When he took out papers to run for mayor of our village three months ago, Larry Milner, a one-time sawmill owner from Idaho who is missing both of his thumbs from a bizarre run-in with a crazed, 45-pound beaver, knew it would be an uphill battle. He had no idea it would be this steep.
For despite spending $8,950 of his own money on 265 campaign signs that he and his wife, Denise, scattered around town, two weeks of radio ads and four half-page ads in the Gazette, a Tollefson Media Group poll conducted last week showed Milner dead-last in name recognition.
Today he knows he has no chance to be our mayor. And he has no money.
"We spent about everything we had on the signs and the radio ads, and I think the checks to the Gazette bounced," says Milner, 54, sitting at his kitchen table, a melancholy look on his face. It didn't help, he says, that three of the four ads listed his name as "Miller."
The campaign ad typos comprised just another piece in an almost freakish string of bad luck that has plagued the former lumberjack and one-time co-owner of the Schwenke-Milner Saw Corp., in Stanley, Idaho.
In 1978, Milner suffered burns on his forehead in a diesel fuel explosion at the mill. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration report from the incident said the blast occurred when Milner was refueling a gigantic sawblade turbine and lit a cigarette.
"I'd like to have that day back," he says, a weak smile on his face as his thumbless hands fumble with the 27-page OSHA report. "The scars on my forehead still itch."
He looks out the kitchen window and sighs.
"And I can't even turn the doggone pages of this report from that beaver," he says. "They think the son of a bitch had rabies. I'll tell ya, you don't think much about your thumbs and then one day, boom, they're just gone."
Milner appeared at three mayoral and City Council candidate forums, including one on Feb. 19 during which Council candidate and office products king Ed Bircham repeatedly asked Milner, into a microphone, about having just four fingers on each hand.
"That guy scared me," Milner says. "He kept talking about my hands. Kept calling them 'monster hands.' He said he almost lost a pinky finger in some kind of a stapler accident in 1937. And he kept humming to himself."
An hour into our chat, I summon the courage to ask about the beaver.
"A chipper was jammed up at the mill, and we took it down to the creek to flush it out," he says. "There was a beaver lodge right there and she just came at us. I just remember the teeth. They were so big."
The beaver latched onto his right hand and began gnawing. Milner fought back with his left hand, punching the beaver repeatedly in the face, he recalls. But he was no match for the beaver's ferocity.
When it was over, Milner lay on the bank, without thumbs. He was airlifted to Ketchum General Hospital. None of Milner's co-workers thought to look for the thumbs along the creek bank.
"Stupid bastards," Milner says of his one-time friends.
The beaver mauling took place in 1994. Milner was unable to work in logging afterward. ("Hell," he says, "people wouldn't even shake hands with me anymore. Said it felt creepy.")
He came to our village in 1996 and in the past eight years has attended many City Council meetings. He has formed some opinions.
Example: "That Lionel Rivera, geez, even a guy with no thumbs can feel sorry for that dumb bastard," Milner says with a laugh.
What doomed his mayoral bid, among other things, was his outspoken opposition to spending taxpayer money on trails and open space.
"It's probably a little personal," he says, trying in vain to pick up a pencil. "But I don't hike or walk much outdoors. Some damn bad things can happen to you once you go where animals live."
The rogue beaver attack, he points out, happened 17 years ago this week.
On April Fool's Day.