Ask The Mechanic: 12 Safety Tips, Plus How The Cow Got Caught In The Baler

    ©Debra L Ferguson - AgFax Media

    Progressive Farmer Contributing ColumnistReaders of Steve Thompson’s Ask the Mechanic column in DTN/The Progressive Farmer magazine have long enjoyed his down-to-earth and witty ventures into the mysterious world of farm machinery at work. Belts, chains, wiring, electrical shorts, batteries, starters, hydraulics, oils, a cow stuck in a baler — he’s written about it all.

    One paragraph of nearly every column is devoted to Steve’s Safety Tip of the Month. These are simple safety tips, often taken from his experiences working his Texas hay, wheat and cattle operation. So, as Christmas approaches and a new year begins, we thought we’d let Steve take you safely into 2017.

    As Steve quipped once in a tip about lawn mower safety: “Safety: We need ‘mower’ of it.” Here’s a look at some of the tips Steve has shared:

    1. Never weld or have an open flame near a battery, especially if it is being charged. The battery can blow up. I have acid stains on my shop wall to prove it.

    2. Ever been slapped in the head by one of those long compressed air blowguns? If you buy one of those long ones to blow out radiators on combines, be careful. Wow! It’s like a jet engine on super fuel. When you grab the lever, hold on tight. The thing will come up and slap you in the forehead before you can react.

    3. I know it is necessary at times to clean the pins at a wiring harness connection. Be cautious! From experience I can tell you that the electronics connection cleaner can be highly flammable. I used a fine wire brush once and the cleaner caught on fire when I raked it across the connector. Since the harness can have a hot wire and a ground in it, the wire brush allowed the terminals to arc, setting the cleaner on fire.

    4. The baler that burns up is always the baler that does not have a water-filled, pressurized fire extinguisher on it.

    5. Always make sure that the gate latch in your round baler is activated before you inspect it or clean it out. I’m just like you — I need just a second to dig out that wad of hay. There are farmers who wish they had that second back.

    6. Never run a turbocharged engine with the air intake hose removed. The turbo can suck your hand into sharp blades turning at 1,000 rpms.

    7. Don’t “lose sight” of the fact that a power washer is a dangerous piece of equipment. Under the pressure of that focused water stream, dirt, paint and rust flies off a machine at a high rate of speed right back into your face. Wear goggles.

    8. The farm is a dangerous place for dogs. I went back to my tractor the other day to let the pressure off the hydraulics on my disc. I opened the cab door and snatched down the hydraulic control. As I glanced back, I saw that Mozzie (my best friend) had just jumped a rabbit under the disc. Both he and the rabbit just cleared the last gang as it hit the ground.

    9. My friend was helping me hook up to my disc. As usual, I was trying to drop the hitch pin as he backed up the tractor, transmission in reverse, foot on clutch, and driver looking backwards. All of the sudden, a nest of bumblebees attacked us. He jumped with a sting to his leg, releasing the clutch. The tractor jumped backward. Had I not already been running away from the bees, someone else would be writing this article.

    10. Servicing a lawn mower can be a dangerous. Always remove the spark plug wire before removing or rotating the blade. If the kill switch does not work or the throttle cable is not in the stop position, the engine could “kick” when the blade is turned and cut your hand before you have time to react.

    11. When charging a battery, always turn the charger off before disconnecting clamps from the battery posts. This will keep the battery charger leads from sparking and potentially causing battery explosion.

    12. The rush of harvest creates an atmosphere for farm accidents. Harvesting equipment like combines, choppers, and balers are loaded with belts, chains, and fast-moving cutting and crop handling parts. Slow down and think! We are never too young or too old to learn and practice farm safety. It’s dangerous out there.

    And Steve’s story of the cow stuck in the baler …

    A reader wrote about the John Deere 530 round baler he keeps in his barn. Since it is a good practice to relieve the pressure on the rubber belts during winter storage, he raised the gate about 4 feet. The baler’s gate lock probably would have held the gate open if he had locked it (he didn’t).

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    Instead, he jammed a landscape timber into the gate opening to secure the gate.

    When he went in the barn one day, to his surprise, his cow’s head was sticking through the front belts and, of course, she was mooing for help.

    The cow had stretched her neck in the baler looking for a treat and knocked down the timber. The gate then fell gently on her back, forcing her into the baler, the cow now trapped by the gate.

    With a little work and a lot of begging, the old, gentle brown cow “baled” out, and without a single scratch. The reader did not take a picture, but if he had, the name of that picture certainly would be “How Round, Brown Cow.”

    Editor’s note:

    Do you have a machinery safety tip you’d like to share? Send it to

    Dan Miller can be reached at

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