1999 - Volume #23, Issue #3, Page #09
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"Exploding Toolbars": The Rest Of The Story

There's no doubt about it. Gases can build up inside sealed toolbars and explode if set off by a spark.
  Since the last issue of FARM SHOW - when we wondered if the reports we'd seen on the internet about exploding toolbars were truth or hoax - we've talked with several farmers who've had it happen to them.
  "Unfortunately, this isn't a hoax and it may be just the tip of the iceberg," says Jane Boyd, an agricultural nursing specialist at the University of Rochester, N.Y. She got involved with two separate incidents in New York state. "We've had seven more unconfirmed reports from around the Midwest about similar mishaps which we believe involve at least three other manufacturers. Doctors in Minnesota and Wisconsin told us they've treated farmers with injuries from such accidents in the past."
  Here are details on two well-documented toolbar "explosions":
Tom Martin, Piffard, N.Y.

Tom Martin works on the Joe Weiland farm near Piffard, N.Y. In April, 1995, he drilled a hole in the rear beam of a one-year-old Brillion chisel plow to attach a hydraulic hose bracket. He was working just outside the doors of the shop. His boss, Joe Weiland, was working inside. All Martin remembers is a large flash as his drill penetrated the toolbar. Weiland vividly recalls Martin, who's 6 ft., 7 in. tall and weighs 275 lbs., suddenly flying through the open door - in flames - and landing on the floor 20 ft. from the chisel plow.
  His forearms and hands were badly burned and all his facial hair was singed off. He was rushed to the hospital where it took three hours in the emergency room to treat his third degree burns.
  "When we inspected the toolbar we found one clean little hole with no discoloration, charring or blistering of paint where Tom had drilled," Weiland says. "We called the local Brillion dealer where we bought the plow and a company rep came out the next morning. His main concern was how Tom was doing. Then he told us the company would have a new plow out to us the next morning. They delivered a bigger and better machine than the one we had and hauled the other one away."

Joe Shanks, Lima, N.Y.

In October, 1996, Joe Shanks had a nearly identical experience when he drilled a 1/4-in. hole into the rear frame of a 15-ft. Brillion chisel plow. He was mounting a slow moving vehicle sign on back of the 12-year-old implement.
  "As I felt the drill penetrate the frame, I backed it off just a little. As soon as I did, intense heat and orange flame shot out of the hole, just like a jet engine. I'm 5 ft., 9 in. tall and weigh about 190 lbs. so I'm stocky, but the force blew me 30 ft., out of the machine shed and into the field. Luckily, it was a cold morning and I had plenty of clothing on, but no gloves. It burned a big hole right through all the layers of clothing down to my stomach and chest and burned my hands, which were directly in the flame. I had extensive second degree burns over an estimated 10 to 12 percent of my body. I called the company the next day and nobody said a word about the first accident, but they offered me a brand new machine and wanted to haul the old one away for testing."
  Shanks refused, insisting that the chisel plow remain at his farm.

Government Gets Involved

The farmers involved were soon contacted by Jane Boyd at the University of Rochester and researchers at the National Instutue for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) who began comparing the two accident reports. Samples of gas taken from the toolbar at Shanks' farm were analyzed. Brillion cooperated with NIOSH, delivering Weiland's chisel plow to a Pittsburgh research lab so it could be tested, too.
  Tests showed a mixture of gas in the frames with a hydrogen content ranging from 60 to 90 percent. The hydrogen was apparently produced by an electrochemical reaction between galvanized metal punchings used for ballast and the water and oil emulsion coating on the metal wafers.
  The discovery prompted NIOSH to issue a hazard warning in July, 1998, which included these recommendations to farmers:
  • Do not drill or cut into any sealed fr

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1999 - Volume #23, Issue #3