“I’ll always probably remember that day,” said Ron Hawes.

Hawes, 61, is known in Union as the owner of the Union Agway, as a longtime firefighter and town volunteer, and for his many years of service as the moderator at Union town meetings.

He is the eighth in a direct line of farmers who have worked the same farm for the past 231 years in Union.

And he was working the farm when that fateful day came, Aug. 18, 2009.

Hawes and his two adult sons grow a hay crop and raise cattle on the 270-acre family farm. Heavy rains last summer had put the hay behind schedule, and Hawes was working against time that August afternoon to get his hay in.

He had been working with a big, 95-horsepower tractor hauling a baler. A minor mechanical problem with the baler forced him to park the tractor on a slight incline so he could fix the machine.

“I heard a snap,” he said. “The parking break had let go.”

Hawes was on the right side of the tractor and the steps to climb onto it were on the left side. As the tractor began to roll down the hill, Hawes raced around the front of it and headed for the steps, planning to jump on and get the vehicle stopped.

“I had one last fleeting thought that said, ‘Don’t do this,'” he said.

Although he acknowledged that the act ignored all common sense and safety procedures, he said it was one of those things that farmers sometimes do and say later, “I really shouldn’t have done that.” On other days over the years, he and others had been lucky.

As he reached for what he called the grab bar on the rolling tractor, his foot missed the step and he went down. He said he has no memory of the next few moments.

The next thing he remembers is coming to and finding himself lying on the ground. As he sat up, he noticed first that his arm hurt. Then he looked down and saw that his right knee was facing off toward his left thigh, and that his right leg had bent in a place where it shouldn’t have been able to.

“I said, ‘That’s not good,'” Hawes said. “Then the pain started.”

He told the hired hand he was working with to call for help.

Even though Hawes doesn’t remember the actual moment of impact, he said he must have had some consciousness, because he twisted most of his body out of the path of the tractor and baler. Only his right leg was run over by the tractor’s big wheel, but it was enough weight to snap his femur. He had also hung onto the tractor long enough to pull his shoulder out of joint.

Hawes said he was in considerable pain while waiting 15 to 20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. When it got there, he was thankful to receive some morphine.

“It has its place in this world,” he said of the painkiller, and laughed.

The last thing he told his two sons as he was loaded into the ambulance was, “I’m going to be all right; get the hay in!”

Hawes went first to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport and then to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. There he underwent surgery and had a long metal rod inserted into his femur that will be with him for the rest of his life.

During the first four or five days of his rehabilitation in the hospital, Hawes said, he was angry with himself for doing what he called such a stupid thing.

“On the fourth or fifth day, I had a revelation,” he said. “‘You know what, stop being angry with yourself and start feeling lucky to be alive.'”

He said that after that moment, he started to come out of the shadow of the experience. He said he believes a positive attitude speeds one’s recovery in such a situation.

Hawes was in the hospital for six days and in the nursing home at Quarry Hill in Camden recovering for four additional days.

Throughout that part of the experience, he said, all of the people who worked at the hospital and Quarry Hill were very skilled and very caring.

“But you know, there’s no place like home,” he added.

On the day he was released to return home, he decided not to go right home and rest. Instead, he went to the Union Fair in his wheelchair.

“I have not missed one in 60 years,” he said.

He said he made his way that Friday night around the fairgrounds. There he was greeted with surprise by many well-wishers.

Both Hawes and his family members pushed him in those weeks after the accident to work toward new goals in his recovery. He soon went from a wheelchair to a walker.

He used the walker to walk his daughter down the aisle 20 days after his accident.

“That took a little doing,” he said.

Later, he walked for a while with his grandfather’s cane. Now he walks without aid. He keeps the cane in his office at Union Agway as a reminder of what he has come through. He has a tractor part, the part that let go that day, taped to the cane.

“I decided to learn from this,” he said. “I’ve learned I’m not 25 years old anymore. I can’t chase down tractors.”

He said he agreed to be interviewed for this story with the hope that someone might read it and decide not to do something that could get them injured or killed.

Hawes said he feels fortunate, and he is carrying on his family’s tradition in the town, and passing it on to the next generation. His sons Jon and Matthias had at one point been interested in other things, but they are now working on the farm.

“Tradition is very strong in my family,” Hawes said. “We respect it. It’s not something we take for granted or lightly.”

He said he can see now with his own sons the gradual change in leadership that he saw before with his grandfather and father and then with his father and himself.

“Dad still tells them what to do,” Hawes said, talking about himself and his sons. “You don’t easily give that control up. I didn’t understand that 30 years ago when I was thinking, let me make some decisions.”

His family has seen the business change over the years. At one point, the farm had as many as 100 cows. Hawes said working on a dairy farm meant working long hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

He said it was difficult as he watched his friends beginning to enjoy time off. He was also running a store at the same time, which compounded the situation. He has owned the Agway store for 25 years.

The farm operation scaled back around 1996, and it now has about 40 cows. Hawes describes it as a small operation.

He said the farm probably saw the greatest change during his grandfather’s lifetime when the introduction of tractors and technology transformed farms into major commercial operations. Before that, farmers did much more of the work by hand.

“I don’t know how they did it,” he said. “I have great respect for the small dairy farmer.”

Both the farm and the store are continuing to change. Matthias, who studied horticulture at Vermont Technical College, has brought his expertise to the family farm. Plants grown in greenhouses on the farm are now sold in the store.

In addition, the store itself, which started as a farm cooperative, has changed over the years to specialize in lawn and garden, pet, and some farm supplies. The change came as many of the commercial farms in Maine went out of business. Now, with a new emphasis on green living and home-grown food, Hawes is seeing the demand for backyard garden supplies increase.

Service to the community is another long-held family tradition. Hawes has served in the fire department and on the Union Board of Selectmen, some of that time as chairman. He said he likes the role of moderator.

“It keeps my mouth shut,” he said.

His wife, Irene, has served as a longtime teacher at Union Elementary school.

“I tease her about it,” he said. “She’s worked 30 years and never got out of the third grade.”

The small town has given back to Hawes and his family as well.

He learned in the hospital that on the day of his accident, the news spread, and people showed up to help his sons get the hay in on the farm. The farm was taken care of in his absence.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “It makes you want to pay it back to the next person.”

People Around Us is a regular feature on VillageSoup and in The Herald Gazette that highlights the stories of friends and neighbors in the community. Anyone who knows someone in the community who has an interesting story to tell is asked to please contact Daniel Dunkle at 594-4401, ext. 269 or by e-mail at ddunkle@villagesoup.com. Please mark the e-mail subject line “Attention Dan Dunkle” to make it stand out.