30 Days of Dirt Roads: When Dirt Turns Deadly

Oh gosh.  Now I’m feeling a little guilty for luring you here with a dramatic headline. (Just a little though.  You’re reading, right?)  Sorry, no graphic pictures to share or sordid tale to tell.

It’s entirely true though that Dirt Roads can be dangerous….especially to ag producers.

Few farms or ranches –at least in our part of the country– exist in one geographic area.  Meaning most producers are forced to move equipment from one part of their farm or ranch to another, often many miles.  And much of that moving is accomplished over Dirt Roads.

The trouble, is that most of those Dirt Roads were built years ago, and weren’t made to withstand the size & weight of equipment that today’s farmers and ranchers use.  They become rutted and riddled with washboards, and they break down.

And those are the roads that are maintained.  A fair amount of the Dirt Roads we use are secondary County roads, and are only required to be maintained once every 10 years.

Case in point.  This particular Dirt Road is one of those secondary roads.  It runs behind our place, and we use it frequently to access some of our fields and pastures.
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It gets too muddy to be used when there’s been a recent rain, and during a snowy winter, it blows shut.

It has deep ruts in several places, where non-believers tried their luck when it was too wet.

It washes out in two places on occasion.

And in bottoms where it tends to stay wet, trails get worn into the ditches when it becomes necessary to navigate around the troublesome spots.

You can see that pretty well in this picture.
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See the place where the road widens to the right….where there are tracks going around the bottom?

The spot is dry now, but when it’s wet, we have to go wide to avoid getting stuck.
Now look in the right ditch, in the middle of the picture…. where it gets steeper and looks like there’s a hole.

Here’s a closer look.
IMG_2801 Can you see what looks like tire tracks coming out of that ditch?

They are.

A neighboring producer was hauling out of a bin farther up on this road and went wide in a loaded grain truck to go around the mud hole that was in the bottom at the time.

A pickup only takes a few feet to go around a bad spot in the road.

A 28 foot long grain truck– different story.  The driver stayed in the ditch just a little too long.

What he didn’t know, is that there’s a culvert in that bottom.  It’s supposed to drain water under the road, avoiding the whole problem in the first place.  Like most of the others on these secondary roads though, it’s plugged and doesn’t do the job.

When the truck got to the point in the ditch where the culvert runs out from under the road, the culvert crumpled, the road fell out from under him…. and the truck went over.

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Thankfully, no one was hurt, but they easily could have been.

I didn’t run right up there to take pictures when it happened.  No reason to add insult to injury.  But I heard it was one heck of a mess to clean up.

I don’t know all the details of the the clean-up either.  Only that it involved a grain vac, (Yep, it does just what it sounds like).  It also involved driving through our field for a quarter mile, and cutting the fence to get to the truck.  Not a problem— just logistics.

It likely involved a tractor (driven there on the Dirt Road) to get the truck back on its wheels.  And I don’t even want to guess how much time it took.  The better part of a day is probably a good bet.

Any way you look at it, a loss of time and money.  And folks, that doesn’t look good on a balance sheet in any business– agriculture included.

This isn’t an isolated incident either.  It can, and does, happen to anyone.  Ask me sometime about our tractor, some serious snow, and another Dirt Road ditch.  I might even be able to dig up some pictures.

Dirt Roads are a fact of life for farmers and ranchers transporting the food that will ultimately end up in your frying pan, veggie steamer or bread maker.  A bullet point on a risk assesment list.

But ask almost any of us: it’s a risk we’re gladly willing to manage.

We’re cut from the same cloth, made of the same stuff.  The history, the heritage, the way of life that is a Dirt Road.

We’ll see you tomorrow, right back here on the Farm for more 30 Days of Dirt Roads.  In the meantime, remember to take a peek at some of the other 30 Days blogs.  -Shauna

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