Work together to set rules for machinery use. If teenagers know why the rule is important, they’ll be more likely to follow it and arrive home safely

When I think of farm safety, I think of keeping little children from getting run over by tractors. I think of men too tired to work machinery and making errors in judgment that cause them to get hurt. What I didn’t used to think of was the “teenagers know better than Mom and Dad factor” being involved.

One training tip offered in farm safety literature is to make sure that jobs given a child are age appropriate. Maybe that should read “maturity” appropriate. I reflect on my daughter’s 4-H Babysitting Certificate Course for this. Technically that group of eager 12 year olds was old enough to take the course and handle the responsibility of taking care of young children. But although they had all passed their tests, in reality not all of them were ready for infant care. Toddlers, yes. Babies, no. This is where parents knowing what their children are capable of doing is very important. The same theory applies to running machinery.

Our first acquaintance with this was when our 19 year old drove the tractor with a load of hay down a road — which he wasn’t supposed to be on — and into the ditch. Had he flipped our open tractor, it would most likely have cost him his life. When our son drove in the yard with an empty hay wagon, our hearts stopped. We were terrified. When my husband and son went back to see what had happened and came home quiet, I knew it was bad.

We sat down and talked, and from that talk we have two new rules in our house. They are:

One, no matter how old you are, the game plan must be followed. We are willing to explain why a chore has to be done a certain way and we listen to their input. But once the rules are made, they are final.

Two, we as parents are ultimately responsible for what happens on our farms and we must be sure that the child is trained properly to handle all the “What ifs.”

The first thing we did wrong in this circumstance was fail to explain why the route was important. We instructed our son how to load and unload the hay and what road to take, but he had no idea why he had to stick to the route that his father had chosen for him. The hay was on a field that required a three-hour round trip. My husband was driving school bus so we had our son hauling for us. We assumed that at 19 he was experienced enough to be able to do the job. The route my husband had chosen required my son to drive the narrow back road to the field then take the gravel provincial highway, much wider so vehicles could pass, on the way home.

The day he lost the load in the ditch it had started snowing while he was coming back with the last load of the day. Because our tractor is open, his glasses had gotten wet. A deer jumped out in front of the tractor and he instinctively swerved. The outside wheels caught the edge of the ditch and everything almost went in. A miracle happened and he managed to pull the tractor up but the trailer twisted and he lost the hay. Fortunately the tongue on the bale wagon twisted too badly for him to unhitch. If he had been able to unhook it, the story would have ended with tragedy. Because he didn’t want to get into trouble for dumping the load, he would have attempted to reload. That would have meant driving in and out of the steep ditch, and probably flipping the tractor. The bale wagon stopped this from happening. For this we will be forever grateful.

The next morning, in the daylight, we enlisted the help of our neighbours. With a grapple and huge 4WD tractor, he was barely able to get the hay out of the ditch for us. He told us had our son tried with our tractor, he most certainly would have flipped into the ditch full of water with a JD 3010 tractor on top of him. If that alone didn’t kill him, the fact that we wouldn’t have known where he was might have.

Why didn’t we know where he was? He was bored and it was snowing. These factors were making him tired and he decided to take a meandering route home instead of how he had been told. He did what a lot of people that age do and decided that he knew better than his parent did and he went his own way. Had he gone into that water, we wouldn’t have found him for a long time.

This experience taught us that just because these young people know how to drive a tractor safely, that isn’t enough. They also have to know how to handle the emergencies that can occur. They just don’t have the life experiences to fall back on. For our family, the twisted tongue on our hay wagon, which we have decided not to fix, will be a reminder for all the other children of what can happen.

We were also fortunate that one of us is always home. Between bus runs, my husband would either take a turn at hauling to give our son a break or at the least do mechanical maintenance on the equipment. For a lot of farm families these days, the dad doesn’t have this luxury. Although our son was 19 at the time, he had just graduated from high school the previous June and needed his father to be teaching him all these things. Again, just knowing how to drive the tractor isn’t enough.

Our family learned a lot from this experience and I hope sharing it will help other families avoid tragedy.

Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Man.

Email her at [email protected]

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