Overconfidence leads farmer down risky road

2017-08-04T08:15:00Z Overconfidence leads farmer down risky road Illinois Farmer Today
August 04, 2017 8:15 am

Jeff Walters was not a power-hungry tyrant. However, there was a certain feeling of invincibility and supremacy as he sat in the seat of his new skid loader.

For some, purchasing a new four-wheel-drive pickup with a large diesel engine makes them feel they can take on the world. For others, it’s a new tractor or large combine. Some simply enjoy watching their herd move slowly over the hill. For Jeff, this new skid loader filled a need and gave him the ability to go anywhere and do anything. And that felt good.

Jeff and his wife had exchanged a few heated words after breakfast. She wanted to take the grandkids swimming, followed by some shopping, and then supper in town. Jeff felt he had already spent enough time with the grandkids, and the new skid loader was calling his name. He told her that he had more important things to do, and out he went.

This wasn’t just any skid loader. It had wide tracks and came with a turbocharged 106-horsepower engine. The cab was both heated and air-conditioned. The sound system rivaled his truck, and the GPS screen allowed him to grade waterways.

And if this wasn’t enough, it came with a brush cutter attachment that went through grass and shrubs like they weren’t even there. It was even capable of destroying small trees. The icing on the cake was that it came in Jeff’s favorite color.

With a full tank of fuel, Jeff headed north into the timber. He imagined himself like Hannibal crossing the Alps. He spent the next several hours mowing down everything in his way.

It was amazing to see the places the skid loader would go. Steep slopes were no match. It did not matter if the ground was wet or dry. He just floated across the top. The mower hummed away in front of him, seldom getting much of a workout as it clipped everything down to a few inches off the ground.

He drove further north through the timber until he came into a flat meadow. On the backside, there was an 8-acre pond. He cruised around the pond until the grass and weeds look like a manicured lawn.

Jeff saw willow trees growing on the side of the berm which formed the pond. This was precisely the challenge he had been looking for. He cruised around the lower side of the berm, shredding trees and brush into splinters and small pieces of wood. Even though the berm was somewhat steep, the tracks on the skid loader were very stable, and the mower in the front gave him a sense of security.

Jeff stopped at the far end of the berm and considered the willow trees growing down near the water’s edge. This was another bold challenge calling out to him. He revved up the engine and started making passes, each time working his way closer to the water.

Jeff made it halfway around the pond and came to a spot where the incline was less steep. It was safe for him to put one of the tracks into the water as he continued mowing. Just as he was coming to the steeper edge, the track nearest the water started to spin. In that moment, the skid loader tipped sideways and balanced precariously.

Everything went into slow motion for Jeff. After balancing in the air for what seemed like forever, the skid loader slowly started to tip toward the water. Jeff instinctively hit the hydraulics to raise the mower, hoping it would stabilize him. It made little difference as the skid loader started to topple sideways into the pond. And then, Jeff was in the water.

The engine ran for a few seconds as the water began to flood into the cab. The mower had been raised halfway up and now blocked the exit out the front. The engine coughed and died as water continued to flow around it.

Inside the cab, Jeff hurried to turn himself around so that his head could be above the water. The cab filled until there was only 6 inches open space at the top. His head filled the space where his feet had been only seconds before. The skid loader continued to slide into the water. The weight of the mower made things worse. When it finally stopped, Jeff was trapped inside.

The water was chilly as it flowed into the cab. Everything became quiet and Jeff managed to keep his head in the remaining air spot. Everything from his neck down was under water.

The back window of the skid loader was in the mud, along with one of the side windows. The front door was under water and Jeff considered opening it and swimming out. When the water settled, Jeff could see the mower was wedged right in front of the door’s window. It was impossible for him to swim out.

Jeff was too big to climb out the side window, and he could not swing his arm fast enough to break it. He reached inside his pocket looking for his cell phone. The screen would not turn on. It was useless to him.

The realization of the situation was now sinking in. Jeff was trapped at the back side of the timber, far from any help. With the skid loader upside down, it would be hard for anyone to find him. Jeff’s feeling of invincibility was gone, and he felt powerless. When no options came to mind, Jeff began screaming as loud as he could. The screaming turned into sobbing, and Jeff half-yelled and half-wailed. He was overcome with emotions.

To be continued.

Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.

Copyright 2017 Illinois Farmer Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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