Road rage is certainly not a new concept. However, it seems to be one that’s rapidly growing in my part of the world. I’m sure that my city friends would scoff at the idea since the outside perception of our area is still somewhat rural. The reality is that our county has seen enormous change in the past few decades and we now are a relatively heavily populated collar county. For years families have moved to McHenry County from Chicago and its suburbs in search of a better quality of life.  So here we are now, newcomers and old-timers alike, needing to share roads which are ill-equipped to handle the increased number of vehicles.  Those of us who still farm here need to use the roads for our livlihood, year around but more often in the spring and fall months, to get equipment to fields in order to plant, cultivate, fertilize and harvest our crops.  Tension on the roads is at an all time high, and it’s time we learned to share.

In the past I’d only occasionally hear an anecdote involving a farm vehicle (tractor, combine or large truck) and a non-farm vehicle.  Perhaps the story would involve a near-collision or sometimes, worse.  Lately, the frequency of events has increased dramatically and it’s disturbing.  The incident that has hit our entire local agricultural community hardest is that of local farmer Mancel “Butch” Beard of Harvard, who was killed in July when the driver of a car ran into the tractor that Butch was driving.  We’re reminded of our sadness now that an awareness campaign is underway, with memorial donations paying for billboards such as the one shown in the photo.

Driving wide equipment on the roads has always been nerve-wracking for me; I’m usually “white knuckling” it all the way.  It gets scary when others on the raod refuse to share of slow down.  Car drivers need to put themselves in our position and realize that we are navigating around mailboxes, parked cars, garbage cans, guard rail and assorted other things placed close to the road.  If you find yourself on the road with farm equipment and see that we’re encountering one of these things on our side of the road, please be considerate and move over as far as you can safely, or stop if necessary, just until we’ve passed.  Please also realize how long it is going to take us to stop our equipment if necessary.  The tractor we’re driving could weigh about 20,000 lbs. and we could be pulling an implement weighing another few tons, or perhaps we’re driving a 30,000 lb. combine.  This mass does not stop as quickly and smoothly as your 3,000 lb. car, so please leave adequate space between us.   Car drivers also need to be aware of blind spots on the road such as curves or hills.  Do not try to pass us as we’re climbing a hill; if there’s something on the other side, there’s nowhere for us to go to get out of your way.  Remember that there are reasons for no-passing zones and they usually involve intersections, blind spots, or upcoming ingresses.  Please also use your turn signals so that we have an idea where you’re going.  Go ahead and pass when it’s safe, but the one-fingered salute out the window on the way by isn’t really necessary.  Remember too, we will be turning off the road at some point, so please pay attention to our signals.  Believe me, we want to be off the road as quickly as possible and will go as fast as we safely can to get to our destination.  Unfortunately it’s always going to be slower than your car.  Please show us a little courtesy, after all we’re just trying to do our job.

The road rage topic came up last week at a Farm Bureau meeting.  A few of my fellow board members also expressed their concerns, stating that this year has been the worst ever for near-misses and face to face encounters with enraged drivers.  One farmer told me that a driver who had been behind him sped around him and passed, then stopped suddenly in front of him, put his car in park, exited and approached the combine in an aggressively agitated state and screamed at him, “You #&*%^, I’m going to be late for my tee time!”  Really?  I don’t get it.  Maybe people are just more stressed these days given the turmoil in the world.  No matter what the reason, these dangerous practices have got to stop.  We’re working out here (not golfing), growing food and fuel for you and your families.  Please have patience with us.  I don’t want to see anymore billboards.