Restoring faith in humanity, one wheelbarrow at a time

As a common tool found around most homes, a wheelbarrow is not something that usually gets folks fired up.

After all, it's a handy old friend that's always ready to help you out with a chore. This friend doesn't mind carrying the heavy load. Nor does he — she? — ever argue, caring not one whit about your politics or religion.

But anyone who read Medford resident Philip Johnson's letter to the editor on Tuesday couldn't help getting steamed up over the thoughtless behavior of some humanoids.

In case you missed the letter, here it is:

"To the thieves who stole my wheelbarrow and other items from my home on Easter weekend," he begins. "I am 85 years old and have had back surgery, so it is hard to work without my wheelbarrow.

"I hope that when you are 85, if you should live that long, someone does not rip you off. Please do the right thing and at least return the wheelbarrow. It's OK to leave it in the front yard."

Given the timing and the target, I prefer to think there is a special place in Hades for the low-life miscreant who committed the misdeed.

Even with all the hate and discontent in our world, that simple theft, albeit not a major issue in the scheme of things, left a lot of folks shaking their heads in disgust.

True, no thievery is honorable, but this is right down there with taking food from an orphanage. Apparently there was no amputee around with crutches to steal.

But local residents who read the letter stepped forward to remind us there is hope, that the good outnumber the bad.

Medford resident Dave Hammond, 73, a retired civil engineer, hand-delivered a used wheelbarrow to Johnson's home the day the letter ran.

"I had three wheelbarrows — I wasn't using them, so I took one over to him," Hammond says. "I used to have one in my civil engineering business. My son gave me one. And I had another one at home."

He clearly didn't want to make a big deal out of his kind gesture.

"I'm just glad I could help him out," he says.

Then there was Gragg — the unusual spelling is correct — Briant, 59, also of Medford who, although disabled with arthritis, offered to buy Johnson a new wheelbarrow.

"I just don't understand why someone would steal a wheelbarrow. Come on!" Briant says. "If that old guy is out there doing yard work, that's what keeps him going. How could someone do that to him?"

Good question.

"I believe in what goes around comes around," he says, indicating he figures the thief will get his just rewards in the end.

"I'm just tickled he got a wheelbarrow," Briant adds. "I'm glad there are other people who wanted to help him. You tell him if there is anything else he needs, just call me."

And there was U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Walker in Anchorage.

"I just wanted to make sure that Mr. Johnson knows that a brand new, paid-for wheelbarrow is on hold for him at the Black Bird store," he writes in an email to the paper.

In a special note to the victim, he adds, "Just give them your name, sir. They are expecting you."

After being informed of Dave Hammond's good deed, Walker, a Southern Oregon University graduate who was a Navy recruiter in Medford for the past five years before transferring to the Air Force in December, gave the new wheelbarrow to a fellow he knew in Medford who runs a small gardening business out of his home.

"Being a guy who was raised by his grandparents and whose mother-in-law is about Mr. Johnson's age, I have a strong belief in personal and direct involvement in making sure that senior citizens are valued for their experiences, honored for their contributions and covered practically by local community members when things go wrong," Walker writes. "The fact that the theft was on Easter weekend bothered me as well. Easter is a time of new life and great hope.

"The Rogue Valley is my home. It is a very special place, and for every victim of a crime that happens in the future, I hope we get three more people stepping forward to do right again. Those are numbers we can live with."

There were others, including a 62-year-old lady with a replacement wheelbarrow who contacted Johnson directly.

"It was very nice for all these people to offer to help," Johnson observes. "It's good to know there are people around like that.

"It makes you feel kind of violated when something is stolen from you," he adds. "I wish I could personally thank each one who offered help. They have restored my faith in mankind."

As they did ours, Mr. Johnson.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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