Ah, spring in Chilliwack.
Tractors are out on the roads, and the smell of fresh cut hay, and manure is in the air.
Motorists are being urged to slow down and use caution when sharing the road with tractors and other large farm vehicles.
Dairy farmer Gail Derksen said she was “smoked” by a speeding pickup while driving her tractor on Lickman Road.
It happened about noon on Friday as the Derksens were in the middle of cutting and harvesting hay on the family dairy farm.
She was about to make a turn into the driveway. The tractor was almost at a complete stop in the northbound lane of Evans Road, when the truck came up behind her, passed on the left and hit the front forks of the tractor. The truck bounced off and ended up on the shoulder of the road, after almost hitting some trees.
“I was fine, and my machinery was fine, because I was on a tractor,” Derksen told the Progress.
Gail and Steve Derksen live and work at the dairy farm that’s been in Steve’s family for 50 plus years. Their kids learned to drive a tractor at 14.
“We realize we live on a very busy road, and we try hard to be careful,” she said. “We are very vigilant because we know it’s an issue.”
Nonetheless there are a handful of incidents and near misses every year, she said, including one where she was physically and verbally assaulted by a driver who didn’t want to respect the tractor she was driving with a full load of hay, and followed her with the intent of getting in her face about it.
Derksen is asking people in Chilliwack to slow down, and pay attention.
“These are your neighbours,” she said about the people out there driving tractors. “We’re not there to get in anyone’s way or to slow them down. But this is a farming community. We have a job to do.”
There are even signs on Evans Road and elsewhere with an image of someone on a tractor that asks motorists to respect slow-moving farm vehicle traffic.
Chilliwack is a city where 67 per cent of the land base is agricultural land, so it matters.
Derksen climbed down from her vehicle after the collision, and touched base with an eye witness who saw what happened. The other driver’s truck was “annihilated” on the one side where it collided with part of her tractor, she said.
Her turn signal was definitely on and she shoulder-checked more than once, but the speeding driver of the pickup told her he had been rushing to get someone to hospital who was suffering from heatstroke.
Now the Derksens want to raise some community awareness about the need for extra caution around farm vehicles.
“I’ve become very passionate about this,” she said.
The tractors are not allowed on the highway but they are allowed to motor through town.
The lumbering nature of the massive vehicle means they mosey along at about 18 km an hour, and Derksen said she can only go 25 km/hr in their largest tractor. If drivers want to pass her they must do it carefully.
“My real concern is that people don’t seem to respect the fact that farm vehicles are very big and have very limited stopping time.”
The truck driver didn’t get out of the vehicle at first, and Derksen said she was worried about the passenger, who was already in “bad shape.”
“I was worried that she was hurt, and that person is in hospital now because of someone’s lack of due care and attention.”
Spring time in Chilliwack always means more farm vehicles on the roads, said Coun. Chris Kloot, chair of the Agriculture Advisory Committee, who also grew up on a dairy farm.
Farmers are toiling hard to get their cover crops from the winter mowed, harvested, fields fertilized, and then corn planted, in some cases.
Coincidentally, Kloot answered his phone when the Progress called him, while he was on a tractor cutting silage. Although he runs a broiler chicken farm, he was helping at his brother’s farm, so he said he understands the frustration felt by the Derksens.
“Everyone needs to be a little more aware.”