55 Years And Counting From The Tractor Seat
By Bill Whitman
With harvest 2023 upon us, I am reminded of the dangers associated inherently with the occupations of farming and ranching. The truth is, as alert as we can be, accidents will happen. I am sure that everyone reading this can recall events when things went wrong or could have gone very wrong.
Past generations saw countless fingers taken with 2-row mounted corn pickers and the old-style sickle-bar hay cutters. We all know people that were killed when the tractor and bush hog they were operating caught on something mowing and flipped the tractor over. I also know life-long farmers and ranchers that wound up on the ground with an out-of-control livestock trying to drive them to China.
Anyone who has farmed or ranched can look back and think of times when their lives could have been or were changed. Recently a friend from two or three hills over told me that a guest he was giving a tour of his farm to commented that he had used up at least eight of his nine lives. At 80-something he still works with his 100-plus head of cows, by hand.
Recently I was talking to a retired dairyman that I worked for 50 years ago. Each fall we would fill our two silos with corn sileage. As it happened one day, Dan, of Groveport, Ohio, was running the sileage blower while I was unloading the silage wagon into the blower. As I think back, this was unusual because the normal procedure was for me to operate both the blower and wagon without help. Nonetheless, Dan was helping that day. The blower was hooked up to an 880 Oliver which had plenty of power to move the corn sileage up the tube. Dan was standing on the drawbar and operating the PTO from that position. We started unloading, and I watched Dan throttle up with the PTO engaged. I started the sileage wagon unloading and when I glanced back toward Dan… there he was, standing in his underwear with his bib-overall straps laying on his shoulders. Fortunately for Dan, the bib’s he was wearing were old when they got caught in the PTO. The color on his face was pale and he was frozen. A life changing moment? Dan reminded me that the PTO shield was missing from the blower and the whole situation could have, should have been, avoided if he had replaced the shield, like he knew he should have.
A neighbor of ours has cattle. The bull in his herd had been raised from a bottle calf and had grown into a nice-looking breeding bull and never once had given he or his family any trouble at all. He was cutting across the pasture, he tells me that he saw the bull raise his head and roll his eyes back in his head so he tried getting to the fence as fast as he could. The bull also headed his way and caught him just short of the gate. The bull gored him in the legs, broke ribs and generally tried to use him for a plow. I am amazed that Mark somehow made it to his truck and drove himself to the hospital. Only a farmer, right?
I cite these two incidents to show that even experienced farmers can make mistakes that can change the lives of so many in an instant. Harvest is the time when we see so many pieces of equipment in use at the same time and a sense of urgency in the air. Those of us with a few harvests under our belt might remind others that we can avoid most accidents by being aware of what’s going on us and resisting the urge to hurry beyond what we “know” is safe. Keep your equipment serviceable, and if safety could possibly be compromised by a worn or broken part, don’t take the chance, replace or repair it. And when working with livestock, always manage them with caution, replace problem animals, and don’t take chances.
I can report that Dan managed to make it to church the following Sunday and most since, recognizing that his life and the lives of his family could have changed for the worst, in the blink of an eye. I’m also reminded of the old adage, “there’s two things that can kill you on a farm, an empty gun and a tame bull.”
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