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He Rolls Combine Five Times
Hints of darkness were just beginning to shadow the skies on the evening of Thursday, June 23, as Pennsylvania grain grower Stanley Smith, of York maneuvered a lumbering combine through the sloped, hillside field of ripened barley.
Above and behind the cab of the 1970 John Deere 6600 model, golden grain was piled high in the bin. Pushing familiar levers, Smith activated the lifting mechanism for the 15-foot grain cutting header.
Without even the slightest hint of warning, the monstrous machine tumbled over onto its left side. And kept going.
Five times it rolled, over and over, gathering speed as it crashed some 200 feet down the strip-cropped hillside. With each turn, the angular appendages that protruded from the machine, and may have helped to initially brake its tumbling motion, became more compacted and mashed, enabling the combine to pick up speed as it rolled.
At the first roll, the grain header had detached and tumbled free.
Inside the cab, Smith clung to the steering wheel, and remembers counting three rolls before the somersaulting speed caused him to lose track of the flips.
Dust churned around his head, the windows buckled and popped out, and tools flew from their resting place on the cab floor.
Flashing through his mind was the memory of a recent county tractor accident that had claimed the operator's life.
After what must have seemed an eternity, the rolling stopped. The combine was upright, having landed on all four wheels. Smith recalls his back pressed firmly against the floor and his feet somewhere near the operating console.
His hands were still clinging to the steering wheel, now bent partly down the steering column toward the seat. The top of the bent cab nearly touched the steering wheel.
Forgetting how high above the ground he was in the cab, Smith flung himself through the windowless cab frame and fell to the field below.
For the first time, he realized that the diesel engine was still running. He clamored back up the machine, with its ladder mashed against the side, and shut the motor down.
With smoke rolling from the motor, its odor hanging in the air, Smith ran "like a deer" to a neighbor.
Doctors treated him for the dust inhalation that was congesting his lungs and creating breathing difficulty and sutured a dozen stitches in flesh cuts, one which he believes was inflicted by a protruding shaft that caught his leg as he first jumped from the cab.
Then Stan Smith was sent home, and told to rest for a couple of days.
"I was lucky, just lucky," he says fervently, repeating the word again and again. "And I believe there was a co-pilot in that cab with me."
Stiff and sore the following day, but far too restless to stay home as his doctors had ordered, Smith returned to the farm to study the mangled machine and the flattened course it had rolled through the grain and corn strips.
Smiths' insurance firm covered the bulk of the loss and the machinery dealer supplied him immediately with a replacement 6600 Deere to harvest wheat. He readily admits it wasn't the easiest thing he's ever done.
Smith agreed to talk about the accident in hopes that it might inspire other farmers to keep safety upper-most in their thoughts.
"You think it can never happen to you. Believe me, it can."
In retrospect, he figures that the bin was probably too full, and the wheels were in the "dished in" position, instead of "dished out", shortening the wheel base. The auger was protruding out on the lower side. And when the cutting head was raised, he believes it was the "final straw" that moved the center of balance too high, and caused the combine to begin rolling without even one skid tread of warning.
(Reprinted with permission from Lancaster Farming.)

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1983 - Volume #7, Issue #6