By KRISS NELSON
GOWRIE – Southeast Valley High School students enrolled in driver’s education had the opportunity to get a first-hand glimpse at what farm equipment operators can – or more likely can’t – see when they are traveling down roadways.
The Webster County Farm Bureau, along with equipment provided by Landus Cooperative and Harcourt Equipment, sponsored the event last week during the driver’s ed class held at the school in Gowrie.
Each of the students climbed in to a semi truck hooked to a grain trailer, a combine, sprayer and tractor with a grain cart, all of which are common agricultural equipment that can be found on Iowa’s roadways at any given time.
Steve Peterson, Webster County Farm Bureau president, said this was the first year the farm equipment experience was put on for the drivers ed class.
“Our goal was to let them experience the size and scope of the machinery, to help give them an appreciation,” Peterson said.
Webster County Farm Bureau tries to come up with new ideas every year to reach out to students in the area, he said.
“We like to center around kids and what we can do to benefit them. This gave us a chance to expose kids that don’t always have an opportunity to see this kind of equipment.”
Out of the 20 students in driver’s ed, Peterson said only three came from a farm.
“It was enlightening for us,” he said. “Everyone considers Southeast Valley a rural school and it was alarming to learn how few of kids come from a farm and this program hopefully gave them the perspective to share the road with this equipment.”
When speaking with the group at the beginning of the presentation, Peterson said many seemed skeptical about there being any issues with sharing the road with large farm equipment.
But once they got the chance to climb up into the cabs of the machinery, they seemed shocked to realize just how little they could see.
Kaylb Crouse, one of the students, said he didn’t realize that farm equipment can take up so much room.
“Farmers must be paranoid when they drive those things,” he said. “I will definitely try to stay far back and try to stay where they can see me and slow down.”
Webster County Farm Bureau Vice President Jeremy Swanson instructed the students with the tractor and grain cart during the event. He explained to them that an operator driving a tractor pulling such an implement will drive on the side of the road as much they can, but when they approach certain obstacles such as bridges, road signs and mailboxes, they might need to pull back onto the roadway.
“Try to help them out. Be aware,” Swanson said. “If there is an acreage coming up with a mailbox, or a bridge, try to wait before you pass.”
He asked the students what they should do if they meet large farm equipment while traveling down a gravel road.
“My family pulls over and waits for them to pass,” Jaidyn Rowley said.
Matt Thompson, location manager of Landus Cooperative’s Farnhamville location, provided the semi with grain trailer and sprayer for the event.
Thompson shared with the students some of the dangers of driving around semis.
“When this semi is loaded, it can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, with larger trucks and trailers weighing more than that,” he said. “Think about that when we’re trying to stop.”
If you are following a semi, or attempting to pass, if you cannot see the truck’s mirrors, “they can definitely not see you,” he said.
“There are a lot of blind spots, especially around the trailer and towards the back, no matter what mirror we have we cannot see you back there.”
Jaelyn Davis took a turn sitting in the semi, which was set up hooked to a grain trailer with a pickup parked several yards back.
“You can’t really see the truck behind you,” she said.
Davis said she learned a lot about being on the road with farm equipment.
“I will try to stay away from those vehicles,” she said.
Abbie Burger, another student, lives on a farm. Although she has been in her family’s farm equipment, she didn’t realize how hard it was to see out of them.
“I will give farmers more respect and stay far behind them when I start driving,” she said.
Rowley said she hopes to help her friends learn more about sharing the roads with farm equipment and other types of slow-moving vehicles.
“I will definitely tell my friends to slow down and be precautious,” she said.
Denis Heatherington and John Fredrickson, both members of the Webster County Farm Bureau board, shared some of their personal experiences.
During a brief discussion with the class, the students all agreed that they could see out of the semi the best when compared to the combine, tractor and grain cart and the sprayer, but all agreed that even with being able to see out of the semi, they couldn’t see very much at all.
Jessica Froisland, a driver’s ed instructor, said this is the first time a presentation such as this has been brought to one of her classes.
“I think that this is a great idea to see exactly what farmers can see when they are driving their equipment. Most of these kids just aren’t around tractors to know these things.”
Froisland teaches in the classroom about being a defensive driver around slow-moving vehicles, but allowing her students to see firsthand was a real learning experience.
“I think this has been great,” she said. “I can count a number of times I have had close calls because someone is bound and determined they need to pass me. There’s so many that are disconnected from the farm, so these kids just aren’t around the farm and this type of equipment anymore.”
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