Cecil Harris spent hours trapped beneath a tractor during a 1948 storm, and that’s where he carved a short but sweet will.
SASKATOON – Lawyers call it one of the most unique wills ever written.
On Friday, the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law celebrated the 65th anniversary of a will written by farmer Cecil George Harris of Rosetown, Sask.
Harris scratched out the will as he was dying in 1948, having been trapped for 10 hours beneath a tractor during a heavy storm.
Using a pocketknife, Harris wrote on the tractor’s fender the words: “In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife.”
He died in the hospital that night from his injuries.
A judge ordered that portion of the tractor cut off and it has been displayed under a piece of glass in the Law Library ever since.
Bob Hannay, 80, is the only living survivor of the effort to rescue Harris. He was 15 at the time.
“My part in it was just to drive the tractor up there and pull the implement back so they could get the fellow out,” Hannay said at Friday’s celebration.
“It was real heavy clay, Rosetown clay, heavy heavy rain, dirt roads. So they hooked chains on the car and my dad said ‘don’t stop until you get to the highway.'”
Hannay said he didn’t know until later what Harris had managed to do before he was pulled out from beneath the machine.
“A pretty tough old fellow to write his will on a tractor fender, all wedged up under a tractor,” said Hannay. “Quite brave of him.”
Calgary lawyer Geoff Ellwand said he was so fascinated by the story that he tracked Hannay down last year to interview him for a book.
Ellwand said technically, it’s known as a holograph will, meaning written by hand.
While it wasn’t the first of its kind, he said the fender will has become known across the world.
“This was one which was written under extraordinary circumstances on an extraordinary medium,” said Ellwand. “It was written in a manner, very brief, there was no doubt about his wishes. And so the courts accepted it, without a blink.”
Ellwand called the story an example of prairie practicality.
“Here’s a man, trapped under a tractor for 10 hours, who knows what went through his mind, but at some point he must have said, ‘I might not make it.’ And he decides to write this will, giving everything to his wife, protecting his family.”