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Sam Mathews peered from side to side as he weaved the green, John Deere lawn and garden tractor through a serpentine course, trying hard not to bump into the sticks that marked the lanes at the horse-riding arena.
Wednesday was his first time competing in the Bartholomew County 4-H Tractor Show, a longtime fair tradition that teaches 4-H participants about tractors and how to operate them safely.
4-H’ers take written tests, identify tractor parts and can participate in skills competitions for driving lawn and garden compact tractors, zero-radius tractors and agriculture tractors. Participants are divided into two categories: juniors for Grades 3 to 7 and seniors for Grades 8 to 12. Winners advance to a regional competition; regional winners advance to the Indiana State Fair competition.
“A lot of the kids operate not only lawn tractors but big ag tractors on the farm,” said Jolinda Smiar, a secretary at the Bartholomew County Purdue Extension Office who helped set up the tests.
“This is so they have respect for the machinery they are working with.”
Meetings in the late winter and early spring are conducted to teach 4-H’ers about tractors and safety. Those help prepare them for the competition, Smiar said.
farmer Dan Arnholt, who helped set up the driving course at the fair, lets 4-H’ers practice driving tractors on a course he set up on his farm.
About 15 4-H’ers participated Wednesday.
David Newcomb, a 13-year-old who will be a freshman at Hauser High School, participated in his fourth tractor show.
“I think the written part is the hardest part, and the driving is the easiest,” he said.
The 4-H’ers answered questions such as: “The liquid in a battery is a solution of water and a) hydrochloric acid, b) sulfuric acid.”
They also looked at pictures of tractor parts — such as bolts, blades, spark plugs, clamps and gears — and had to identify what they were.
David drove in the lawn and garden tractor competition, something he’s used to because his family has such a tractor at home.
He competed once in the agriculture tractor driving competition but said it was difficult and he earned a lot of penalty points.
Sam, a 10-year-old who will be a fourth-grader at Rockcreek Elementary, has a fondness for tractors thanks to family farming.
His father, Zach Mathews, and grandfather, Stan Meyer, grow grain crops and custom hay east of Columbus. Sam’s favorite tractor is an International 1086. At home, Sam has his own lawn and garden tractor.
“It’s something I’m interested in,” said Sam, wearing a blue ball cap, green and white striped shirt, blue jeans, boots, glasses and a smile full of braces.
Sam said the riding course was easy when he practiced before Wednesday, but difficult when he was being judged for accuracy and speed.
He bumped into a few sticks, knocking a golf ball off one, which earned him penalty points. Backing up to one marker also posed a challenge, and resulted in a few more penalty points.
When he finished, Sam thrust both arms into the air in celebration.
Sam said he enjoyed his first tractor show and would like to do it again.
Farm machinery laws
Minors who work on a farm owned or operated by a parent or person standing in place of a parent are exempt from nearly all child labor laws — including those regarding the operation of farm machinery and tractors.
In most other cases, minors working on farms not owned or operated by a parent must be at least 16 years of age to operate a tractor.
A minor who is at least 14 years of age may operate a farm tractor if the minor is an agricultural vocational student who is familiar with the normal working hazards of agriculture and has completed and passed written and practical examinations following a 15-hour Vocational Agriculture Training Program in Safe Tractor Operation. The minor’s employer must maintain a certification of this completed training on file with the minor employee’s records.
Even if working for a parent, minors who are not working in agriculture must be 16 years old to operate tractors or riding mowers as part of their job duties.
Source: Kenneth R. Boucher II, director of child labor, training and education for the Bureau of Child Labor at the Indiana Department of Labor
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