LIFELONG ZONE TOWNSHIP grain farmer Bev Bodkin has driven tractors for more than 65 years. But those decades of experience didn’t count for much this past spring, when a momentary lapse of judgement nearly cost him his life.
At around 2 p.m., on a bright, sunny afternoon, Bodkin decided to mow a slightly overgrown two-metre-wide strip of grass beside one of his drivesheds.
He figured it would be a quick task, a pass or two with his tractor and mower. After all, mowing grass is a routine and frequent chore on the Bodkin’s 800-acre family farm, which Bodkin runs with his wife Judy and son Adam. Uniform soybean and corn fields surround the Bodkins’ picture-perfect, meticulously manicured farmstead. Very little is out of place. And when it is, Bodkin looks after it.
Often, his tractor of choice for tidying up is his vintage Massey-Ferguson 35. It’s been in the Bodkin family for about 25 years, and Bev knows it well.
In fact, he knew that the 35’s two-stage clutch (one stage for the transmission and another for the PTO) needed some adjusting. However, it wasn’t that bad; it was definitely driveable, and on that gorgeous spring day, he didn’t hesitate to use it like he normally would.
What happened after he started the engine, though, is a mystery.
Bodkin figures that for some reason, he stood up on the idling tractor, likely to let off the clutch and engage the mower. When he did, he thinks he lost his balance or got tangled up in the 35’s gearbox area. It’s crowded with levers and gives the operator little room to move.
Whatever the case, Bodkin fell off the tractor, somewhere on the right. And with the gears engaged, the 35 was in motion.
As he lay on the ground, the advancing vehicle — which also now had the mower engaged — rumbled forward. The right rear tire mounted his chest, crushing it. The weight of the tractor snapped five ribs — three of them in two places — and punctured his left lung.
There’s no question that all sounds gruesome. But it’s easy to imagine a worse scenario.
“It’s a miracle the tractor or the mower didn’t run over my head or go below my chest,” says Bodkin.
The driverless tractor proceeded at a low speed and eventually became wedged in a grain bin support beam about 10 metres away. Bodkin’s son Adam was working in a field nearby, spotted the tractor chugging against the support, and knew something was drastically wrong.
Adam left the field and found his father in a motionless heap by the driveshed. He called 911, and within minutes, an ambulance was dispatched from nearby Thamesville. Bodkin was stabilized and transported to the General Hospital in Chatham. Two hours later, he was airlifted to Windsor Regional Hospital and placed in intensive care.
Medical staff were amazed he survived.
That was Thursday, May 27, the start of seven weeks of hospitalization for Bodkin. Two of those weeks were spent breathing with the help of a ventilator. He was heavily sedated to cope with the pain and to let healing begin. None of his convalescence in either hospital could be spent with family other than Judy, and only then for brief periods, because of COVID-19 isolation rules.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Despite the trauma, Bodkin has returned to leading a fairly normal life on the farm. On the downside, he can’t lift more than five pounds, and some of his movements are laboured. But he’s nimble enough to once again drive a tractor, even though it sometimes makes Judy cringe.
The Bodkin family shares this story, particularly at busy harvest time, in the hopes that other farmers will read it and keep farm safety in mind.
“It’s my hope that my story will make people think twice this fall when they are doing both big and little tasks around the farm,” he says. “I never stand up on the tractor, but I must have got sloppy and made a mistake. I’m lucky the outcome wasn’t worse.” •