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Safe tractor driving learned from experience

August 19, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WILLIAMSON, Pa. - Eldon Helman, who came in second in a safe tractor-driving contest at the Franklin County Fair Wednesday, may have gotten more from the experience than the six other competitors.

Helman, 16, of Chambersburg, Pa., escaped serious injury in March when a tractor he was driving rolled over on him. He was pinned for 45 minutes before rescuers freed him.

Helman came in second behind Alan Peck of Waynesboro, Pa., in the Franklin County Fair 4-H and Future Farmers of America Safe Tractor-Driving Contest. Sam Jones of Waynesboro took third place.

The contest teaches safe driving practices to 4-H and FFA members between the ages of 12 and 18.

Pennsylvania law allows youths 14 and older to drive tractors and other farm machinery on one- or two-lane roads that cross their property, but only for the length of their property, according to state police.

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Each year the county's 4-H Tractor Club, consisting of about 70 4-H and FFA members, holds tractor safety classes on Monday nights from January through March. The curriculum includes videos, speakers and a workbook, said Mark Bonson, an adult coordinator for the club and contest.

The tractor-driving contest is the culmination of the course.

Not all members of the tractor club want to compete in the contest, said Blaine May, an agricultural teacher at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. "The best are here," he said.

The contests involves three challenges - a safety check, towing a two-wheeled manure spreader through an obstacle course and pulling a four-wheeled spreader over the same course.

Helman said he was driving too fast on the day of his accident on March 11.

"I came around a curve too fast. When I dropped the throttle down it made the left side of the tractor tilt. When it came back down it rolled over on its right side," he said.

His best friend, Matthew Wise, was riding on the tractor with him at the time. Wise was thrown clear but the tractor rolled over on Helman.

"I remember lying there. I saw the blood and diesel fuel was dripping down on me. I was pinned down by the fender," he said.

Helman suffered temporary nerve damage. He said he has recovered completely.

Susan Hartman, 11, of Mercersburg, Pa., the 1998 Franklin County Fair Queen, was one of seven contestants in the competition.

She said she drives small tractors on the family farm near Mercersburg, but nothing as big as those driven in the contest.

"I came here today to hand out ribbons, but they talked me into driving," she said.

"She did all right," May said.

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