Witnessing more than just an eclipse

In 1979, McMinnville was in the path of totality of another solar eclipse — one that reached land on the Oregon Coast and passed through McMinnville and Portland before moving into Canada. 

Tim McDaniel saw more than the eclipse that Feb. 26.

“I was in God’s hands,” he said. “That’s a good place to be.”

McDaniel, then 29, was working at his family’s business, McDaniel Seed and Fertilizer, in McMinnville’s Granary District. As the eclipse drew near, the 40 or so employees went outside to watch the sky darken.

McDaniel, now a landscape architect, had an idea for a one-of-a-kind view from the top of the company’s 75-foot fertilizer tower, which still stands. “To hopefully see the shadow in motion, as if I were a silent glider,” he explained.

The tower, like other grain elevators and related ag buildings all over the valley, was equipped with a manlift — a 2-foot by 2-foot by 6-foot wooden cage that could be pulled from the floor to the top with ropes and pulleys. Counterweights prevented the lift from “rocketing to the top spring, where it would smash if going too rapidly,” he said.

“Pretty simple and seldom thought of twice, and dependable,” he said. Such lifts were used a dozen or more times every day.

McDaniel pulled himself up, passing the bins of fertilizer and thinking about the eclipse. At the top, he stepped onto a landing with one foot, then the other.

But just as his second foot was starting to touch down, the lift shifted. It bounced up a few inches and banged against the top spring.

He heard a sound he’ll never forget. The cable had snapped, sending the lift into freefall.

When it hit the bottom, it exploded into “slivers and bent metal,” he recalled. Looking down 75 feet, he realized he “would have been eviscerated” had he still been aboard.

“A little in shock,” McDaniel climbed down a series of ladders, then ventured outside. “To be honest, the eclipse was anticlimactic at that point,” he said.

Recalling his brush with death still makes his palms sweat.

“I know that the hand of God moved me fractions of inches far enough away from the manlift,” he said. “I was saved by that hand of God.”