Power line complacency can be dangerous

Everything was going well. It was the second tank with the sprayer on this particular field and the booms were unfolding normally. Suddenly, I caught the glimpse of a bright yellow flash and felt a minor jolt.


Horrified, I quickly reversed the boom fold and moved the sprayer to a different spot. How could I have made such a critical error?


I’ve owned that particular quarter for about 25 years and before that it had been rented by my father for decades. 


A power line has crossed the quarter diagonally for as long as I can remember. Double pole structures carry three heavy lines and another line above.


Where the line originates and what it services, I have no idea. Sask Power makes a yearly small payment as compensation for weed control. Years ago, it used to sterilize the ground between the poles from time to time, but that was ended in lieu of the payment. 


It’s the poles that have been the hazard over the years. The ends of sprayer booms have sometimes caught a pole, and sometimes the end of the seeder has nudged a pole going by. 


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There’s no way to easily spray, seed or combine crop around the double poles. It always takes a couple extra passes. They’re a nuisance and time waster and result in a lot of product overlap. 


Until now, I’d never thought much about the actual lines. They’ve always seemed a virtual mile above the ground, far above any machinery. That complacency was dangerous. 


I don’t think the sprayer boom actually contacted a line. It must have just arced from the line to the boom. It all happened so fast that five minutes later I was wondering if it had really happened at all. However, a small scorch mark on a metal plate at the end of the boom confirmed the close call.


Upon closer inspection, the big heavy wires are sagging dramatically between each set of big poles. I’d like to think the wires are much closer to the ground than ever before, but that doesn’t make the incident any less my fault. 


I wasn’t injured and the sprayer wasn’t damaged. Even the GPS connection was maintained.


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As high clearance sprayers go, this one is not large or high. The boom height at foldout would be much less than later-model machines. 


When the first tank ran out, the booms were folded up and the sprayer taken for a refill. Upon return, I stopped the sprayer just back of where the last tank ran out and prepared to resume spraying. 


It never occurred to me that I was near the mid-point of two pole structures and right under the sagging lines.


The same sprayer has been used on that field for the past four or five years so the booms have been in and out of transport dozens of times. On all those occasions I’ve never considered the proximity of the power lines.


It’s a mistake that won’t be re-peated. Over the years, many people have been killed or seriously injured by accidentally contacting a power line. Equipment has often been fried to a crisp. I was just lucky.


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I’m embarrassed that I was so careless, but perhaps someone reading this will be motivated to pay closer attention. And I’m going to look into getting the single line buried that runs to the pole in the middle of the farmyard.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.