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Dust on the Dashboard

A painful mistake

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. Reach him at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

We all have moments we regret, a second in time we wish we could go back and do differently. Well, I had one of those moments this week. It’s one that I am not very proud of and frankly, I am embarrassed about it.

I really don’t want to talk about it, but maybe by sharing it my mistake can save someone else from something similar. Just know that this was not one of my finer moments.

I am scheduled to have my left hip replaced this week. Four weeks ago I had my right hip replaced. This is not the best time of the year for a farmer to have this done. However, I had reached the point where it had to be done.

Isaac graciously agreed to come home for a couple of weeks to help put hay up. He worked hard and made a lot of headway. Due to rain and a breakdown, we still have a fair amount of hay to bale. When he headed back to school the reality of how much I had to do set in and started a sense of urgency.

The week Isaac left, my new right hip had gotten to the point of feeling good. Modern medicine is amazing. I could actually function and drive a tractor with little or no pain. Sure, the left hip hurt but I was used to that.

The weather was good, and we could have baled a lot of hay, except we were waiting for the part for the disc mower. Jennifer suggested that maybe we try mowing some hay with the sickle mower. I agreed that it might work. I had some brome where I had wintered the cows a little too long and it was short and light. Jennifer decided to take an afternoon off of work and mow hay for me.

Last year we purchased a new-to-us 60-year-old tractor with the idea of using it on the sickle mower in prairie hay. The problem was with my hips I could not drive it. That is where my wonderful wife comes in.

We tried to hook the tractor up to the mower only to find out that the hydraulic connectors were different from what we used. Finding that out took two hours and a lot of our patience. Finally, I decided to put a different tractor on the mower.

I don’t have the time nor space to go into the details but putting the sickle mower on the other tractor did not go as smoothly as it should have. It took way too long. My patience and nerves were shot, and I was in a panic about getting things done. I got Jennifer started with less instruction and more grumbling than I should have, and the results were not good.

I know many of you are thinking a sickle mower, even in short, light brome probably isn’t going to work very well, and you are right. Shortly after starting, the mower plugged up. I showed Jennifer how to unplug it and warned her about the sickle moving and how it could cut a finger off.

She went another 20 feet or so and plugged again. At this point my nerves were shot, my patience was gone, and I was not in a good mood.

She got out to help me unplug the mower. Why I did what I did next I can’t explain, and I am disappointed in myself. Instead of helping her clear the sickle I went to the main drive belt to see if it was slipping. I gave it a good yank, heard Jennifer holler, and knew immediately what I had done. My heart stopped. I caught up to Jennifer and expected the worst.

We got lucky. Her finger was intact but had a nasty cut at the very end. A trip to the ER and four stitches later (along with many apologies and begging for forgiveness) we went home.

I don’t know how or why it did not cut off that finger or others, for that matter. All I can say is that God was watching over us. Jennifer has been finding out all week that the tip of her index finger gets used and bumped a lot and has a lot of nerves, but it is still there and still attached.

When we told the kids what had happened both had the same reaction: “Dad, didn’t you teach tractor safety for nearly 20 years?” My response was yes, and this proves just how fast an accident can happen and that it can happen to anyone. That is why I am sharing this with all of you.

This time of the year, we are all behind the eight ball and our anxiety runs high. We rush and hurry, and often our patience has run out. That is when we make mistakes, and in our line of work those mistakes can be painful or even deadly.

I hope that this embarrassing story will save someone from having an accident. No matter how safe you are, one momentary bad decision or lapse in judgement can lead to tragedy. Jennifer and I were lucky, next time that may not be the case.

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. Reach him at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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