My First BIG Mistake

We all know that mistakes are a part of life, and that sooner or later everyone “goes big” on a mistake. Nowhere has this proven more true than in this farm life that we’ve chosen for ourselves. I’ve been making at least one decent mistake a day since we moved in, but the subject of this post was by far my biggest mistake so far. Not my last, mind you, but my biggest. It also provided some bigger teaching points, which is one of the reasons I want to share it here.

A man named Fred (name changed to protect the innocent) had baled hay off the land that we took out of CREP. He had been over to the house several times with his trailer, picking up his share of the bales, when I mentioned to him that I didn’t have a way to move/stack my portion of the large round bales. He said “no problem, just use my tractor”, to which I happily agreed. I jumped on his tractor and finished moving my own bales to where I wanted them stored, then thought I would assist him in gathering his share by collecting the remaining bales and stacking them down by the driveway where he had to park his trailer… mistake #1.

One of the bales had rolled down a relatively steep incline and come to rest in a small portion of trees, but I though I could reach it with the tractor’s front arms… mistake #2. As I drove towards the bale, the bank of the ground increased (high side on right, low side on left) and in the back of my head I thought “This might be a bad idea”, but I pressed ahead… mistake #3. Just as I reached the bale, the pitch of the ground got so steep that the tractor actually lurched to the left and felt like it almost tipped over. I quickly put it in park, turned off the key, and jumped off the high side… in the span of 10 seconds I had gone from helping out a fellow farmer to scaring myself to death!

So there sat someone else’s tractor parked sideways on a slope so steep that I didn’t dare approach it from below, tipped to the point that I didn’t feel safe climbing back on for fear of flipping it the rest of the way over. Crap, crap, crap! What a sickening feeling, thinking that I had just messed up with someone else’s equipment while doing something that didn’t really need to be done in the first place. My stomach is in knots right now, just remembering the feeling. None of the tractors I had would pull this larger tractor out, and even if I did have something I wouldn’t feel safe trying, it was that bad. I was in a bad spot, so I did the only thing I could think of, I confessed.

I called Fred, told him the situation, and asked him to stop by to take a look before I made anything worse. When he did, his quote (from a very level-headed man) was “This doesn’t look good, Paul”. No kidding, Fred. No kidding. With very few options available to us, he decided to drive the tractor forward, with the wheels cut to the left and him hanging off the right side of the tractor in case it flipped… and it worked! A breath of relief and a whispered prayer of thanks escaped my lips, as I considered what just happened and how things could have turned out differently. Then, in true Fred fashion, he jumped back into the seat like nothing had happened, and proceeded to stack his trailer with another load of bales to haul away!

There are some obvious lessons here (don’t be an idiot, etc), but here is what I learned from this encounter:

  1. Be extra careful when agreeing to and using other people’s equipment. I’ll admit to being a little cocky in a “I know how to drive a tractor” way, right up to the point where I almost flipped someone else’s over. Tearing up your own equipment is one thing, but taking chances and risks with someone else’s is downright foolish.
  2. Help only when it is needed, and only when you are actually a help. Fred didn’t need me to move his bales for him, nor did he ask me to. That was his responsibility, and should have been handled by him. Obviously, there is a place for kindness, generosity, and favor… but only within the limits of lesson #1.
  3. Know when to ask for help. It was very evident after I got off the tractor that I was in way over my head, but my first reaction was to go get my tractor and attempt to pull Fred’s out, which would have undoubtedly made things worse. I could have tried to cover up my mess, but instead I had to bite the bullet and make a very painful phone call.

I’m ecstatic that this story has a happy ending, and that I can relive it here. Honestly, if it hadn’t turned out so good, I would share the story anyway since that’s the kind of blog this is: honest, transparent, and real. Regardless, I can smile (although sheepishly) about it now. But there was an immense amount of stress in the days before the situation was righted. It affected my mood, my attitude and my decision-making. I do not want to experience that feeling ever again. So I will take my lumps, heed the lessons learned, and move forward from here a touch wiser than when I made my first BIG mistake.

Paul Sig



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