Megan: Harvest Hazard Becomes a Reality

Worland, Wyo. – As I mentioned in my previous post, it is essential for custom harvesters to be flexible. In addition to that we also have to anticipate the unexpected. In our business we are constantly faced with making decisions. Sometimes these choices we are forced to make are risky and most times we win. However, every once in a while we are not that fortunate.

Last Monday Brandon and James had just moved to Worland as the rest of our crew was loading up in Powder River to join the boys there. Dad received a phone call from Brandon just as we were about to load up the combine on the trailer. In a calm voice Brandon asked, “Dad, what should I do? The bridge just broke and the combine is still on it. I’m not sure what to do now. And it’s not in the water…yet.” Standing beside Dad I overheard this conversation and the panic and concern in Dad’s voice was evident as he conversed with Brandon. As soon as Dad hung up the phone, him and I hopped in the pickup and began driving towards Worland.

In this case, we used technology to our advantage and had Brandon send us a picture text from his cell phone so that we could evaluate the situation better. Unfortunately, cell phone service was scarce for both Dad and Brandon so it was challenging trying to correlate. After almost a half hour into our drive we finally received the picture of the incident. You know the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words” – well, that’s exactly what this picture said to us. As soon as Dad saw it he called Brandon and directed him and James to stay far away from the combine until he got there. Along the rest of the way Dad weighed out his options and came up with a plan.

An hour and a half after the initial phone call we finally reached the field. There were two barley fields that were less than 100 feet apart and were separated by a narrow bridge that stood over a major irrigation canal with running water in it. The combine had crossed over the bridge going the other way just one hour before with no problems whatsoever. On the way back over the choice was made to save time and risk leaving the header on the combine to cross the bridge. Perhaps this was too much weight for the old bridge to handle because as the combine was half way over the bridge the planks under the left front drive tire began to crack. The next thing Brandon knows the entire combine is tilted over and the front left tire of the combine is almost in the water. Dad always checks the bridges before we cross them and we usually lay down reinforcing planks if he finds necessary. Since our crew was split Dad wasn’t around to do this part of the job and Brandon made a choice. The first crossing for Brandon was successful but on the way back the bridge gave out.

Now speculating the accident after the fact one would assume if Brandon had just taken off the header, it would have lightened up the load enough that maybe the old bridge wouldn’t have broken. However, we all believe that something more powerful intervened because when the combine slid the header was the only thing on solid ground and it stopped the combine from tipping over into the canal. If the header had not been on, and the bridge still broke there is no doubt that the combine would have flipped off the bridge and rolled upside down in the canal full of running water. If that had happened serious injury or a fatality could have occurred. Since the choice was made to leave the header on it ultimately saved Brandon’s life.

We called in two local cranes from the oil fields to assist in lifting the combine up and off the bridge. The only major damage was one of the header cylinders getting bent and some light damage to an area of tin work where a cable rubbed when we attached it from one of the cranes. Looking at what the alternative outcome could have been makes the expense of it all seem quite minimal. Everyone involved realized how lucky the situation turned out. It was certainly a million dollar lesson that fortunately had a happy ending.

In Wyoming, we constantly cross such bridges on an almost daily basis. The choice to do so is just another risk that comes along with our job. Harvest is filled with everyday hazards and we always try our best to avoid them. However, when accidents do happen, they make us stop and open our eyes again – making us realize how dangerous our work can be and how important it is to be careful. Mom always says we have to count our blessings every day and let me tell you – at the end of that day we were counting them over and over again!

Initial view
This is the view that Dad and I saw as soon as we pulled into the field.

Beginning of it
The left side of the header (looking at the photo your right) is what kept the combine from tipping over into the canal.

As cranes hook up
After the bridge collapsed under the front left drive tire, the rest of the combine slid in that direction. Luckily the header was on to keep the combine from falling into the water.

Bend cylinder
One of the header cylinders was bent badly when the bridge broke. However, this cylinder held much of the weight of the combine as it slowly slid towards the water.

Side view
Right after the incident Brandon jumped out of the cab and saw the combine slowly sliding towards the water so James and the farmers got a tractor and towrope to put tension on the back end until Dad and the cranes showed up.

Hooking up cables
Dad hooks up the cable to the back end of the combine as James directs the crane operator.

Behind view
Cranes and combines are usually only seen together in the factory – not out in the field.

With 2 tow trucks
The crane operators were very skilled and knowledgeable. This made the entire “rescue” process go smoothly and safely.

Left view of bridge
The bridge under the front left drive tire is what collapsed and the entire combine slid after that, causing more of the bridge to break through.


More tires in air
The crane operators helped to lift up the combine until the front drive tires were on solid ground. Dad drove the combine forward as the crane operator held up the back end, letting cable out as Dad moved forward but still keeping the rear of the combine off the bridge.

Steering tires in air
The back wheels were high up in the air.

Tires off from other side
After the front of the combine was off of the bridge the crane operator completely lifted up the back end of the combine to help move it safely so it didn’t break through the broken bridge.

Boys evaluate bridge
Once the combine was off the bridge and back on solid ground, James and Brandon evaluate the damage.

Buba looks a bent tin work
Brandon looks at the dented tin work on his combine. It is a small price to pay considering what a dangerous situation he was in. We have dubbed this imperfection on the combine as “Brandon’s badge of courage.”

The aftermath of the bridge. Hazards of harvest rarely become a reality but when they do it is frightening for everyone involved. All I can say is that Brandon certainly had guardian angels on his shoulders.

Megan can be reached at All Aboard 2011 is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.


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