Local farmers electrocuted in farming accident
A tragedy struck in Central Oregon on Nov. 12, 1953. Two local farmers, Thomas Vernon "Vern" Higgins and John "Jack" Zbinden, were moving farm equipment with a hired hand of Zbinden's.
Both Higgins and Zbinden were prominent potato farmers on McKay Creek. They were in the process of moving a hay chopper and a 20-foot heavy metal elevator on the Higgins farm. The hired hand was driving the truck that was hauling the equipment. As the equipment was being moved into the farm yard, the elevator struck three service power lines leading to the farm house from a privately built power line carrying over 12,000 volts.
The entanglement of the elevator with the power line pulled down a power pole. The driver of the truck leaped from the vehicle and stood surrounded by crackling wires and afraid to move. Higgins made an effort to get to the truck to prevent it from burning, and he ran into a hot wire. Zbinden attempted to release Higgins from the wires. He was unsuccessful, and he became badly burned but broke away and ran to the house to call for help.
He returned to the scene and once again attempted to aid his neighbor. He again came in contact with the wires and was further burned and shocked. Finally, some other neighbors managed to release the two men, and they were brought to Prineville by ambulance. Higgins died en route to the hospital, and Zbinden died shortly after arrival at the hospital.
The accident resulted in a power outage. Pacific Power and Light Company sent a crew to the site soon after it was reported. They managed to shut off the electrical current and repair the damage to the line.
It was unfortunate that the two men killed had made contact with the live wires. It would have been best to have moved away from the wires and first made contact with the power company to safely manage the situation. The hired hand was uninjured as he did not move toward the downed lines.
Both Higgins and Zbinden were buried in Juniper Haven Cemetery in Prineville with Higgins buried in the Oddfellows section and Zbinden in the Masonic section.
Zbinden was born in Fort Klamath on Oct. 21, 1914, and Higgins was born Lineville, Iowa, on Feb. 22, 1901.
The tragic deaths were used as an educational moment by the power company to warn the public of the dangers of working around power lines and to avoid remaining in the vicinity of downed wires.
Steve Lent is a local historian and assistant director of the Bowman Museum. He can be reached at: 541-447-3715.