When Karl Zierer bought his farm northwest of Huntley in 1967, he only had to share the road with the school bus and the milk truck.
Things are much different now with subdivisions popping up in otherwise rural areas and the suburbs spreading farther west. The farm equipment is getting bigger, too.
The mix is a potentially fatal one.
In 2011, of the 259 accidents across Illinois that involved farm equipment, six of them resulted in fatalities and 69 of them in injuries, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The same number of fatalities occurred the year before.
It’s something John Bartman thinks about a lot, especially after his own close call in May.
Bartman was headed north on Dunham Road near the intersection with Route 176 in Seneca Township, east of Marengo, about 4 p.m. when a Chevy Tahoe came up and rear-ended him, hitting the rotary hoe attached to Bartman’s 1968 tractor.
The rotary hoe detached from the tractor. The wheels, which look like Chinese throwing stars and are designed to dig up the earth, went flying. Pieces of the hoe hit Bartman in the head and shoulder. The Tahoe was totaled.
“I was fortunate,” he said. “I got away with only scratches. I’m glad I went to church that Sunday.”
Mancel “Butch” Beard, a Harvard farmer with a wife of 47 years, a father of three and a grandfather of three, wasn’t as lucky.
The 66-year-old was killed in May 2011 when the tractor he was riding along Route 23 in Marengo was struck by a car, causing his tractor to flip and sending Beard flying 10 feet.
“There are collisions on a fairly regular basis, and a lot of that has to do with the amount of traffic and the speed people are going in comparison to the speed tractors and combines are going,” said Dan Volkers, the manager of the McHenry County Farm Bureau.
Volkers has worked with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office to raise awareness, sending out joint releases to area media.
“We really want to educate people that the farm equipment is out there,” Lt. Jim Wagner said. “They’re not lit like other vehicles.”
The tractors have lighting, but sometimes the implements they’re towing don’t, he said. They do have the red or orange triangle on the backs that indicate they’re slow-moving vehicles.
Some accidents also arise when cars try to pass in no-passing zones or don’t realize how wide the equipment is, Volkers said.
Wagner recommended waiting until the farmer finds a place to pull over instead of risking a pass.
Last fall, during the harvest season, safety messages were played on local radio stations, and two years ago, in the fall after Beard’s death, billboard advertisements were taken out.
The goal is to create a campaign similar to “Start seeing motorcycles.” Banners, 30 feet by 3½ feet, reminded visitors to Harvard Milk Days to slow down and share the road.
Zierer and his son, Henry Zierer, will be out all summer, cutting the hay, spraying fields and making deliveries.
In the fall, around September, the farm equipment will be back out on the road in force, bringing in the harvest.