Jim Meyer is a chicken.
At least, that is the unlikely animal from which he draws inspiration.
“When I was raising animals, I had this old chicken who the other chickens would always gang up on,” Meyer said. “They’d always peck at his head — he didn’t have any feathers left on his head — he lost an eye. He’d always go sit in this five-gallon bucket I had out there to water the animals. When I’d come out to get water, he’d get out and all the other chickens would go after him. That was one tough old bird. For three years he lived like that. The will to live in that chicken is inspirational to me. No matter how much he got beat up on, bullied and whatever else, he kept on living. I’m like that chicken. I’m a survivor.”
Meyer, a 73-year-old U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, has had to rely on those survival instincts more than usual lately. On Feb. 11, his trailer home at 29949 83rd St. — about four miles southeast of Buckman — caught fire and was a total loss.
The blaze — which Pierz Fire Chief Dan Rocheleau said resulted in an estimated loss of $10,000 — caused him to move out to his garage, where he is currently living with his two dogs and his ducks. Sunday, the pipes froze in his garage. He got that fixed, but the next day a rock hit the radiator on his truck, and now it is in the shop.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you’re testing me — I’m not Job, but if you’re testing me, I could use a break,’” Meyer said.
Meyer said he has always tried to be independent and not to ask for much. After the Army, he worked as a welder in the Twin Cities, briefly went to college, ran a small taxidermy business, worked at Polar Truck and Trailer in Holdingford for 20 years before retiring and was a long-time union representative for IAM Local 623 out of St. Cloud.
Since then, he’s been “living the good life” on his land in Buckman Township.
It’s against his nature to ask for help, but recent events have taught him that sometimes people have no other choice.
The morning of Feb. 11 started as any other. Meyer woke up at 5 a.m., went out to draw a couple buckets of water for his dogs and started a pot of coffee. That was when he heard a smoke detector go off in his trailer — which has an attached shed with a wood-burning stove that pushes heat under the foundation of the trailer to keep it warm. He went into the other room to check, but everything seemed fine.
Shortly after he sat down, a second smoke alarm started sounding.
“All of a sudden I hear this big ‘whoosh,’” Meyer said. "It was like the whole roof was like a curtain of fire.”
Melted plastic dripped from the roof in front of his door, but with the help of a fire extinguisher, he was able to escape the trailer without harm. Amidst the chaos, he grabbed his phone and was able to call 911 as soon as he got out, but it was too late to save the trailer.
Rocheleau said the home was already fully engulfed when the Pierz Fire Department — which had 16 personnel on scene for four or five hours — and Morrison County Sheriff’s Office were called out to the fire.
“All I could do was sit in my truck and watch everything else burn,” Meyer said.
Being self-sufficient, he described it as “a bit humiliating” that he had to run out of his trailer with nothing but the clothes he was wearing, and that he had to rely on a neighbor to bring him a coat. Jim Segler and Kathy Marshik with the Morrison County Veterans Service Office have since helped remind Meyer that sometimes it’s OK to ask for help.
That help has come through in a big way. He said he has received so many offers of food, clothing and other essential items from neighbors and community members that he has had to turn some away simply because he doesn’t have anywhere to put it. Shooting Sports has given him a place to shower and is cleaning his guns that were recovered from the fire, and he received a gift card to get his meals at the Pioneer Restaurant in Pierz.
The VA has helped him take care of his medical needs.
What he doesn’t have is the money needed to rebuild. The trailer was not insured, and Meyer is living on basic Social Security. Even though it will likely be a long time before an expensive rebuild is possible, Meyer is trying to keep everything in perspective.
“I talked to the lady at Social Security and she asked me what my income was,” Meyer said. “She said she had seen people with less money than me. I said, ‘Ma’am, if you have people who are poorer than me then you help them first. I’m not poor. I’ve hit a streak of misfortune, but I’m rich as far as I’m concerned.’”
One way Meyer said people can help him out is by donating to a GoFundMe page started by Segler on his behalf. The fund can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/meyer-home-fund?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1.
Despite all that has happened, Meyer is still positive and optimistic. He is grateful for the help he’s received and for the “awesome response” received from the Pierz Fire Department and Morrison County Sheriff’s Office.
He will rebuild, he said, and until then he will lean on the survival techniques he learned in the Army along with his positive outlook to keep moving forward.
“I’ve always said that you see the sun come up and you see the sun come down,” Meyer said. “You just have to live in between those times.”