“The Life You Save Might Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite short stories. It’s about a woman who foists her intellectually slower daughter off on a traveling handyman.
The handyman marries the daughter, heads off into the sunset with her and promptly leaves her at the first diner he stops at when she falls asleep at the counter. However, he does pay for her meal and he does wish her the best.
This title sums it up best when dealing with agricultural equipment and roadways. I know we just came off a beautiful Memorial Day weekend and while many of you may have sneaked in some barbecuing and time with friends, most farmers — us included — were in the fields from sunup to past sundown.
And as much as I wish we never had to leave our fields and get on the main roads, we do, and boy, I can tell you, I have seen some hazardous things. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, there are some really lucky people out there. Lucky that there wasn’t another car coming, lucky that we were paying attention, lucky we had enough braking room and lucky to go home alive.
See, to you it might just be another tractor or a huge slow-moving inconvenience in your zippy path to wherever you are going, but to me, that’s my mom or that’s my brother who flew up from New Orleans to make sure we get the crop planted. Sometimes, it is even me and I don’t know about you, but I want to get home in one piece.
I think what people forget is that while they are surrounded by airbags and lots of protection in their cars, farmers are surrounded by steel, glass, rods and thousands of pounds of equipment that do not come with air bags.
If you hit a tractor, it’s going to roll over and the top will scrunch together like a sardine can and you had better hope that a 6-foot-10 young man named Craig isn’t sitting in that cab or I’ll be short my only sibling. It’s not something I want to imagine.
So since the weather seems to be intent on staying nice and farmers will continue to be out and about, we need to share the roadways in a smart and intelligent way, let me offer you some advice from the lovely folks at Farm Bureau.
1. Give farm equipment lots of room. Treat us like fragile semi-trucks. We take a lot of room to turn and sometimes we might have to turn into the other lane in order to make a field driveway. Passing us on a turn is just going to be a bad move.
2. We might take up more than one lane. If possible, slow down and maybe pull off to the side. It’s not required, but also know, we cannot take out a person’s mailbox, so if we can’t get over, it might be a tight squeeze. Be kind.
3. Don’t pass us at 80 mph and then immediately hit your brakes. I guarantee we can’t stop that fast, especially if we are pulling machinery.
This is even true for pickup trucks pulling wagons or seed tenders. A gravity wagon filled with corn might weigh almost 30,000 pounds, and with soybeans it might be almost 31,000 pounds, and that doesn’t stop on a dime.
4. Slow down! Yes, sometimes tractors and other agricultural equipment can do the speed limit and might be chugging along with traffic, but this is rare. Most of the time, we travel between 5 to 15 mph. That means if you are going 65 mph, you will be tailgating us a lot sooner than you expect.
5. Pay attention. I think this might be the most important one out there. Sometimes, farmers will try to communicate with cars either to make the farmers’ life easier or yours. However, if you’re not paying attention, you might miss a good opportunity and take a risky chance instead.
So as the weather continues to stay beautiful and farmers continue to do their jobs to keep the country fed and running, please be courteous on the road. After all, you might save my brother’s, mother’s, neighbor’s, friend’s or even my life. But more importantly, you might save your own.
Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau, who completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.
OFBF MIssion: Working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities.