SASKATOON – This year marks the 65th anniversary of the infamous “tractor fender will,” where the dying wishes of a Saskatchewan farmer were etched into the side of a tractor as he lay pinned underneath.
“In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris” – those 16 words formed a case precedent for lawyers the world over and is commonly used as an example in law textbooks on wills and estates.
“It’s just a very unusual will and because of the circumstances under which it was written it’s attracted worldwide attention,” said lawyer and writer Geoff Ellwand.
On June 8, 1948 Cecil George Harris became pinned under his tractor on a farm near Rosetown, Sask.
Fearing he may not survive he used his pocket knife to scratch the will onto the tractor’s fender.
Bob Hannay was 15-years-old at the time and formed part of the mission to rescue Harris.
He’s the last surviving witness.
He remembers that day vividly, he says he was told to get his Dad’s tractor and bring it to the accident scene.
“My part in it was just to drive the tractor up there and pull the implement back so they could get the fellow out,” said Hannay.
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He said Harris, who’d been under the tractor for 10 hours by the time help arrived, was then loaded into the back of a car.
But Hannay had to use the tractor to tow the car to the highway.
“It’s a real heavy clay, Rosetown clay, and it was storming by the time we got him out of there, it was storming terribly bad, heavy, heavy rain and the car just couldn’t possibly… it was dirt roads, so they hooked chains on the car and my dad said don’t stop until you get to the highway,” recalled Hannay.
Harris made it to hospital but died the next day. He never told anyone about the will.
It was found by neighbours the next day.
The fender was removed from the tractor and determined by the courts to be a valid holographic or handwritten will.
“It was written in a manner very brief, there was no doubt about his wishes and so the courts accepted it without a blink,” said Ellwand.
Hannay shared his story publicly for the first time at the University of Saskatchewan to mark the 65th anniversary of the “tractor fender will.”
The remarkable piece of history was held as evidence by the courts until 1996 at which point it was handed over to the University of Saskatchewan College of Law for public display where it remains today.