Getting in the Tractor Seat, Some for the First Time

Author: Melissa Frey, Oregon State University Small Farms Program

Publish Date: Fall 2010

Scents of machinery oil and grease provided perfect ambiance in the farm shop building, where 21 Willamette Women’s Farm Network (WWFN) members and guests assembled for a field day, all about tractors. A tractor driving and safety class had been an identified need for many women farmers that participate in the network and in August, plans aligned and the field day went off without a hitch.

Tractor safety was the first topic of order. Gathered around in lawn chairs and sitting on seed bags in the shop, the group shared in a three hour discussion about farming accidents and why they occur, methods to create a safer work environment, an understanding of how tractors and equipment can be dangerous and proper operation procedures.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s national statistics, agriculture ranks first among all occupations in job related deaths, with the mining industry ranking second. Tractor related injuries account for 32% of all agriculture related fatalities. The most common causes of these accidents are operator attitude, unattended children near machinery, miscommunication, loose clothing, fatigue and rush, all of which can be prevented. To safely use tractors, three factors should be considered:

  • The operator having a safe attitude.
  • Being aware of the enviornment and having skills to handle manmade and naturally occuring hazards.
  • Knowledge of the equipment and understanding safe operating mechanisms and techniques

After sufficiently adding enough fear to the group to encourage safe attitudes, the class moved  outside to look at some tractors and implements.

One participant commented that “the class was enough to make me cautious, but not so much that I’m scared to get on my tractor.”

While walking around the machinery, discussion centered on start-up procedures, parts of the tractors and the differences between equipment models, specific areas of concern like power take off (PTO) and safety features like rollover protection systems (ROPS).

With confidence building or lacking, depending on each individual, it was time to get in the seat and handle the tractors. The driving portion of the field day was especially useful for those women who had never before operated a tractor and there were several.

Deborah Clark said, “I liked having the opportunity to drive the tractors, especially the front-end loader! I feel that when I’m able to purchase a tractor, I’ll have the confidence in driving it or at least know the kind of questions I should be asking.”

In small groups, participants rotated through three stations and had opportunity to drive three different types of tractors, including operating the front-end loader in a large pile of wood chips, maneuvering with a trailer and learning basics about a PTO operated mower. In a follow-up survey of the class, the women participants were asked if the field day helped build confidence and knowledge of tractor safety and driving.

Sally Myers responded, “Absolutely! It (the information) was all put into practice immediately and I changed some of my behaviors around my equipment.”

“I now have a basic understanding of tractor operation and can feel much more confident looking at different tractors and figuring out how they will work… We saw a John Deere tractor for sale outside a house on our way home (from the class). We stopped and took a quick look and knew right away it was not the tractor for us, based upon the class,” says Marilyn Pershing.

Scottie Jones shared, “I think (the field day) drove home that the only way to get good at tractor work is to do it and do it and do it.” She also added that “I feel so much more confident now getting on our tractor and knowing what is and is not safe!”

Feedback was also received on what additional information and skill building is needed for the WWFN group relating to equipment. In the future there is interest in an advanced class demonstrating specific operations such as tilling and loader work and a tractor maintenance class. Once these ladies got the feel for the horsepower, there’s no stopping them now.

Special thanks go to those who helped make the field day possible, instructors Betty Georgen and Michael Fery as well as the OSU Lewis-Brown Horticulture Research Farm and farm manager, Scott Robbins for providing space and equipment.

For more information about the mission of the
Willamette Women’s Farm Network sponsored by the
OSU Extension Service Small Farms program, contact
Melissa Fery at or
(541) 766-3553.