Thursday, April 16, 2009

Farm Injury

Farming can be a dangerous industry. Accidents happen, and they can be severe. Our small farming community of Taber has experienced its share of tragedies.

I remember the first time I drove each of my dad's tractors. I started with a small, red one. After a bit, I was allowed to try the big orange one (similar to someone else's, pictured here).

Allis Chalmers D17 tractor

For some reason, this view of it always reminds me of a grasshopper. 

For controls, it has a clutch, gear shift, two brake pedals (one for each rear wheel), and a steering wheel. The clutch pedal and gear shift lever are clearly visible in this picture.

Showing clutch pedal and gear shift lever

It also has a lever which has a neutral position, a slow position (towards the driver) and a fast position (away from the driver). There is no gas pedal, just a hand operated selector behind the steering wheel. Finally, there is an ignition key. The lever and the two brake pedals are clearly visible in this picture.

View of brake pedals and control lever

To move forward, you make sure the lever is in neutral, shift into the desired gear, set the initial gas position, and finally pull the lever towards you. To go a bit faster, push the lever through neutral into the faster position. And of course, you can always give it more gas.

I remember countless trips out to the fields with my dad driving, me sitting on the fender beside his seat, sort of facing inwards towards him and turned a bit to the front. In the next picture, you can see the top of the gear shift lever, the control lever to the right, steering wheel, ignition switch just below that, and the gas controls behind the wheel.

Front facing view showing the control lever on the right

And that is the view I had, as I was returning from my first test drive. I intended to park facing a granary. I approached at slow speed, and, to stop, pushed the lever away from me, towards its neutral position. But, I pushed it too hard and the tractor went faster! It gently nudged the granary and then the rear wheels continued to turn and it bucked up and down. I tried the brakes, but just managed to get it twisting a bit as I pressed harder first on one brake, then on the other. I thought about the clutch, the ignition, etc. Finally, I realized what I had done to the lever and pulled it ever so gently back into the neutral position, and the bucking stopped. I was then able to stop the engine, and get down. A bit dazed, but no harm done.

Dad worked for many years as a farmer, with no serious accident. But finally, it was his turn, I guess. Myrna describes the accident from her point of view in her post, "Flashback to 1965."

Here is how our mother told the story:
"During the beet harvest of 1965, my husband Arnold was topping beets with a Marbeet - topper, when he impatiently kicked at some beets that were stuck in the cutter. His heel got caught in the pickup spikes and his foot was dragged into the cutter. To free his foot he had to reverse the engine. The spikes tore at his jeans and heavy leather work shoes. He was alone and had to wait for his truck driver, Thelma Winchester, to come in the truck from the other part of the field. She brought him in the truck to the house, and I took him to the hospital. Part of the thickness of the fibula (leg bone) was gone, and the muscle was torn. He was in the Taber hospital for three weeks. Kind relatives and friends finished the beet harvest. Later on Arnold was hospitalized again, and bone from his hip was grafted to his fibula. His leg was in a cast for about six months."

This post is illustrated with a few pictures*. Here is a view of the Marbeet topper. Looks a bit like a medieval torture device, which is what it became for dad on that fateful day.

Marbeet topper

This machine must be mounted on the tractor, and fits between the front and rear wheels on the right side, and fairly snugly up against the tractor. Try to imagine the tractor and harvester combined into a single machine. The spiked wheel ends up just in front of the control lever on the right side. The tractor also tows a wheeled hopper that receives the topped beets.

The combined tractor/topper machine harvests one row of sugar beets at a time. A plow ahead of the spiked wheel loosens the soil. The spiked wheel turns, snags the beet roots, pulling them out of the ground as it turns. Just past the top of the wheel, sharp disks slice off the tops which are rubbed off the spikes and fall to the ground. The topped beet roots are thrown to the right (by the spinning disks) onto a kind of escalator that takes the topped beets up and behind the driver where they fall off into the towed hopper.

If you look closely at the spiked wheel, you'll see that the spikes are curved a bit towards the front on the top, and therefore towards the rear at the bottom where they grab into the top of each beet root. From time to time, a beet doesn't make it cleanly through the spinning disk and dad would give it just a little kick to send it on its way. He must have done this thousands of times over the years.

The accident occurred when, on one of the these kicks, he got the heel of his work boot caught by one of the curved spikes. He had more presence of mind that I did on my first test drive (not to mention years more of experience), so I'm sure he was able to stop the machine quite quickly.

Getting it into reverse so that his boot could be backed out away from the blades must have been a lot harder. His right leg would have been pulled forward quite a bit, and he had to somehow reach down with his left foot hard enough to actuate the clutch so that he could shift into reverse. He must have been kind of half standing to perform this maneuver. Once the gear shift was in reverse, he could relax a bit, then pull the lever gently towards him, so as to move the whole machine in reverse so that he could extricate his foot.

Then of course, he had to wait to be discovered and taken to help. One can only imagine the thoughts and feelings that must have coursed through him as he waited. Pain of course, embarrassment for the flawed kick, worry about getting the rest of the crop harvested, etc. Thank goodness for loving family and neighbors who took care of everything while he recovered. Our town wasn't much for open verbal expressions of love, but whenever one of us needed help, people came forward. Thank you, townspeople of Taber.

*The pictures are taken from two websites. Rather than steal bandwidth from these sites, I have put copies of the pictures elsewhere. I hope the two sites will consider this a fair use. In any case, you are invited to click on any of the pictures to visit the sites from which the pictures are taken.


Myrna said...

Much more detail than I would have understood when I was 7 going on 8! Thanks!

Nancy said...

I agree. It's nice to know what the machine looked like. And it looks pretty crazy at that! Yikes!