The Bullitt County History Museum

Life and Death. When Hearses were used as Ambulances.

The following article by David Strange appeared in The Courier-Journal on 23 Nov 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.

I was driving along Highway 61 near Shepherdsville the other day, when I saw a funeral procession coming from the other direction. I and a couple of other cars pulled to the side of the road, out of respect, and waited for the long sad line to pass.

While sitting there, I began to reflect on Life and Death.

On that particular day, it happened that I knew of three weddings, two births, a friend in the hospital, and now this death and funeral. Life and death, it seems, continues in abundance in all its facets.

A story that had recently been told to me came to mind.

February, 1970. Lorine Larimore was driving along Highway 1020, just about to come out onto 61 at Gap-In-Knob. She was heading home from her job at Brooks Elementary School. Suddenly, a dog ran out in front of her car and Lorine instinctively jerked the steering wheel hard to avoid the hapless dog. The car leapt off the road, down an embankment, and onto nearby railroad tracks.

Lorine was critically injured. Her knee had been driven into the dashboard. Five or six ribs were broken. Warm blood flowed from the gash in her head. A couple of railroad men were nearby on a handcart and they quickly called ahead to stop an oncoming train.

Then they called the funeral home for an ambulance.

You see, this is where a very serious story becomes a little funny in hindsight. Until 1979, Bullitt County did not have an ambulance service. Like many rural areas in America, it was uneconomical to have an ambulance. The solution was that the local funeral home director, whose hearse was the only suitable vehicle in town, would also provide the ambulance service. It was a practical solution, and is probably still used in many communities today.

But as you might imagine, this could create rather surreal situations. In Lorine's case, the hearse was, shall we say, already occupied. When the emergency call came in, the body was quickly removed and the hearse raced to the accident scene.

When the big black hearse arrived, Ms. Larimore was already out of her car and walking up the hill to the road. She was understandably a little resistant to be laid in the back of the hearse, but was quickly rushed into the vehicle and the driver sped off.

Here is where it is helpful to know the area. You see, if the ambulance turned left, it would be heading toward Shepherdsville, where the funeral home was. A right turn would have headed the car to Louisville and hospitals.

Did I say the ambulance/hearse turned left?

Well, Lorine absolutely noticed. "Why are we going that way!?!" she said, wanting to make clear that she was not dead yet. The driver asked her to please stop talking because blood pumped out of her head every time she talked; that he was going to take care of her. She was not so sure about that. But what else could she do but ride in that big black hearse and hope for the best?

It turned out that the ambulance/hearse driver did know what he was doing, and did get Lorine to the hospital in time. At the old St. Joseph Hospital, she received 250 stitches in her head and treatment for her leg and ribs.

Lorine's car was, of course, totaled. The oldest of her five children, a high school junior who was to get his driver's license that week, joked with her, saying that she would do anything to stop him from driving.

And then the windshield wipers on my car interrupted my thoughts, and I noticed that the funeral procession was about to pass on by. I sat there for a moment in the drizzling rain. You never know where Life, or a story, will take you. It all can be something of a gauntlet of joy and loss. Lorine Larimore, thankfully, is still with us today, and I so enjoyed her story.

Life and Death continues on in its awesome abundance and mystery. Humor, even if realized in hindsight, gets us through it all.

Photo courtesy of Kappel Funeral Home in Lebanon Junction.

Copyright 2014 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 27 Jan 2021 . Page URL: