August 14, 2013

Ken Lord: 'You do the best you can'


---- — COOPERSVILLE — The belt was loose on the sawdust blower for Ken Lord’s saw, close to sliding off.

He leaned over the log that sat on the carriage, his feet a little off the ground, to check it out. But one leg hit the lever, the carriage moved forward, and the spinning saw was aimed right at the Coopersville man’s neck.

“I threw myself over the top,” said Ken, who’s 90 now. “But I had a wool jacket on.”

It caught in the saw guide, and in the space of just a second or two, Ken lost his right arm.

Matter of factly, he said, “if the blade had been turning, I would have been dead.”

Instead, he got on his feet, told his wife, Gloria, to take off her flannel shirt, wrap it around what remained of his arm and make a tourniquet.

“I kept a level head,” he said. “Gloria, she was pretty well upset.”

But she drove him to the hospital in Plattsburgh as he held a stick of wood twisted in the fabric.

“I got out of the car and walked in the emergency entrance,” Ken said.


Then he got on with his life.

Ken never wore a prosthetic arm; instead, he found ways to adapt.

“You learn pretty fast what you can and can’t do,” he said.

The sawmill business was no longer possible, not that he didn’t try.

“It was too hard to turn the logs,” he said. “I was right-handed.”

Instead, he took a job driving truck on a milk route, but he couldn’t renew his license when the time came because of his missing arm.

He kept driving his pickup truck, though, after moving the shift lever to the left, a simple solution.

“Didn’t have to change anything else.”

Ken was an active member of the American Legion; he ran the bar for three years for Post 912 in Rouses Point.

“Then I came down with hepatitis,” he said. “I ended up in the veterans hospital in Tupper Lake for close to a year. 

“Took me quite a while after to get my strength back.”


But he got on with life again.

Ken built a camp down the road on the Great Chazy River, where he noticed a man there who rented boats wasn’t all that civil with his customers.

“He used to yell at them.”

Ken took out a loan.

“Six boats and six motors, and I was in business,” he said. “The old Italian guy wasn’t very happy about that — it didn’t take long for me to get most of his customers.”

Lord’s Marina expanded to include a store selling boats and snowmobiles.

When 273 feet of river frontage wasn’t enough, Ken rented more.

“The boat dock was pretty much Canadians then,” he said.


Ken got into the sawmill business after a stint in the U.S. Army that began just as World War II was wrapping up.

He didn’t see any action; just the results of it. Stationed in Germany, a mechanic in the motor pool, he got to know Darmstat.

“A city of 90,000 people,” he said, “and 90 percent of it was demolished. You’d look down the street and think the houses were (fine), but they were all gutted.”

A scrapbook filled with black-and-white images held in place by paper corners includes many from Germany — Ken posing with friends, with young women he met there.

Many earlier pages hold photos of his childhood — his parents, Wilbur and Florence, his brothers, George and Gordon.

George was 7 when he died of pneumonia, a sad time in the Lord household.

The family dog, Towser, features in some images. The boys created some fun by hitching the pup to a wagon or sled.

“Sometimes, the dog would see a cat and go run off, pitch me off the sled,” Ken said, chuckling. “I’d have to walk home.”


There are no pictures of the one-room school that served Champlain School District 9, but Ken’s memory holds sharp images of the small white building, the wood stove in the center of the floor and rows of desks and even where the pupils sat.

“Starting from the north,” he remembered, “you had Gerald Ashline, Dorothy Ashline ...”

His class, he said, sat on the south side.

Lily Fosher was a good teacher, Ken recalled.

“I didn’t have any trouble” with lessons.

Ken rode a horse named Prince to school, would dismount and “he would go home by himself.

“I don’t think today you’d see a 7-year-old ride horseback a mile away from home,” he said.

Ken attended only first and second grades at the little schoolhouse, as it was closed in 1931 when all the Champlain districts consolidated.


Ken and Gloria wed in 1947 at St. Patrick’s Church rectory in Rouses Point. She was a Catholic, and he was Presbyterian, but otherwise they were kindred spirits.

A framed photo on the wall shows the couple with their prizes after a hunting trip; they both hold guns, and she wears saddle shoes.

“She got the deer, and I got the bear,” said Ken, who wears his wedding band on his left hand. “She could shoot straighter than I could.

“She could do anything, from pitching cow manure to banking.”

Gloria, who died of cancer in 2003, worked for a dry cleaners in Rouses Point then another in Champlain. For many years, she was employed at Keeseville National Bank in Chazy.

The Lords had no children.


The couple wintered in Florida for some 15 years, and that’s where Ken took up woodworking in about 1987.

He used a vise to compensate for his lost arm.

“You invent ways to do things,” he said.

With patterns he’d ordered from a catalog, he crafted numerous whirly-gigs that adorned his Coopersville lawn every summer.

Inside, his work includes a beagle tracking a scent on a bookcase, a gray-and-white cat with kittens, shelves holding bird ornaments and other knickknacks.

On the railing of the ramp leading to his front door are a pig, dog, cat and blue jay; a flamingo resides in a hedge and an angry rooster perches atop a quaint red and white well house by the driveway.


Ken still feels his missing arm, especially the hand, though the phantom pain isn’t quite as bad as it used to get.

He broke his left leg in 2006; his left shoulder is worn out, so he retired his woodworking tools.

But, he said, “I do exercises every day.”

And he does his own cooking. 

Leg pain makes it hard to get around now, Ken said.

“But you learn to make the best of things.”

He chuckled, talking about the kitten he adopted late last year.

Socks has a way of getting the closet door open so she can nap in a cozy corner.

And when Ken’s watching television — he likes the old westerns best — she curls up on him, enjoying TV time, too.

Ken smiled. “She’s quitea cat.”

SCHOOLHOUSE EVENT Some of Ken Lord's colorful whirly-gigs will be featured in an exhibit at the one-room school he attended as a child this Sunday. The open house at the Coopersville Schoolhouse of History, established in the old Champlain District No. 9 building now at the end of the Bechard Road in Coopersville, is set for noon to 4 p.m. Lord, along with other former students Edward Bechard and Addie Ashline Barnes, will attend, and other exhibits include images of past teachers, pupils and authentic items, including some desks and ink bottles. Postcards with pictures of the school as it was in the early part of the 20th century will be sold. The event is free but donations accepted to continue renovations of the building, which was donated by Celine Paquette and moved by Edward Bechard to its new location on land he gave. Bechard also completed significant improvements to the schoolhouse, which he hopes to give to the Town of Champlain. To learn more, call 570-2052.