Few farm accidents have a happy ending
By Lisa B. Pot
A plate filled with mashed potatoes and roast beef in one hand, dessert in the other, I looked at the full tables in front of me, wondering where to sit.
A kindly fellow, casually dressed in a sweatshirt and workpants, pulled out a chair and beckoned me over.
Between mouthfuls we got to talking about the speakers and stories shared at Crops Day, one of eight information-packed theme days at the Grey-Bruce Farmer’s Week. Coming up on the agenda was a testimonial by Kristy and Chunk McKee. He survived being pulled into a corn harvester. You can read their story in this issue of The Rural Voice.
We got to chatting about farm accidents we’d heard about. It was a painful subject. We all know of people who have died or been maimed in farm accidents. It’s serious and I take it seriously so don’t be offended by what happened next. I share it to highlight one (not all) of the reasons farm accidents happen – errors in judgement.
My dinner companion, whose name I didn’t capture, started to chuckle. It was one of those inviting kind of laughs - warm and genuine. He also had excellent timing and an engaging demeanor. I regret that my recounting of his tale doesn’t do justice to his story-telling abilities.
My dinner companion said he had a friend, an amiable and handy guy always willing to help out. However, he seemed prone to mishaps. Recounting a few of his friend’s adventures, my dinner companion had set the comical tone before coming to the heart of his story which involved a neighbour’s barn roof, a modified ladder, and a mathematical miscalculation.
Before starting on the barn roof, the friend devised a plan whereby he took an extension ladder and pulled it apart. Tying the ends of the ladder together with a section of rope, he proceeded to toss one section of the ladder on the right side of the roof. He kept the other section on the barn slope he would be working on so he could use it as leverage while he nailed down the steel.
“Well, my friend, he didn’t get his math quite right,” said my dinner companion, now having to pause every few words because we were both edging into belly-laugh territory as the narrative took on a movie scene quality.
In what can only be described as a classic Chevy Chase move (watch Christmas Vacation), the friend was handily nailing down the steel when he felt his ladder slip. He hadn’t quite calculated the effect his body weight had on his contrived balancing system. There was no time to correct the problem. One can only imagine his facial expression when he slid straight off the roof. The story may not have had a comical ending if he hadn’t landed neck deep in, you guessed it, a manure pile.
Of course, there was still that second section of ladder which came whizzing down behind him. “Just missed him,” said my dinner companion, now in full-throttle laughter. What a story-teller! I had my first belly-laugh of the season, an unexpected gift albeit from sensitive subject matter.
Don’t take offense now! Obviously, I do not think loss of life or limb is humorous. It was his “funniest videos” take on the event that elicited the laughter in this case. Also, the relief that his friend survived without injury. Still...what a strategically inept approach! I tell this story because the risks farmers take should be taken seriously.
Farm accidents can happen for all sorts of reasons and there are many situations where the farmer isn’t the least bit culpable. There are also times when farmers are so intent on getting the job done, they just don’t think. They tackle a job without the right safety equipment; they rush and don’t pause to consider better options; they work all night and tiredness leads to mistakes.
We can shake our heads but are we any different? I jumped over a running power take-off (PTO) once because it was a shortcut into the barn. I made it but afterwards I got the shakes thinking about what could have happened. I never did it again.
When you hear about someone who doesn’t make the leap over the PTO, or doesn’t walk away from a fall off the ladder, we are given the option to consider our own approaches...the chance to potentially avoid an accident if we just take a minute to PAUSE and THINK.
This is the reason why my dinner companion said I could use the story if it helps. It’s also the message Chunk and Kristy McKee were hoping to get across to the hundreds of farmers in attendance at Crop Day.
I love how willing Kristy and Chunk were to share their story. Chunk is not a careless man but in the rush of a wet harvest season, with deadlines looming, he made an error in judgement. He was busy, stressed and determined to keep on working so he kicked corn stalks into a running harvester and ended up with a leg so damaged, he had to give up his milk cows and will endure pain for the rest of his life.
He’d done it before without injury, why should this time have been any different?
Except this time, it was. And it wasn’t funny at all.◊
Lisa B. Pot is editor of the Rural Voice and dairy farms in Huron County.