An encounter with a pothole was all it took to shake the header off Peter McKay’s combine and send both machine and driver airborne.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but it’s a fact that accidents occur much too frequently on the farm. That point was driven home recently to Peter McKay, an Oklahoma wheat grower who learned the truth firsthand.
McKay endured two serious on-farm accidents in the brief span of two weeks earlier this year. The second one nearly ended his life.
“If you don’t think an accident can happen to you, think again,” advises McKay, who farms in Kiowa County. Each year, 551 people die while doing agricultural work in the U.S., according to the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety. Another 88,000 suffer lost-time injuries. Most of these incidents are preventable.
McKay says his first accident, on June 5, was a fluke. He had finished combining one field and was headed to a second when he hit what he describes as the only pothole in the road.
The 24' wheat header snapped off the combine and fell to the ground. Before McKay could react, the 18,000-lb. machine had climbed up the header and was sailing through the air.
“I felt like a rocket-ship pilot without a harness,” he recalls. The steering wheel was the only thing that kept him from flying through the cab window.
The combine finally came to a stop in a ditch. Its tires survived the impact, but not much else did. The rear of the main frame was broken and the axle had folded up into the shaker shoe, leaving the back of the machine a scant inch or two off the ground.
“A lot of guys may not believe this, but I know that header was secured properly before I started,” he says. “I have the pictures to prove it.”
While the machine was destroyed, McKay thought he was fine. But his legs soon turned black-and-blue from his knees to his stomach. Still, McKay shrugged off the incident and went about his business, harvesting the remainder of his crop.
A fall in the dark. Two weeks later, he rolled into a recently harvested wheat field with a tractor and sprayer to apply a burndown treatment of glyphosate. It was 3 a.m. and pitch-dark.
“Glyphosate seems to work better when we apply it in the early-morning hours, when there’s a bit of moisture and it’s cooler,” he explains.
The last thing McKay remembers about that morning is deciding to retrieve his flashlight from his truck, which was parked nearby. He stepped out of the cab and onto the first step. That’s when everything went black.
When he awoke, he was on the ground, flat on his back. He had bitten his lip, and it was bleeding. The tractor engine was still on, idling overhead. Coyotes were howling nearby.
- November 2010