GORE BAY—When contacted by The Expositor for an interview for Farm Safety Week, Berend “B” Hietkamp didn’t hesitate to share the tale of his tractor accident, which took place on the Hietkamp family farm just outside of Gore Bay last July.
Mr. Hietkamp grew up on a dairy farm in the Netherlands, milking cows from the tender age of nine-years-old, which was still done by hand at the time. “That was right at the end of the war,” he recalled.
The Hietkamps moved to Canada in 1953 and immediately began dairy farming on a southeastern Ontario farm near Harriston. Then, in 1961, a farm came up for sale near Gore Bay that came complete with a small dairy processing plant. The farm was called Clover Hill and three couples, Mr. Hietkamp’s parents, his brother and sister-in-law and he and his wife Debbie, all moved to Manitoulin to begin a new life on the farm.
In 1973, the Clover Hill dairy operation was bartered with Wagg’s Dairy—their dairy for Wagg’s cows and quota—and Mr. Hietkamp’s parents moved back to Harriston.
He lamented that this was the time when the dairy industry was thrown into chaos and “small dairies went like the dodo bird.” When the Milk Marketing Board was created, he said, prices then stabilized.
Mr. Hietkamp said he never had an incident on the farm—that is until July of last year.
“I was helping Jeff cut hay,” Mr. Hietkamp said, referencing his son Jeff, who now owns and operates the family farm, now a beef operation, with his wife Wendy.
He said he had just had a coffee with his son before heading back to the field to help finish the haying when he realized that the swather wouldn’t lower itself.
Mr. Hietkamp explained that the farm’s acreage is slightly hilly and so, before investigating the problem, he parked the tractor down one of the slight embankments, leaving the machine running.
“I got out to see what was wrong,” he continued, explaining that the pin had fallen out and the lever of the cylinder would not go down as a result. Mr. Hietkamp then went back to the tractor to search for a spare pin but, without finding one, decided to cut a piece of rope to use in the meantime.
“That’s when things started to happen,” he said.
Either through the momentum of the tractor’s engine, the cutting of the rope, or a combination of both, the tractor began to move and Mr. Hietkamp attempted to stop it with his hip. The 78-year-old was knocked down and the tractor rolled on top of his leg—he was in trouble.
“I hollered, hoping someone would hear me, as I was near the road, but no one came,” he said. Suddenly, the farmer remembered the conversation he had with his wife Debbie that morning when she called out to him before he left, asking if he had his cell phone.
“I remembered my cell phone and called home and, miraculously, Debbie answered,” he said.
Within minutes, Debbie and his daughter were by his side. Mr. Hietkamp told his wife she would have to drive the tractor and so, with instruction from her husband lying pinned below, Ms. Hietkamp slowly drove the tractor off her husband’s leg. Then they waited for the ambulance to arrive.
“I was so scared,” Ms. Hietkamp shared.
After arriving at the Mindemoya Hospital, x-rays confirmed that Mr. Hietkamp had a broken leg and he was in need of surgery. The following day, and another ambulance trip later, Mr. Hietkamp found himself at Health Sciences North and being prepped for surgery.
Healing has been a long process for the farmer, with a one-month stay at the Manitoulin Lodge following surgery and daily physio on a stationary bicycle. Mr. Hietkamp says the pain is still with him and he requires the use of a walker these days.
“That is the stupidest thing I have ever done,” he said of his accident. “I thought I had the tractor parked correctly. What you should do is shut it off, or put the brake on.”
And always carry some form of communication, such as a cell phone. In Mr. Hietkamp’s case, the timely urging by wife Debbie to bring his mobile phone as he left for the fields that day was, truly, miraculous.