Paraplegic not held back by tractor mishap

Published: October 7, 2004
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CAT SPRING – Lloyd Klaus is a talented woodworker, with beautiful steamer trunks and lazy Susans his specialties.

Once a commercial sawmill operator, he has scaled down his sawmill duties to simply providing for a personal woodworking supply; breaking away from time to time to assist a friend or neighbor.

Then there’s cattle ranching. He and wife Nila handle essentially all day-to-day matters related to running a 50-head cow-calf operation.

The couple’s 124-acre homeplace, acquired in the early 1970s, further witnesses this 1963 Sam Houston State agriculture major winning out over physical problems to grow grapes and blackberries.

Thus a hint to another Klaus interest: Winemaking.

Also, this soon-turning-age-64 gentleman – in his “spare time” – is restoring an antique tractor and has plans to bring back to life a century-old sugar cane press. This prized piece is a Tiger #4 patented by L.M. Rumsey & Co., St. Louis, Mo. on Nov. 20, 1881.

If these myriad interests keeping him busy from dawn to past dark soun overwhelming to most healthy folks, then further consider that Lloyd Klaus is a Paraplegic, paralyzed since a horrific 1987 tractor accident.

Looking back 17 years to that 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2 event, Klaus said he’s simply fortunate to be alive – and blessed to be alive and able to woodwork, cattle ranch, grow grapes and make wine, and be around as Nila’s husband for a not that far away 35th anniversary.

Reason to feel fortunate? Three tractor mishaps similar to Lloyd’s near-death experience were fatal in all three of the other cases. In Klaus’ case, a big hay bale struck him in the back and pinned him between a huge bale and the tractor’s steering wheel.

“The T-12 (Vertebrae) just exploded,” Klaus said, noting that the spinal column was broken in two – yet his spinal cord wasn’t cut. However, a bone chip penetrated the spinal cord and diminished it to 10 percent of normal function.

“It messed up the signals to my brain,” he said.

Initial surgery was done shortly after reaching Houston’s Hermann Hospital by Life Flight helicopter. Ten days later, a second surgery attempted the repair of the spinal cord injury – but that surgery didn’t restore things.

“Doctors have told me that 15 years later my two surgeries could have been combined and given me (substantial) use of my legs,” said Klaus.

On the other hand, Klaus pointed out no one else who had the same type of accident survived, so “I’ll take what I’ve got Š” which translates to being grateful for life with some limitations.

With step-by-step planning, Klaus has significantly cut back the things he can’t handle as a wheelchair-bound person.

Klaus is able to drive his pickup utilizing tailored “hand controls.”

Also, he can transfer from wheelchair to four-wheeler to a special chair lift that enables him to operate a big 1993 Case International 5140 tractor.

From his sturdy four-wheeler, he can still operate his versatile, large-diameter sawmill – one which he bought in East Texas in 1975, and utilized as a primary profession for a dozen years prior to the accident.

“I supplied high quality wood for Blinn College and Brenham schools’ (and many other) wood shops,” he said. “The best woods my competitors offered was the kind of stuff I’d throw away.”

Life had begun rather tamely for Klaus.

He grew up on a farm between Shelby and Round Top and finished Round Top-Carmine High in 1959; then Blinn College in 1961, and, finally, his degree from Sam Houston State in agriculture in 1963.

His first marriage brought daughter, Beverly, 42; and son, Roy Allen, 40, including being given primary custody by the judge in that divorce.

As a single father in 1969, Klaus was busy promoting a line of ag feeds with possible customers at a community dance in Milheim when the fact a young woman had turned down several offers to dance caught his attention.

Never one to be shy, he decided to try his hand – and this attractive young women said “yes.”

Less than six months later, this girl named Nila said “yes” to the far more meaningful “marriage question” and they were wed July 5, 1970.

Quite a few important things took place in the next few years.

First, Lloyd and Nila Klaus bought their current place (1971) and moved a small residence to the property that was “home” for several years.

Then Klaus used his new sawmill to cut lumber for their current home place, finished in 1976 ahead of the accident.

Lloyd and Nila’s marriage was blessed with a son, Ryan, 1976. He is now 28 and a successful Gallo wine salesman living in San Antonio.

They are equally as close to Lloyd’s older children. Roy Allen is a cabinet maker based outside Spring. And the oldest, Beverly Miles, also of Spring, has brought up two children.

At a recent Sunday family gathering, those “kids” – Michael Miles, 20; and Kimbra Anne Miles, 16 – were the special honorees.

Michael, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, had just returned safely from duty in Afghanistan; a huge reason for a family celebration.

And Kimbra Anne cut a special birthday cake – one with 16 candles.

Plus these days all is certainly right with the world when Roy Allen or Ryan, or both, come by to help “Dad” plan and implement some special touches on a soon-to-be-completed new woodworking shop.

And while Lloyd finds “pre-planning” the key to being able to do almost everything he could before losing the use of his legs, he has always been a person who thinks ahead and is willing to try new things.

For instance, even when building his home in 1985-86, Klaus built the third bedroom as a basement tornado shelter and utilized super-efficient geothermal air-conditioning.

And the dark wood front-door that he crafted for the home’s entry way is 40-inches wide – ample room for wheelchair access.

Finished a year before his accident, Lloyd Klaus mused, “Maybe I had some kind of premonition about this.”

According to Lloyd Klaus’ way of figuring, “What you’re able to do really depends on how bad you want to do it.”

By BUD CHAMBERS/Staff Reporter