The Toughest Son of a Gun You’ve Ever Seen

Every once in a while, you hear a story that makes you believe in the human race again.

I’m icefishing in northern Minnesota this week with a guy named Tim Zick. His uncle, Keith Zick, has come into the dark shanty from which we are trying to lure northern pike by jigging fish decoys carved by Keith’s father 40 years ago.

Keith is talking about somebody else—I can’t tell if it’s a relative or a friend.

“Toughest guy I ever met. Lost both legs inches below the knee and his right arm up to the socket when he was 20 years old. November 1959. He was working with a crane that was swinging steel girders for a building. And while his hand was touching one of the beams, the crane hit a high-tension electrical line—so he became the electrical ground. Blood wouldn’t flow to the parts of him that were damaged, so they had to cut ’em off.

“But he hunted and fished as hard as ever. He had a Remington 742 autoloader rifle in .308 and he’d one-hand that thing. Killed deer just as dead as can be. He got prosthetic legs, and he got real strong in that one arm. One time he was kidding around, and he lifted me—200 pounds—up with that arm and set me back down six inches further back.

“Oh, he loved to go spearfishing for northerns out on the ice, in a dark house like this one. He’d found a way to rig up an eggbeater’s gears—the old time eggbeaters I’m talking about—to work the decoy. Had it so all he had to do was pull on a string to jig, while he held the spear in his hand. Oh, he was an avid spearer.

“One day he’s fishing in an ice derby. And he’s wearing tennis shoes on his prosthetics because he doesn’t care. But there are so many people out there that the ice is flexing, and water’s coming up through the holes. So he’s standing there in a pool of water in his tennis shoes in January. And some guy drives by and says, 'Mister, I don’t know who you are but you’re the toughest son of a gun I’ve ever seen.’

“And he was right about that.”