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» Down on the Farm

Apaches is probably true.
The fatality rate on farms is something like 8 deaths per 100,000 people per year - sounds low, but that's about one a week. By comparison, in the building trade it's more like one every two weeks and that is considered unacceptably high.

The problem is that there are so many things on farms that will just not give you a second chance. Most of the accidents are caused by people getting squashed under things. Those big round silage bales wrapped in black plastic weigh about a tonne - it's a big ball of wet grass. Even straw bales will squish you, and a small stack of bales is easily high enough for you to seriously injure yourself if you fall off.

Tractors, though, are all kinds of dangerous. Very old ones didn't have roll-over protection, so if it turned over you'd be squished. One of the key safety features of the Ferguson System of hydraulics was that if you are ploughing and the plough gets stuck under a rock the tension in the top link will pull one side of the height control back and lift the plough out. Prior to the Ferguson three-point link system, ploughs were just towed behind like horse-drawn ploughs, and if they got stuck the tractor would keep going forwards with the plough chain holding it back until it wheelied up and fell over backwards, squishing you. Starting to see a theme here?

Of course, farms use a lot of powered implements, driven off the tractor. Many old designs have fallen out of favour or in some cases been banned outright. Here's a potato spinner where a metre-wide wheel with forks on it spins at about 50rpm, lifting potatoes from the ground along with any potato-sized stones which get flung a long way. Lethal. Forage harvesters used to be used for cutting long grass to make silage - they consist of a sort of spinning metal drum with hinged spoons about the size of the palm of your hand, under a metal cover with the spout coming out the top. They are closely related to the flail mowers you see used for cutting hedges and verges along the road. This will also throw stones quite some distance, and quite a lot of people have been killed by flying stones.

It's worth taking a moment to see how these implements are powered. Tractors have an extra bit in the gearbox called the Power Take-Off (PTO) which lets you couple a shaft up to the back and drive it from either the engine or the rear wheels, depending on if you want a constant speed or a speed that follows the tractor's speed. This is coupled to the implement via the PTO shaft. For the technically-minded, that's like a little short car propshaft. For the non-technically-minded, that's a spinning metal tube with jaggy bits sticking out at the ends. It wasn't until the late 1980s that it became mandatory to fit PTO shaft guards, which consist of a metal hood over each coupling and a free-spinning plastic sleeve over the shaft itself that you secure with a short chain so it doesn't spin with the shaft. The shaft spins at 540rpm and if anything gets caught it *will not stop*.

Prior to fitting shaft guards the most common accident was people getting their sleeve or trouser leg caught in the shaft and pulled in. This typically results in their arm or leg being wound tightly around the shaft. If it didn't get torn off in the accident, it would need to be amputated since there's no way you're putting that bone back together. Stick a bundle of dry spaghetti up a garden hose and wrap it around a broom handle if you want to try modelling the effects.

Drum mowers are like rotary lawnmowers with a big sort of disc thing underneath with blades sticking out. Again, flying rocks, spinning shafts and the sheer weight of the thing when you try to hook it up means that it's constantly trying to kill you, even when it's just sitting there.

The best have to be Roterras though. A Roterra is a kind of giant rotovator driven off the PTO shaft with big sharp spinning blades that chop up clods of soil into fine tilth. To prevent damage if they hit a rock, they have a slipper clutch that stops the blades if they jam. So, what happens is this - the blade hits a rock, the clutch slips with a horrible squeal, the tractor driver puts the PTO shaft out of gear (hopefully) but there's still torque on it because the shaft has "wound up" a little. Either that, or they forget to put it out of gear and leave it engaged with the clutch slipping.

Then they go to kick the stone out from under the blade...
(Mon 28th May 2012, 14:36, More)

» Guilty Pleasures, part 2

Supermarket Trolley Gliding
Everyone does this. Earlier today doing the big shop for the week, I launched into a trolley glide just as someone else who, like me, is old enough to know better, launched into a trolley glide coming towards me. We didn't say anything, just nodded in mutual recognition as we glided past each other.

(Sat 15th Mar 2008, 13:42, More)

» I don't understand the attraction

Communications satellites.
They go right over my head.
(Fri 16th Oct 2009, 17:53, More)

» Pubs

I used to work in a hotel...
... which had a 5-foot-tall wooden sign board of a chef holding a blackboard, that we wrote the day's specials on.

One of the guests, who had partaken of many fine local ales stumbled out of the bar, staggered and sidestepped across the lobby, and found his way to the taigh bheag blocked by this white-hatted diminutive figure.

"Gurrouw-ahwah way"

The wooden chef grinned cheerily back at him, silently announcing that today's soup had been cream of tomato and basil.


The wooden chef flashed his winning smile, and just as silently as before proclaimed that the clams in white wine were only eight quid.

THUD. The pisshead planted one on the poor beleaguered wooden chef. What had he done to deserve this? Indecisively he swayed, his fight-or-flight reflexes stilled - curse this 28mm marine ply body! Sway, sway... and toppled forwards with his not inconsiderable 40-odd kilos, trapping his assailant underneath.

Decked by the wooden chef.

Length? Well if the base had been longer he might have stayed upright.
(Fri 6th Feb 2009, 18:57, More)

» The Police II

Getting away with it...
Many years ago, when I hadn't long got my driving licence, I used to have a big heavy old Volvo 265 - the one with the big heavy old 2.7 V6 engine. The local constable who lived in the next village over and who served with a Hot Fuzz-like zeal had a fairly late model Sierra. Until he wrapped it, not being used to driving on twisty gravelly single-track roads. Then they gave him a Fiesta diesel, the 1.6 non-turbo version. Which he wrapped. On a twisty gravelly single-track road. So he got a shot of another Fiesta 1.6D with strict instructions not to even scratch it, or there would be Tea And Biscuits, and a Frank Discussion.

So I'm bimbling off to work as a jobbing arboriculturist at a little over 60... knots. Matey has a colleague in his car as he spots me, blue flashies, 75 in a 60, bugrit. Oh well, I was doing 75 in a 60, no question. Not much point arguing the toss, it only annoys them. *Not* arguing annoys them too, but there's not a lot they can say about it. After getting to site, cutting some wood, and heading home I thought "I know, I'll head round and visit my mate and play with some motorbikes, that'll cheer me up and distract me from my SP30-sullied licence."

I took a shortcut, along a twisty, gravelly single-track road, where leading up to a bend I could see black tyremarks of someone not really keeping on top of it coming up to a sharp left. Rounding the sharp left, I was greeted by the sight of a Ford Fiesta 1.6D in jammy sandwich colours, nose-first in a peat bog with the back end just barely on the road. Only one thing for it - stop.
Open up the back of the car, as the still rather shaken young polis - on his own in the car now, in the middle of nowhere, and in a bog - in the car he's not even supposed to get bird shit on - is unbuckling his seatbelt.
Root around among the weapons of mass deforestation for a big heavy bit of chain. Hm, he's looking nervous...
Hooked the chain around the towing eye on the front of the Volvo, and the towing eye on the back of the bog-snorkelling Fiesta.
Got in, not said a word to him yet, got back in, popped it into reverse, and with a rather menacing growl from the big heavy V6 slowly drew the chain tight, and s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y in case anything was caught underneath dragged the poor wee stricken Fordie back foursquare onto tarmac.
Unhooked the chain, and the constable got out of his car and inspected the damage to the front (muddy, nothing worse) as I rolled up the chain.
"Don't think anybody needs to say anything to anybody about anything today, do they?" I said.
"Uhm, no" he agreed. And drove off, very, very slowly and carefully. Especially round the twisty gravelly bits.
(Mon 9th May 2011, 19:55, More)
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