Tractor safety course offered in Sterling
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Sterling - posted Mon., Feb. 4, 2013
Russell Gray remembers watching his father narrowly avoid toppling over in a tractor accident years ago. “He was using the tractor to pull a truck from a field,” Gray said. “The chain was high on the back of the tractor. He tightened the chain up gently, let the clutch off and the tractor reared up. It seemed like it was teetering forever on its back wheels, though it was probably a second or a fraction of a second. Finally the front end came back down. My sister and I both thought if that tractor had rolled over, he would have been dead.”
According to Gray, there are now more accidents on farms than in mining or construction. “When I was a kid, mining was number one, construction was number two, and farming was number three,” he said. Gray attributes the changes to training in the mining and construction industries. “Farm kids aren't always trained as good as they should be,” he said.
On Feb. 2, Gray went through the first two of 11 units in the Safe Operation of Agricultural Equipment manual put out by Hobar Publications. The first unit was about safety. “As far as I'm concerned, it's the most important part of the whole book,” Gray said.
Gray is no stranger to farming or the dangers of operating farm equipment. His family has owned Gray's Farm for generations. His grandchildren are continuing the farming tradition. Three of his grandsons were in the class on Saturday.
Jacob Jarvis remembers riding in his father's lap on his grandfather's farm. By the time he was 7, he was driving the tractors. “When you work on a farm, a lot of it is guided,” Jarvis said. “We were taught common sense things: never twist it around or brake too fast because you’ll flip it over. And don’t go sideways on a hill.”
Jarvis is a student in the agricultural mechanics program at Killingly High School. He'd already learned some basic equipment safety procedures and passed a driving test in which he had to back a tractor down an alley, drive through cones, and complete a figure eight. The course he took in his sophomore year at KHS used the same manual as the one used Saturday.
KHS Department Coordinator Douglas Butterfield had given a copy to 4H Trail Leader Diane Davis when she started organizing the course.
Davis raises horses on her Apple Tree Meadow Farm in Central Village. Her daughter, Karen Stamper, has grown up with farm equipment. “She's been around this stuff her whole life,” Davis said. “Do I want her paying attention to how her equipment operates? Yes, I do. These kids need information.”
With manuals donated by Plainfield Agway, a John Deere 2520 loaned from Stanton Equipment, the Grange hall and lot, and the help of local farmers leading the course, 10 kids are getting that information. Class instruction is followed by hands-on experience with the tractor. Each student was able to study the controls and drive it through a simple cone course.
Jarvis was the first to drive the tractor. The 2520 is a compact tractor, but it weighs more than 1,800 pounds. “The first thing you want to do is set the seat and put your seat belt on,” Jarvis said. Using a seat belt is crucial when driving a tractor with a Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS), a structure meant to protect operators from injury in roll-overs. “The sad part is, especially around here, everybody uses older equipment,” he said. Older equipment isn't outfitted with ROPS.
Roll-overs are not the only danger. Being unfamiliar with a piece of equipment can be hazardous. Stamper remembers watching some people load a lawnmower onto a truck. “They were driving it up wooden boards onto the truck and the tires started spinning on the boards,” she said. “The spinning tire kicked the board out and the tractor rolled onto the guy. Luckily, he wasn't hurt.”
“It’s always a careless mistake,” Jarvis said. “People have been using boards as ramps for a long time. They don’t actually hook to the trailer and you'd be surprised how slippery boards can be.”
Jarvis put the tractor in gear and drove out into an empty corn field. He drove toward a set of cones, put the tractor in reverse and backed up 50 feet until the tractor was lined up and next to two close-set cones. Every student wanted to get on the tractor. Everyone wanted a shot at the course. Davis and Gray watched each one, offering advice when needed. “Everything is great, but you have to be safe,” Gray said.