PERSONAL TRACTOR STORIES
An Entanglement – Kristi Ruth
I had seen my dad and brother do it a thousand times before. I had even done it a few times myself. My dad was being cautious and warning us to stay back but we thought we were doing well. It was stable although still not drilling a hole. Dad gave the word we were going to quit and try some other time. Jake got down and I began pulling my arms away. The shear bolt was about an inch and a half too long. Spinning in circles, around and around. I had cupped my glove by bending my wrist. That extra quarter inch of leather caught on the bolt and started pulling my arm in and around the power take off shaft with the bolt. Each time it spun it snapped my bones into pieces. The sound of my clothing as it was ripping making me cringe. As I slow it down in my mind each fiber coming apart ultimately sounding like a bath towel being torn apart into rags. My dad was on the seat and luckily was there to save my life, he shut it off so quickly. Unfortunately the wind down still entangled me.Be Aware! Be Alert! Be Alive!
My dad leaped down and frantically searched for his phone. Jake took his phone from him and called 911. After a moment of shock and chaos they finally got me loose. I started my ascend up the hill towards the house. I had finally reached the top of the hill right below the garage and was getting worn out so I sat down on the dozer blade attached to the 1206. I hadn't been sitting very long when I noticed Jake jumping and swinging his arms in the middle of the road reminding me so much of a jumping jack. My mom was in the car heading down the hill. They eased me into the front seat. Mom was surprisingly calm in what was going on. I think it was that she knew it was her duty to get me to Columbia and keep me safe as possible. I don't remember if she was speeding or not, some things slip my mind. We beat the ambulance driver and most the EMTs to the fire department. I knew most everyone around me and it was very comforting. I felt safe and believed they would do anything and everything to save me.
I was beginning to grow weak and couldn't quite make the step into the side of the ambulance so Jason Pierce more or less lifted me in. I sat for a moment while everyone scattered around like ants retrieving all needed supplies. John Pierce cut off my coat and shirts to get me ready for transport. It became heavy on my mind I had ruined Austin's sweatshirt, it was cut to shreds. I knew it wouldn't trouble him a bit because my life was on a very thin line, but it kept my mind occupied. From there a helicopter met us in Knoxville and flew me to Mercy in Des Moines. It wasn't long for them to decide they didn't have the facilities for my extent of damage. I went on to the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
It turns out my artery severed and I should have bled to death. My arm was broken six times. This very day was the beginning to my long battle for recovery and dramatically changed life.
A speech by Kristi Ruth, Iowa
One Mississippi, two Missi, a second and a half that’s all the time it takes for a tractor to roll over. In 2005 one such accident happened to be my Uncle. He was fifty years old, getting ready to retire and looking forward to spending the rest of his life with his fiancé. He had plans one Saturday to go on a Harley ride with her and his best friend. They were both standing by the gate waiting for him. He was driving down a hill hauling a hay bale to his cattle, like he had done so many times before. This time it was different, his International 400 overturned, pinning him underneath. He died less than an hour later. Read more…
We need to be concerned, why you may ask? For the simple fact that every year 800-1,0001 people are killed nationally in tractor related accidents. The number one cause is overturns, followed by runovers and falls, then collisions with motor vehicles on roadways and finally accidents related to the power take off. The leading cause of tractor related incidents is overturns. These accidents most often occur while tractors are mowing weeds on hillsides or ditches, or when they drive off the edge of roadways. They usually involve older tractors and/or drivers over the age of 60. Although older tractors often do not meet modern safety standards safety protection devices are available, most people don’t take the time to make adjustments or add attachments. Operators over 60 not only have a slower reaction time but have become complacent in following safe operating practices. My neighbor is the perfect example, he runs the same stop sign every day and his comment is, “No one is ever coming this time of day anyway, why should I wear out my clutch.” This summer he was hit broadside.
Unfortunately young people are also involved in tractor related accidents. There was a teenage boy who was hauling a trailer down a gravel road and his mind wandered, his right front tire dropped off the shoulder and when he jerked the wheel to correct it, he rolled into the ditch. This boy died at age sixteen. No matter the factors, operators need to be aware of their surroundings and keep alert in order to stay alive.
The second leading cause of tractor accidents is runovers and falls. In most cases extra riders become the victims. Most deaths caused by tractors running over passengers, involve children. Because of their low body weight, children can easily be thrown off balance when the tractor tire hits even a single pot hole. Even when a tractor is equipped with a cab, the extra rider can be thrown or fall through an improperly latched door or window. The typical tractor weighs 9,000 pounds. We all need to follow the old saying “no seat, no riders.”
It’s no secret everyone makes mistakes, especially on our roadways. That’s why collisions on the road are the third most common cause of accidents. This is often the result of misinterpretation by surrounding motorists. The most common collision occurs when an implement makes a left turn. Motorists too often think that when the machine operator slows down they are letting them pass. They pay little attention to the lights or signals the operator maybe indicating by hand. People often times misjudge the speed at which machinery is traveling, along with width and length resulting in many different types of collisions. Studies show that 80% of these accidents occur on dry roads with no extreme weather conditions.
The last significant cause of tractor related deaths pertains to the power take off (PTO) shaft. They may not look dangerous but this device is a metal rod spinning at a speed of up to 95 miles per hour, with nothing more to protect you than a piece of plastic. The most insignificant thread or string hanging from a piece of clothing can be instantly drawn in to the PTO shaft, taking a limb with it. The shield may not appear to do much but it prevents things from getting caught. Therefore it is always the safest and most smart decision to keep the shield in place and to replace it if it’s damaged or missing. Most farmers will often stand behind the tractor and reach across to operate the PTO.
I myself am a victim of a PTO accident. This last February I was helping to drill post holes with my family. Having just given a speech on farm safety I was concerned about my brother being too close I even went as far as adjusting the pliers on his belt. About a minute later the auger head began to shake and hit the side of the barn. I instinctively reached out to stabilize it and moments after my glove got caught on the spinning shear bolt. Within seconds my arm was pulled in and wrapped around the shaft up to my shoulder. I was life-flighted to Des Moines then on to Iowa City all the while thinking I was going to lose my arm. After several hours and many doctors later I had my first surgery to repair the severed arteries which would provide blood flow back to my hand. Surgeons performed two more operations over the next four days where they placed a hinge, stainless steel plates, and numerous screws in my arm. I then began my painful recovery with physical therapy which has now lasted six months and am still facing another surgery to improve the movement in my fingers. I consider myself lucky.
How can we reduce the number of deaths and injuries associated with a tractor? First we need to realize that tractors are unstable vehicles and when you haul or add attachments it alters the center of gravity. Wheel spacing and hitch points may need to be changed, and weights added to correct imbalances. Roll-Over Protection System2 or ROPS, need to be added to older tractors. This roll over protection system needs to be properly fitted and installed to ensure maximum safety. The cost of putting ROPS on an average size tractor can run anywhere from $700 to $900 dollars. Can you truly put a price on the life of a loved one? A tractor roll over accident that claimed the life a Lucas County farmer inspired his relatives to install ROPS on all their equipment. A few years later his nephew rolled a tractor, this time the outcome was different. He walked away with a few bumps and bruises. Why wait and take that risk?
These are just a few of the accidents that happen in our rural communities. There are thousands of different types of accidents and only few of which I can tell you about today. Many of which are preventable. The public’s awareness of this issue is not an option; it’s a necessity.
It shouldn’t take the death of a loved one for people to realize the dangers of a farm and to change their ways, like it did for me, and my family. The word about safety needs to be spread throughout the whole country and if square one is a small county in southern Iowa, I guess that’s where we need to start. I’m going to do that by telling you, be aware, be alert, and be alive.
1Fatality statistics vary depending on the the source of the data and the work environments included in a study.
2Different terms are used to refer to ROPS including 'roll over projective structure' and ‘roll bar’.
February 14th, possibly
a gloriously warm morning the task at hand was removing
some old citrus trees. The gas cap on the Ferguson had
been loose for years. By happenstance the gas cap
was inspected and the seal corrected. First tree to
come out was … rootstock [that] had survived [after]
the top at died years ago… The tree was pruned so
only the top three feet of trunk remained. Using a pick
and shovel a trench was dug around the roots and with the
aid of an axe the roots were cut until the trunk was loose.
With a chain tied to the pin on top of the three point
hitch above the rear axle of the TO-20 and the other end
wrapped tightly around the tree, one strong pull and it
came out with ease.
I immediately followed by the hood of the TO-20 coming down... In a flash... pinned with a death grip on the steering wheel in a seated position and the entire weight of the rear of the tractor trying to press me into the ground.
Luckily when the foot slipped, my body turned sideways or my head would have been crushed like a tomato on Interstate 5. My father-in-law tried to pick the tractor off me and I was able to tell him where the jack was. Right then the tractor caught fire. Gas was slowly dripping from the tank, hit the spark from near the alternator and now there were flames. Luckily it didn't come gushing out of the loose fuel cap. My wife comes running up to me with a garden hose... STOP!!! She was directed to the location of the fire extinguisher... A quick burst of the extinguisher and the fire was out. A few cranks with the jack on the back axel and some squirming I crawled out. All that was damaged was a broken thumb, broken steering wheel, fried alternator, wiring harness and alternator. That used up about three of the nine lives.
What was gained? Experience
in how not to pull a stump out with a tractor.
After relaying this story to folks around the county one person mentioned pulling the tree out in reverse while having the chain attached to a front hitch/pin. While this will most likely prevent the tractor flipping hopefully the chain/cable doesn't break and come back and get you. Use the right tool like a stump grinder/backhoe/ fire if necessary. Tractors are time savers for sure but they can also be deadly when not used correctly.
Have long, safe, enjoyable days down on the farm.
As part of an activity called “My Story,” farmers and farm family members were invited to tell a story about a tractor overturn event that they or someone they knew had experienced. The stories that follow are presented as they were told. The stories describe various ways that tractor overturns occur, unexpectedly and suddenly; the injuries that can result; and the emotional and economic consequences of those injuries for the tractor driver and his or her family.
For more information about the project and other educational materials go to: http://www.cdc.gov/nasd/docs/d000901-d001000/d000997/3.html
“Why he decided this day to take the tractor, knowing how wet everything was, will never be known. Although the incline was no more than three feet in height, as the tractor tried to climb it, it began to slide backward and to the right. As it slid, the back right tire struck a tree with enough force to cause the tractor to overturn down the embankment into a small creek filled with mud and water. Eric’s head was caught under the back tire and he could not get free. Read more…
"I was told that he suffocated from the weight of the tractor and the mud and water. There were no other marks or injuries except for a bruise from the steering wheel to his chest and a mark from the side fender where the force of the rollover bounced him to the side.
“The impact was horrible for my family as he had no will. We had only been here for a year to the week of his death. I had to wait several months for everything we owned to be probated in court. At the time, I was rearing five children and a grandson. Financially I was drained. Without the help of family and friends I would have lost everything he died for. Emotionally and physically I was drained as I continued by myself (and still do today) to maintain this 100- acre farm, work full-time as a teacher and raise three of my children, ages 14, 17 and 19.
“My whole life changed within a few minutes. It’s hard to explain to people who have not experienced a close death. Before operating my tractor, I had a roll bar installed and a seat belt attached. Probably the most difficult thing in my life that I have ever had to do was to climb up on that tractor seat, the one on which he died, and continue on with my life alone.
“Nothing will bring him back but I honestly believe if there had been a roll bar he would not have died. He may have been injured but not dead.
“This may be unorganized but they are just thoughts."
My neck and shoulders were
severely bruised. The lower part of my spine was fractured.
My lungs and heart cavity were severely bruised. Nearly
all of my ribs were broken. My left wrist was crushed.
A piece of bone between my wrist and elbow was splintered.
My left knee was bruised, burned and severely cut. My
left foot broke from top down and bottom up plus it was
Death as Told by His Daughter, Age 16
Death as Told by a Boy, Age 15
Friend's Death as Told by a Boy, Age 18
Death as Told by his Uncle
Survived a Tractor Overturn as Told by a Girl, Age
I'll Live Long Enough to Pay off the Money
I slammed the gear into low and began to turn hard to the right to get out of the rut. The left wheel must have caught me because next I was lying on the ground between the front and rear tires in the deep rut. I kicked myself out of the rut, but the wet ground was so slick that I slipped back under the tractor. There was no more time so I leaned way over to my right (I was on my back) so it could be an open casket funeral. The TO35 ran me over between my legs and over part of my torso (but not my arms and head). I got up, turned off the tractor and tried to get up the ridge to home. Everything got gray and I fell down, but I couldn’t lay down because of the dozer coming downhill following the tractor (I was sitting in sassafras growth about three or four feet high). The dozer operator saw me, ran back to the house and had my wife call for help.
“The EMS had to carry me strapped on a wire stretcher about a half mile through heavy brush to the ambulance. On the way to the hospital, the ambulance had to fight traffic, which would not move out of the way. (I no longer stop for funeral processions. Why do people stop for the dead and not the dying?) We made it to the hospital with a minute and a half to spare. My stomach and guts had been rolled into my chest cavity, breaking lots of arteries. My left hip was pulverized into small pieces. Months later I learned my back had also been broken. Because of my condition, I could not be moved to a bigger hospital without dying. I spent the next six weeks or so in traction. (My total time at the hospital was 51 days.) It was six months or so before the exterior fixators were removed and another six months or so before the holes from the fixators healed. Twice a day I had to burn the holes to kill the flesh growing from those holes (I still don’t eat much meat).
“I had no hospitalization and this episode took any money we had. The government wouldn’t help; the social security people said I was ineligible for help because I would eventually heal and had too many assets to qualify anyway. To this day, I have nothing but praise and admiration for the hospital staff. And I’m still paying off the bills. Hopefully I’ll live long enough to pay off the money owed. Before the accident, getting “public work” was difficult enough because of my age. Now it’s almost impossible even though I am physically capable of almost everything I could do before the accident. Mentally, my mind is as sharp as before, but I face a daily challenge of not letting prospective employers’ attitudes turn me against people in general. Six of the eight tractor accidents that week were fatal, and I sometimes wonder who was lucky.”
Hardest Time are the Holidays
of Pain and Lots of Money
Tractor Accident Survivor: This Young Farmer Wants Others to be Careful Out There
It’s a farmer’s worst nightmare.
You’re mowing pastures. Your son is operating another tractor and rotary mower ahead of you. You see him going too close to a creek bank. You yell, but he doesn’t hear you. The steep bank crumbles. The tractor, mower and your son drop out of sight.
This nightmare was real for Billy Jeffries of Edmonton, Ky. When he got to the edge of the creek bank, he saw his 13-year-old son, Joseph, with his leg pinned under the tractor. The rollover protective structure bar had kept the tractor from rolling and crushing the young man. Read more…
“Without the ROPS,
Joseph would have been killed,” says his father.
Billy ran to his mother’s house and called the
Metcalf County Fire and Rescue Squad. Again, Joseph was
lucky. Because their farm was at the edge of town, the
squad was there in five minutes. The rescuers were also
trained and equipped to do the job. They pushed a flat
air bag under the tractor and inflated it to lift the
machine off of Joseph.
Billy and Joseph still enjoy working together on the farm. They count themselves lucky that in the long run their nightmare had a reasonably happy ending.
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