Chris Blass, who lost both arms as a result of electrocution as a youth, knows no limitations and continues to operate cars, trucks, farm vehicles, motorcycles and snowmobiles, and rides horses, too.

Horseback riding is a favorite hobby of Chris Blass.

By Rich Wicks | Guthrie Center Times

Chris Blass of rural Casey was a typical 8-year-old farm boy. Then, something happened in a split second that changed his life drastically.

Or did it? Read on and see if your opinion changes.

“There was a snowstorm up in Storm Lake,” Blass said. “We were living north of Rembrandt on my grandfather’s farm. We had a three-day snowstorm and, finally, the sun came out. My younger brother, Jeff, and I wanted to go out and play.” 

He recalls being instructed to stay close to Grandpa and to avoid the electric wires, but Blass said those instructions went in one ear and out the other.

“That’s the first place we went,” said Blass. “The wires were drooped down, and I went over and picked them up… and electricity came out both palms and both wrists. I had rubber boots on and was standing on 4 feet of snow. That’s what saved my life.”

Although Blass survived, he lost both arms as a result of the electrocution.

“I spent three and a half months at the Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati,” Blass said. “Then, that fall, I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Mary Free Bed Hospital and got fitted for hooks. I spent about eight or nine weeks there. They showed me how to tie my shoes and eat.” 

Blass said the doctors gave his parents one particularly good piece of advice. They urged the family to treat Blass normally, so that he would adapt and learn to do things for himself. That is the approach the family and Blass have embraced ever since.

For example, shortly after Blass first obtained his drivers permit, someone offered to install a spinner knob onto the steering wheel of his car. Blass remembers that his father declined the thoughtful offer, because it would have meant that Chris would become reliant on the spinner knob and wouldn’t be able to drive vehicles without that adaptation. 

If a person’s life can be oversimplified into a motto, one for Blass might be “get in the driver’s seat.” Ever since losing his arms, Blass has continued to be in the driver’s seat of his life, figuratively. He has also spent a lot of time, literally, in the driver’s seats of cars, trucks, farm vehicles, motorcycles and snowmobiles, as well as the saddles of horses.

In order to do these things, Blass needed some type of prosthetic devices. Nowadays, various types of prosthetics are available, from basic to high-tech. Blass has chosen not to become “bionic” because the high-end prosthetics simply wouldn’t meet his needs. 

“It’s the most basic prosthetic you can get. I’ve had a few people come up to me with the myoelectric stuff,” he said. “But a person with a myoelectric prosthetic couldn’t follow me around for five minutes.”

Blass is a firm believer that each user will discover what prosthetics work best for that individual. Over the years, he’s spoken up many times to let the “experts” know that, although they may have lots of knowledge about the devices, he is the one and only expert on what works best for his active and farming lifestyle.

Blass keeps a healthy sense of humor about his situation. He told of being on a ski trip with his brother-in-law when he looked in his travel bag and complained aloud that he had forgotten to pack his gloves. When the brother-in-law tossed over an extra pair of gloves, Blass asked, “Do you think I can use them?” Blass said everyone had a good laugh.

It’s easy to see proof of Blass’ hardnosed, “can do” approach to life. Farming is recognized as one of the more difficult and dangerous careers, but it’s the life that Blass and his wife, Gwen, have chosen. 

“We’ve got 120 head of cows,” Blass said. “And four years ago, I was up to right at 1,500 acres of corn and beans, and I’ve lost about 300 or 400 acres in the last few years.”  

Blass admits that, because of a motorcycle accident in 2022, he doesn’t really mind having fewer acres to farm. Like everyone, he has eventually made a few concessions to the aging process.

“Until the last five or eight years or so, I’d done almost everything out here by myself,” he said. “But in the last years, I sometimes point at the hired man and say, ‘Go do that.’ ”

Blass’ life appears to be a testimony to the “tough stuff” that he’s made of, and perhaps the accident many years ago simply allowed his determination to show through more obviously and immediately than it otherwise may have. This much is clear: If you’re waiting for Chris Blass to feel sorry for himself, don’t hold your breath. And it’s never wise to bet against him when he encounters an obstacle in his life. 

Looking back at all of the accidents and setbacks he has endured, Blass maintains a unique and humorous outlook. He recalled being asked why he continues to live such a daring lifestyle, riding motorcycles, snowmobiles, and other vehicles aggressively, despite numerous accidents and injuries. 

“You know, when you pick up 7,200 to 7,600 volts of electricity when you’re 8 years old, you kind of figure you’re never going to die,” he said. “Personally, I think God kept me around just to aggravate everybody around me.

Chris Blass gets ready to head out on his motorcycle.