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A fitting tribute for Woody

Family, community ready a goodbye for lifelong Corbett resident Woody Davis
by: Jim Clark Woody Davis admires his coffin, built by his brother-in-law Tony Jacobs, seen behind him, on the right, talking with Davis’ son, Clint. Woody’s 1967 International Harvester is behind them.

For more than 50 years, Sherwood 'Woody' Davis earned a reputation in the Corbett area as the person to call when you needed a job done fast and done right. So it just makes sense that he should be involved in the planning of his own funeral.

On his own and through his family business, Davis Excavation, the lifelong Corbett resident put in countless hours doing anything that required a tractor, Caterpillar or bulldozer. He graded driveways, cleared land, prepared sites for construction and more, transforming the community his own grandparents settled in the early 1900s.

One family didn't know how to get rid of a skunk under the house, but they thought of Woody and asked him for help.

It was known in the community if you needed something done, 'Better call Woody!'

Even those who don't know Woody might have seen him pass by in his truck or on one of his many tractors or bulldozers, giving an open-handed wave. His famed wave is 'one of the ways to be friendly to people,' he says.

About a year ago, the family noticed that Woody had speech problems and thought he might have had a stroke. He's not the type of person who goes to the doctor, his brother-in-law Tony Jacobs says. A visit to a neurologist confirmed the worst.

In April, Woody, 69, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Clint Davis says his father accepted the diagnosis as a matter of fact, despite it being 'pretty much a death sentence.'

Rather than dwell on the inevitable outcome of the disease, Woody's family and friends have decided to make the best of the situation and honor the man who played such a key role in their lives and in his community.

On a Friday afternoon before Christmas, Woody was the center of attention during a family gathering at the Gordon Creek Road home of his sister and brother-in-law, Pamela and Tony Jacobs, who live next door to Woody. They were joined by Woody's son, Clint Davis, and his youngest brother, Dave Davis.

Woody relaxed in the center of the living room, dressed in muddy work boots, black jeans and a hat from International Harvester, his favorite equipment brand. His family jokes that he should have been the company's poster boy.

'People I looked up to in the community drove Internationals,' Woody says. 'Ranchers, loggers drove International. And I've always liked the look of them, too.'

The disease has slurred his speech, but the gravelly-voiced Woody was social as usual that afternoon, remembering and sharing plenty of stories.

'What this has done is open these doors of memories,' Pam Jacobs says. 'When you think of one thing, that triggers the memories of another and another, and you can sit and reminisce.'

The ceremony will be unique, the family believes. Tony Jacobs built Woody's coffin. After his service at Good Shepherd Community Church, he will be transported on his 1967 International Harvester pickup to Corbett Community Church and then taken by a covered wagon to the cemetery.

Clint hopes people wave as the wagon passes by.

A coffin for a friend, brother

After Woody's diagnosis, Tony Jacobs remembered a conversation he and Woody had several years ago.

Tony has done woodworking as a hobby in his home workshop for about 20 years, following his severe injuries in a car accident. About 10 years ago, Tony recalls, Woody was admiring Tony's woodwork when he asked if Tony could build his coffin.

'I think he was joking when we talked about it: He wanted me to build a pine box for him,' Tony says. 'All of a sudden, while he had this terminal illness, it came back in my mind.'

Woody had forgotten his request, Tony says. He had to be careful on how he approached Clint and Woody about his idea to build Woody's coffin.

Woody, however, loved the idea. Tony got to work.

'I took out my tape measure and measured (Woody) like a tailor fitting him for a suit,' Tony says.

With the skill and intuition of a carpenter (and some help from the Internet), Tony built a pine plywood coffin. Unsatisfied with his first effort, Tony built a second from scarlet pine. To make sure that the coffin fit Woody's 5-foot-9-inch frame, Tony let Woody lie down in it.

'I didn't give him any room to roll over,' Tony says with a laugh.

Tony and Woody say they've shared plenty of laughs about the coffin. Pam Jacobs says that is symbolic of the close relationship the two have.

'I'm very honored to do it for him,' Tony says. 'Just being up there (in the shop) working on that thing, I got a little choked up about it. It's something different, but it's special.'

The family had the idea to put the coffin on display at local businesses and churches around town. They're hoping that folks will stop by to sign it and leave a personal message for Woody.

A prized pickup drives again

As Tony worked on the coffins, the family thought how they could transport Woody for the funeral service.

The hearse should be Woody's prized Davis Excavation work vehicle: a white 1967 International Harvester diesel-engine pickup, one of only 200 such models ever made.

Woody rescued it in 1994 from a backyard in Prineville, where it sat decaying, windows broken, vandalized by local kids. Woody brought the pickup home and fixed it up enough for it to make a 2,400-mile trip to an International Harvester show in Ohio.

The tailpipe belched black smoke all the way to Missouri, Tony says, temporarily painting his own red truck a darker color as he followed behind.

The pickup blew a head gasket several years ago and sat in Woody's yard, seemingly destined to the fate Woody had saved it from. Then Tony, Dave Davis and longtime friend Dave Tobie hauled the pickup to Tony's workshop to replace the head gasket and restore it. Woody assisted when he could.

On Thursday, Dec. 22, after weeks of meticulous work, the truck - with 278,000 miles on it - was ready to go.

From the passenger seat, Tony filmed as Woody started the engine and took it for a test drive along Rickert Road. Woody smiled and gave his open-handed wave to the occasional passing vehicle as white exhaust smoke from the tailpipe trailed behind.

'Woody was just smiling and having a heyday; it was priceless,' Tony says.

'Nice to see it rolling again,' Woody says.

Work and family time

Woody says he's 'not officially' retired from his family business, Davis Excavation, which he has run with his son since 1994. However, he can no longer put in the long, strenuous hours on the job as he did for decades.

The disease has taken a lot of his strength, he says with some sadness.

Clint, who recently took over as president of Davis Excavation from his father, says Woody still comes to work and does what he can.

Other symptoms of ALS are apparent. Besides his slurred speech, Woody has difficulty eating and swallowing. In early January, he's scheduled to undergo a gastrostomy, where a feeding tube will be inserted into his stomach.

Woody has found that the disease has unexpectedly made him very emotional: he laughs until he gasps for air, his eyes tear up as he tells a story and he feels more concern for the family pets.

'Knowing Dad's condition, we're trying to make special memories,' Clint says.

The family has taken Woody on a couple trips. The week before Christmas, they spent a few days at Timberline Lodge. Woody also hopes to visit the Hays Antique Truck Museum in northern California, where many International Harvesters are on display.

Another idea for the funeral service, Clint says, is to haul out his great-uncle Fay's John Deere covered wagon from storage and have it transport Woody's coffin from Corbett Community Church through the community to the cemetery.

The family looked at Mountain View Cemetery where other family is buried, but found that it's an expensive option.

Woody says he would prefer to be buried on his Gordon Creek Road property - the same land his grandparents, Sherwood and Anna Davis, settled in 1902 - but he and the family are not sure it's worth going through the red tape to get approval from Multnomah County.

Clint admits it feels strange to plan his father's funeral while he's alive and to even feel some excitement about the possibilities.

'I'm just bracing myself for the grieving that I know will come,' Clint says, adding that his sister, Cori, has been on board with the ideas so far.

Clint remembers to ask Woody his opinion on the ideas for his funeral; so far, Woody has approved.

The Corbett community also stepped in to help the Davis family. When word got out that Woody was having trouble getting his winter wood supply cut and stacked, about 70 people - children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends - converged on Woody's home one Saturday in November to help out.

They prepared so many cords of wood that Woody donated the excess supply to another family who was also in need.

Clint says he feels blessed that he and his four children benefit from his father's reputation in the area - something money cannot buy, he adds.

'You can take what's been given to you by your heritage and build on it, or you can destroy it and run it into the ground,' Clint says.

'I'm very blessed to call them my family, my brothers,' Tony says about the Davises. Then, with a smile, adds, 'I love you Woody.'

Woody grins and gives a quick thumbs up.

Brother Dave Davis adds that the family's Christian faith has also helped them find peace of mind with Woody's illness.

'We all have the confidence that we're going to see Woody again,' Dave says. 'His body's failing now, but it will be perfect then.'

'We've all got to go some day,' Woody says. Then, with his right index finger for emphasis, Woody adds, 'I know I got Jesus in my heart. I know I'm going up there, not down there.'