Near-tragedy cements friendship
More than six decades ago, Otis Haselton and Cal Crow were two teenagers exploring a Quincy Basin canyon when they found themselves faced with a life-or-death situation.
The circumstances of that day — when a rockslide crushed one of the Quincy teens under a flurry of boulders and dirt and forced the other to find the courage to leave his friend behind and run for help — would forever seal their friendship.
“It was a traumatic experience for both of us,” said Crow, now 81 and living in Seattle. “That accident kind of cemented our relationship.”
It was a small piece in the Quincy Valley Post-Register this summer that caused Haselton, now 82 and living in East Wenatchee, to call the newspaper and ask if anyone was interested in “the rest of our story.”
Each week the newspaper prints a photo or a portion of a story from the newspaper’s archives. The feature is called “Looking Back” and is on the opinion pages.
This summer, a story reprinted from June 27, 1952, and titled “Youthful Hiking Companion Earns Rescue Team’s Praise,” got the attention of one of Crow’s classmates, a subscriber to the Post-Register. She then called Crow, who happened to be in Florida at the time. Crow called his old friend to say they had made the local newspaper together once again.
As for Haselton, he wanted people to know he made it out alive, he joked when he later called the newspaper.
The article described the events of June 21, 1952. At that time, Haselton had just graduated from Quincy High School, turning 19 a month before the accident. He was the salutatorian of a class of 18 — the largest class of grads ever at QHS. (Crow’s class would shatter that record a year later with 23 graduates.) Haselton had plans to attend Central Washington College in the fall to study fish biology.
Crow, who was 18, was about to begin his senior year at the high school, which was held where the current Quincy Junior High School is now. (Elementary school children attended classes on the first floor and the older students on the second floor.) Not to be outdone by his pal, he would graduate valedictorian.
Though the boys were friends, they seemed to have little in common. Back then, Crow was a newbie to the area. His family arrived in 1950 and opened a furniture store. Haselton, on the other hand, had roots in Quincy. His grandfather owned a dryland wheat farm about four miles south of Quincy. He moved to the area himself when he was 11 years old, when there were only 317 people living in Quincy, Haselton said.
Crow also knew little about farming or the outdoors. However, he recalled jars around the Haselton home that Otis and his father would fill with rattlesnakes to take to zoos.
“He was really an outdoors, nature kind of guy,” Crow said of his friend.
On that day in 1952, the pair had packed some lunches, jumped in Haselton’s car and headed five or six miles southwest of Quincy to the potholes area for a summer adventure.
“We were out hunting for ducks — with a camera,” Haselton said.
Only a couple of months earlier, irrigation water had come to the Quincy Valley. It was an exciting time, Haselton said. With the arrival of water, the Haselton family farm went from producing 18 bushels of wheat per acre to 60 bushels, he said.
But it’s the newly arrived water that probably had a hand in the accident that day. Haselton figures the water loosened the dirt and rock in the canyon where the boys were hiking in the early afternoon. Haselton recalled calling out to Crow that he was going to climb some rocks.
“And I stepped on the right rock to loosen it and it all came down,” he said.
Watching the rockslide begin, Haselton remembered, he questioned whether he should jump 30 feet to the rocks below or make a run for it, heading parallel to the slide. But it was already too late. The slide quickly knocked him off his feet.
“A big boulder, I swear was the size of a Volkswagen, hit me in the back,” he said.
It would be sometime later when Crow realized how lucky they both were that the friends were not standing near one another when the rockslide occurred.
“If I had been with him, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation today,” Crow said. “Because nobody knew where we were.”
As for Crow, he heard his friend scream and then watched as the hillside moved – with Haselton in the middle of it. He knew immediately his friend was seriously injured; Haselton’s legs, badly broken, were facing the wrong direction, Crow said.
At this friend’s side, Crow didn’t know if he should pull Haselton out from under the rocks. What if Haselton bled to death, he thought. Should he stay at his injured friend’s side or run for help? Would he even be able to lead rescuers back to Haselton?
Crow decided it was best to move the rocks and drag Haselton to level ground. He covered the teen and left the lunches at his side.
“I had no idea when I might be coming back,” Crow said.
Crow raced about three miles back to the car and headed toward town. As he went by the Haselton ranch, he continued on when he saw no one was home. On the road into town, Crow then ran into Haselton’s father. He could only say, “Otis has been hurt bad.”
“Then word spread very quickly throughout the town,” Crow said.
Haselton’s father was a volunteer fireman, so he called others for help. An ambulance was summoned as well as a doctor. At least 10 men, six of whom would carry Haselton up out of the canyon on a stretcher, arrived to help, Crow said.
Today, thinking about all the people from town and the surrounding farms who came to lend a hand that day brought back much emotion for Crow.
“I can still visualize those men coming to help and tear up every time I think about it,” he wrote in an email.
Haselton had been alone for several hours by the time rescuers found him again. (He remembers little of that time except spotting a plane flying over ahead.) Crow recalled a feeling of relief when he and approaching rescuers heard, in the distance, Haselton singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
“He was just singing at the top of his lungs,” Crow said.
When they arrived, they also found orange peels laying around Haselton, a sign that he had been conscious and lucid enough to eat lunch, Crow added.
Both Haselton and Crow talked about Dr. Alpha Baldwin, who went to the scene with the men to care for Haselton, giving him morphine to ease the pain. She climbed down the canyon wearing nylons, sandals and a dress. She later joked to Haselton that she ruined a good pair of shoes that day.
“I said, ‘Put ’em on the bill,'” Haselton laughed.
Later, at the hospital in Soap Lake, Baldwin was the only doctor to argue against amputating Haselton’s left leg, which suffered a compound fracture. His right leg also was broken. While Haselton’s left leg was saved, it would forever be two inches shorter than his right.
“They shook out my pants and all kinds of bone fell out,” Haselton said about reaching the hospital in Soap Lake, the closest hospital to Quincy at that time.
Crow drove with Haselton’s parents behind the ambulance to Soap Lake. However, he wasn’t able to see his friend until two days after the accident. He remembered Haselton sitting in a hospital bed in a body cast, his legs spread apart with a broomstick so he couldn’t move, Crow said.
“That’s the way he was for six months,” Crow said.
“It was tough on him to see me like that,” Haselton said of Crow.
Haselton would not come home until Christmas Eve that year, after spending six months in the hospital. Because of his recovery, he wasn’t able to attend college that fall.
The teens’ story made area papers and even some regional publications. Roberta Huffman, the daughter of the owner of the Quincy Farmers Elevator, took up a collection for Haselton, according to the newspaper. The community would donate $453, which was a lot of money in 1952, said Haselton, who used the money to attend college in fall 1953.
Today, Haselton wears a special shoe on his left foot to compensate for the difference between his legs. When boarding an airplane, he must alert authorities of the steel plates in his legs.
“I get along just fine,” said Haselton, an engineer who retired from the Federal Highway Administration some time ago. “And I’m still alive.”
As for Crow, he went on to have a career in education. He continues to work around the country as a consultant.
After the accident, rescuers told Crow of 600-pound rocks that the teenager had moved when he was unburying his friend in the rockslide. But Crow doesn’t recall those boulders. He also doesn’t like being called a hero.
“That has always bothered me,” he said. “I never felt like a hero. I didn’t do anything heroic other than run and get help.”
Now, more than 60 years later, the friends have a story to reminisce about. They keep in touch through email and see one another on occasion when Crow is passing through the area. For years, Haselton also has sent his childhood friend a birthday card, just to let Crow know he’s thinking of him. And what he did for him.
“I’ll never forget it,” Crow said of that day in June 1952. “It’s imprinted in my mind.”
— By Jill FitzSimmons, firstname.lastname@example.org