Community helps man pull through

Friday, December 12, 2008
Terie Mobley drives an antique tractor for her family team at a tractor pull. Mobley drives with the advice of her husband Charles, who suffered quadriplegia after a 2001 accident.

CHAPEL HILL -- When Charles Mobley reflects on how well his team placed during the Southern Nationals 2008 Antique Tractor Pull in Tunica, Miss. last weekend, he doesn't count trophies. He's satisfied that from 25-30 "hooks" in a couple of classes, his tractor was among the top half -- finishing at about 12-14th -- during stiff competition between very strong machines.

It's a philosophy on life -- the glass is half full, not half empty -- for this man who, just a few years ago, enjoyed solitary fishing trips, the variety and intermingling of people as he worked one plumbing repair job after another, an hunting deer in the wilds of south central Tennessee counties. Those manly pursuits stem from an independent mind, a strong back, tradesman's talent, and two legs.

So, maybe it's ironic that practically all those pursuits are little more than memories now.

A deer crossed his path while driving on a dry, cold road at about 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2001. He was driving his 1995 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

"I swerved to avoid hitting the deer, over-corrected and just flipped it a couple of times -- rolled the vehicle," Mobley said. "It was in a slight curve ... on Arno Road in Williamson County."

An ambulance from Williamson County Medical Center and a Vanderbilt LifeFlight helicopter got him to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Charles Mobley inspects chains that hold a tractor on a trailer, ensuring they are tightly fastened.

During what recovery was possible from a broken neck, pelvis and related injuries, there was a fundraising benefit at Chapel Hill Elementary School, and he's resumed a growing interest in antique tractors and competition during tractor pulls.

"Before I got hurt, we were getting out of the business of showing horses," Mobley said. "I was looking for a tractor to start pulling, but it got put on hold up until about two years ago."

Charles is a quadriplegic, so he doesn't drive, but he's participating.

"I'm instrumental mentally," he said of his role in a tractor pulling team that includes his wife, Terie, their son, Will, 22, and daughter, Audra, 19.

Terie does most of the tractor driving. Will and Audra drive, too.

"I try to tell them where to put the weights and what area of the track to try to pull on," Charles said. "You can get a bad spot on the track and it will be over before you get started.

"I'd always liked large-scale tractor pulling, but financially, the average person can't afford that," he said.

With antique tractors, "it's less expensive...You don't have the $40,000 engines. It's a whole different ball game with the big ones.

"It's a good family atmosphere with the small farm tractors.

"A lot of them are real farm tractors," Charles continued. "There is a farm stock (class) that comes from the field.

"Antique- and open-class tractors are a little modified," he said of changes allowed on motors and tires. "You can run different tire pressure to get a better bite (on the track, and) some tread designs just won't grab."

Audra says, with quiet understatement and love, that tractor pulls are her husband's passion, and it seems clear that she enjoys controlling something powerful.

Charles agrees: He's not debilitated by his disability. But this family that lives east of the Farmers Co-op at Chapel Hill is well-aware of the help from others, the friendships and interdependence of community.

They drove toward Tunica last weekend to meet up with a convoy that left early to avoid bad weather on the road.

The barbecue supper and auction at the elementary school was significant financially. It was also a reflection of support.

"Insurance did great," Charles said. "They took care of most of my bills and the auction included a lot of friends and amily."

With those factors, the difference between insurance coverage and actual bills, there were no debts from hospitalization, he said.

There have been changes to the house on secluded property. There's a ramp, handicap access throughout and there's the used short bus, bought for the handicap accessibility.

"I already had God," Charles said. "I'm a member of the Church of Christ. I know my Lord and I know he carries me through. I know I don't make it alone.

"It was a difficult change, a total life turn around from being totally active to being inactive."

He suffered a C-6 spinal chord injury and his pelvic bone was broken in five places. Attention to his pelvis delayed neck surgery where there was "complete severance of the spinal chord," Charles explained. "My neck shifted and was separated."

Swelling at the injury, effectively, finished off the wound, ending use of limbs and so many other parts of his body.

"There are some people who had the same injury I had and they had surgery within the first few hours and were capable of carrying on with their life," he said.

"They had me under sedation for 14 days at Vanderbilt," Charles said.

He was transferred to a recovery center where he was discharged in mid April of that year, nearly two and a half months after the crash.

The benefit barbecue was nearly nine years ago.

Last year, daughter Audra graduated from Forrest High School. She's now working in Cool Springs selling ice cream

The Mobleys' son, Will, works for an ambulance service in Nashville and is a volunteer firefighter at the Chapel Hill Fire Department, and he's a medic for the United Cheerleaders Association.

Charles, 52, and Terie, 45, have been married 27 years. They both work for Don Wood Plumbing Co. in Franklin. She provides a wide-variety of secretarial services.

"I price our plumbing stock," Charles said.

He's constantly looking for the best deals for the business. The price of metals and petroleum products, like PVC pipe, are monitored for deals.

They commute to the Franklin business in a van.

Their life is quite different from their individual origins. She was born in California. Cook County, Chicago, is where he's from. She went to Page High School in Williamson County. His high school is in College Grove.

Now, they're a family that counts blessings, travels for hours to compete in a tractor pull, and views the world through a glass that carries a refreshing beverage.