as a result of agricultural work. Often the child is a close relative of those who manage and run the farm.

“Harry’s family hopes their story will lead the wider farming community to take steps to fully protect the safety of every child on the farm.”

An investigative jury picked up a narrative conclusion to an investigation into Harry’s death at County Hall in Preston last July.

Source –


Boy riding in field seriously injured when ATV overturns, ejecting him from the vehicle

A 16-year old northwest Missouri boy received serious injuries when the all–terrain vehicle he was operating overturned, ejecting him from the vehicle.

The youth, from Faucett, was taken to Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph.

The crash happened early Sunday on private property five miles south of St. Joseph. The boy was riding the ATV in a harvested cornfield when the operator attempted to make a turn and lost control. The ATV overturned onto the passenger side and came to rest on top of the boy.

The report indicated the youth was not wearing any safety equipment.

The patrol does not release the names of juveniles involved in accidents.

Source – Boy riding in field seriously injured when ATV overturns, ejecting him from the vehicle (


2-year-old, driver in critical condition after crashing into combine in Lafayette County, authorities say

The child was thrown from the vehicle after its driver, Manuel De Jesus Reyes-Avilla, 24, of Darlington, attempted to pass the combine and other vehicles in a no-passing zone along Highway 23 in the town of Willow Springs shortly before 11:30 a.m., Lafayette Sheriff Reg Gill said in a statement.

While trying to pass, the car hit the front tire of the combine as it turned off of the highway, Gill said. The car then flipped several times before landing in a ditch. Reyes-Avilla and the 2-year-old, who both had life-threatening injuries, were first taken to Upland Hills Medical Center in Dodgeville before being flown to UW Hospital.

The driver of the combine, Thomas Pratt, 63, of Dodgeville, was not injured in the crash, Gill said.

Source – 2-year-old, driver in critical condition after crashing into combine in Lafayette County, authorities say | Crime |

Teen hospitalized after three vehicle accident involving tractor

Hankinson, N.D. (Valley News Live) – A 16-year-old from Hankinson is in critical condition at Sanford Hospital after being involved in a three-vehicle accident.

A Honda Odyssey driven by 48-year-old Robert Lee Albrecht was driving north on 167th Ave SE, while the teen was driving a Pontiac Grand Prix on westbound 88th Street SE. 60-year-old Jan Stroehl was tilling a field in a tractor northwest of the intersection next to 167th Ave SE.

Albrecht hit the front bumper of the rear tire on the driver side of the teen’s car inside the intersection. Albrecht’s vehicle entered the ditch of 167th Ave SE and overturned several times before coming to rest on its roof.

The teen’s vehicle entered the north ditch of 88th Street SE and hit the chisel plow of the tractor tilling the field. The vehicle‘s passenger side rear tire hit the chisel plow, which swung the Grand Prix’s front and passenger sides into the plow’s left side.

The juvenile and Albrecht were extricated from their vehicles by Fire and Rescue.

The juvenile suffered serious injuries and was taken by the Breckenridge Ambulance to I-29, where it was intercepted with Sanford AirMed. He was flown to Sanford Hospital where he remains in stable but critical condition.

Albrecht was taken by Hankinson Ambulance to Essentia health where he was treated and released for suspected minor injuries.

Stroehl was not injured in the collision.

The crash is under investigation.

Source – Teen hospitalized after three vehicle accident involving tractor (


UTV Crash Injures Kids

Three children were injured in a UTV crash near Jesup on Saturday afternoon, according to KWWL. The Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office was called to the scene just after noon. They found that the UTV had gone into a ditch where it rolled before landing right side up. Two passengers, a 12 year old and a nine year old, were taken to the hospital with what were described as non life threatening injuries. The 13 year old driver sustained minor injuries but did not need further treatment. Nobody was wearing a seat belt.

Source – UTV Crash Injures Kids | Y99.3 | The Cedar Valley’s #1 Hit Music Station | Waterloo/Cedar Falls, IA (