I was driving a long, flat, lonely stretch of highway in central Illinois the other morning when I saw an oversized pickup truck coming toward me pulling something that extended way beyond his vehicle on both sides and overlapped the stripes marking his lane.
I couldn’t tell what it was at first, but as I got closer, I could tell that it was a disc, a farm implement often used to help prepare the soil for planting.
Back when I was a kid, halfway through the last century, some of the discs pulled by tractors like our Oliver 77 were maybe five feet wide or so. Today when fully extended, some can extend more than 40 feet. Even when they’re folded up, they reach way beyond those widths I remember.
As the truck and its tow load got closer, I noticed a road sign on the other driver's side of the road, which meant he had some choices – to slow down, so that he didn’t reach the sign as we met, to pull out around it, edging further into my lane or to stop – probably not a good idea.
I had choices, too. The best one I saw was to slow down and move on over to the shoulder, which, fortunately, was wide and level.
What did happen was that we communicated without communicating – farmer today to farm kid of yesteryear – both knowing what had to happen. We may have raised chickens at some point in our lives, but we both knew better than to play “Chicken.”
The farmer slowed a bit, I scooted over some and we passed without incident before the road sign – or one of us – became a victim.
It was a simple act, really, just the type of thing folks who live in the country do for one another – move over, slow down, wave an acknowledgement, a “thanks” and a “hey, no problem.”
The problem, this time of year, though, and through the summer into fall, is that not everyone traveling the roads of rural America is a farmer or grownup farm kid, a cautious driver or a patient soul.
As they fly down a 55-mph road at 70, radio blaring, checking text messages, bounding over the crests of hills or around curves as if they’re on the world’s fastest roller coasters, drivers often fail to consider that, somewhere along that road, may be one of our nation’s farmers driving a slow-moving vehicle or pulling jumbo equipment.
When drivers aren’t paying attention, it’s an accident waiting to happen.
In the coming months, if you travel those farmland byways, keep your eyes carefully on the road – no texting, careful with the cellphone use, don’t take your eyes off the road to adjust the radio.
When you come up over a hill or around a curve, slow down. You never know when a farmer may be traveling that road to get from field A to field B or going from the machine shed on the farm that’s been in his family for more than a century to a piece of land he’s cash renting down the road a piece.
He’s someone’s son, maybe a dad, an uncle, a cousin, a nephew or a grandpa – or she’s a daughter, a mom, an aunt, cousin, niece or grandma. Your inattentiveness could rob others of precious years together with this farmer they love, so, please, stop and think when you’re driving those country roads.
Move over, slow down, and when you meet or pass that farm driver, whether on Route 66 or another tranquil two-lane, don’t forget to wave. Betcha you’ll get a wave in return.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012