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Recently, a headline caught my attention. The words screamed from the page, “Three Ohio brothers die after getting trapped in manure pits” (NY Post).
I can’t exactly describe the emotions that hit me. My gut clenched, my breathing caught, and I felt my heart race. My brain kept repeating the same refrain of, “No, no, no.”
I don’t know the Wuebker family at all. I had never even heard of them until that heartbreaking moment when I scanned the article. But my heart went out to them. Three brothers, performing a routine task they had probably done a hundred times before, and all of them gone. It’s a family’s worst nightmare.
Accidents can happen anywhere, don’t get me wrong. I could wake up tomorrow morning and fall in my shower. I could slip while pacing my room teaching and crack my head. There are a myriad of ways and places to encounter an accident; I know this. However, my greatest fear has always been a farm accident.
Growing up in a farming family, as a little kid the warnings are always present. At certain places where farm accidents had occurred, my grandfather would always tell the story, stressing the end result (none were good), and then tell us exactly how the accident could have been avoided. The majority of the time, the lesson was, always pay attention and never be careless.
In theory, that sounds easy.
Who could possibly find themselves being careless around a tractor that weighs thousands of pounds and is several feet bigger than you? Yet, when it is 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and you have been in the field since 6 a.m., it’s easy to just fall back on the saying, “I’ve done this hundreds of times; I could do it in my sleep,” and then literally relax your guard for a split second.
That split second though, just like in anything, could be the difference between sleeping in your own bed, spending time in a hospital or having your family plan your funeral.
The issue with accidents on the farm, though, is that normally, the accident is a family member. It’s normally a mother, brother, father, sister, uncle, aunt, son, daughter or cousin who is an integral part of not only a family, but also of making the operation run.
I don’t know the Wuebker family personally, but I imagine that the loss of three sons, fathers and brothers is a devastating blow not only to the family, but to the livelihood of the operation. On an incredibly small farm like ours, a loss of a single person could be catastrophic. Thankfully, close calls on our operation have been nil and I’d like to keep it that way.
But there was one time where I thought I was witnessing a disastrous event.
My brother was driving the tractor with a giant piece of machinery attached from one field to another, down state Route 88. I followed in the truck with flashers on. Out of nowhere I see this red SUV flying up on us. The SUV was doing over 70 mph and did not seem to notice that we were only going about 35 to 40 mph.
The SUV, without slowing or stopping went to pass the truck and tractor, but failed to realize that they were passing right before the state Route 11 overpass and they obviously could not see that a semi tractor-trailer was coming up and over the bridge.
Thankfully, my brother saw this, downshifted, hit the brakes and managed to stop the tractor and equipment to give the red SUV just enough room to slide between the semi and tractor.
I am sure that for those mere seconds, I stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating. I remember thinking about all the things I could do if the tractor and equipment tipped over. All these things went through my head, but the overwhelming thought was, “How do I save my brother?”
Thanks to Craig’s quick thinking and awareness, none of those questions needed answered. We pulled into the field and I could tell that even he recognized the seriousness of the situation. It reminded us both how important we are to each other, but also how important we are to the survival of our small farm.
Accidents happen; it’s a fact of life. But farming accidents seem more personal, more devastating, more painful. Maybe it’s because they are one of my worst fears, maybe because it could be my family, but the reason is far simpler than even those. One day, it could happen to me, my mother or my brother doing something simple and routine and the consequences could be calamitous.
So when you see those gut-clenching headlines, take a moment and send some good thoughts to the family. But more importantly, with harvest season coming soon, be careful around farm equipment on the roads.
And farming friends, never take a moment for granted, always be aware. I’m not sure my heart can take missing any more beats.
Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau who has completed her Ph.D. at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.
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