A group of teenagers stood behind a parked John Deere combine at Lake Chevrolet in Clear Lake, waiting their turn to climb inside the cab and see what the road looks like from the farmer’s viewpoint.
Linda Anderegg, North Iowa Ag in the Classroom coordinator for the Cerro Gordo County Farm Bureau, asked the farmer behind the wheel to turn the engine on to show the drivers ed students how loud the combine is.
"If you are (driving) behind the machinery, and you honk your horn at them, they are not going to hear you," said Anderegg, before she was interrupted by the roar of the engine.
Last month, Cerro Gordo County Farm Bureau members organized an ag safety demonstration at Lake Chevrolet for about 50 students enrolled in the Drive Wise drivers education class.
The students, who ranged in ages from 14 to 18, got a feel for what it’s like for the farmers who must drive ag equipment on the roads and in often-impatient traffic.
"I thought they (the farmers) would be able to see a little bit more (behind them), but it’s not like that at all," said 15-year-old Brekkin White of Clear Lake after sitting in the cab of a tractor hitched to a grain wagon. "I didn’t realize that there was that little visibility back there. I will definitely keep that in mind."
Avoiding close calls
Every fall after harvest, the county Farm Bureau board members get together and share stories about the close calls they experience when driving farm equipment on the busy highways surrounding Mason City, said Cerro Gordo County Farm Bureau President Eric Arthur.
Farm Bureau board member Kevin Pope brought up the idea of hosting an ag safety event for drivers education students.
"It’s Ag in the Classroom for drivers. That was our goal," said Pope, who farms near Mason City. "Talk to them as they are freshly getting their license."
The county Farm Bureau approached Lake Chevrolet and Drive Wise drivers education service about hosting an ag safety event, and they immediately agreed to add it to the summer curriculum.
Lake Chevrolet hosted the ag safety event in their lot, and Brakke Implement, next to Lake Chevrolet, provided the combine and tractor.
"It makes so much sense because (the students) get to actually experience it rather than just talking about it in a classroom," said Julie Monke, Drive Wise instructor.
"And a lot of these (students) aren’t from a farm, and they don’t have any idea or concept about how big all (the equipment) is," Monke said. "So now when they are in the little tiny car, and they are going to do something inappropriate on the roads while they are following or passing (farm equipment), they might think again."
At the ag safety event, farmers explained to the students why they should slow down when they approach farm equipment and why they shouldn’t assume that the farmers can see their car.
The Chevy dealer parked three pick-up trucks behind the combine, so students inside the combine cab could learn how difficult it is to see vehicles driving behind them.
The farmers admitted that even they were surprised to discover that they could only see the third vehicle behind the combine, about 90 feet back, from the combine’s side mirrors. The first two pick-ups weren’t visible from the farmer’s viewpoint.
"We have no idea that you are back there at all, especially if you are going fast and you decide you are going to whip out around us before the next car is coming," Cerro Gordo Farm Bureau member and Clear Lake farmer Chuck Grove told the students.
Arthur said he once saw a car swerve into the ditch to avoid a collision because Arthur was making a left turn when the car tried to pass his tractor.
"Virtually every single time that we get in the cab of a tractor or combine, there is an instance where you are like, ‘Oh gosh, what is this person doing,’ " Arthur told the students. "People don’t realize that we are only going 25 miles per hour down the road and that just because there is no intersection doesn’t mean that we aren’t slowing down and turning, because we could be turning into a field."
The Cerro Gordo County Farm Bureau is already planning to host a second ag safety day for drivers ed students later this summer. Instructor Monke said hands-on lessons always make a longer-lasting impression on young students.
"Hopefully, it sticks with them for the rest of their lives," Arthur said. "If we can make sure each and every one of them remembers this day when they drive up behind a combine one time and avoid an accident, that would be a win for us."