Haywire hay day: Quick thinking helps Moffat County woman avoid farming disaster
She can laugh about it now, but a young Moffat County woman cut it close with her life last week.
Ripley Bellio narrowly avoided disaster while working with farm equipment Aug. 19 when the swather she was using for hay operations suddenly went haywire.
While at the family’s summer pasture, Bellio was cutting while her boyfriend, Clay Reynolds, was baling up the materials.
“I finished up with one of the hill pastures and moved onto the next hill pasture. I had made probably six passes going horizontal along the hill side. When I got halfway through that cut, my steering started to not feel as sharp as normal and my throttle was being kind of jerky and not really catching.
Though she has plentiful experience with such work and the equipment involved, Bellio said the machine, about three decades old, had been having problems all summer.
“I wanted to finish with my one cut and then get it parked in a spot that was out of the way and wouldn’t roll downhill,” she said, adding the swather has no brakes. “As soon as I got out of that row I went to turn uphill, and as I did that I felt my steering go out completely, which stopped me with the rear end of the swather facing downhill.”
As the machine rolled back, the issue compounded.
“I was trying to get the throttle to catch to get it to either stop or move forward,” Bellio said. “Well, when the throttle finally caught, instead of propelling me forward it shot me backwards even faster.”
With less and less likelihood that she could get the swather righted in time, Bellio said she knew at the moment she’d have to jump but also make sure the header missed her.
“Luckily I had picked it up to make the turn, so I jumped far enough back that it gave me enough time to get down as the header passed over the top of me, then I just had to sit there and watch it jump down the bank to its death,” she said.
After a moment to collect her thoughts, she dusted herself off and found her boyfriend for help.
“He was mad at first because he thought I just put it in a tiny bank and just did something silly that was small, but when he realized what actually happened he just couldn’t believe I made it,” she said. “I definitely had God on my side that day.”
Bellio added that the exact problem remains a mystery, with the machinery “falling apart left and right” even before the accident.
“I was OK, just had some cuts and scrapes and bruises but nothing compared to what could have happened. I totally should have died or been hurt way worse,” she said.
The message Bellio and her family want to pass along is to use “extreme caution” with equipment, especially when it’s on the older side.
Also, keeping an even head is crucial.
“Make sure you don’t panic and freeze up when something goes wrong. Always keep thinking proactively,” Bellio said. “You don’t make much money ranching but sometimes just giving up and spending some extra money on something more reliable will be worth it in the end even if someone just comes home safe. Everyone was just so relieved to see me OK, and I tried not to tell anyone over the phone just so they could actually see me OK and not be too scared. They all just hugged me and said they’d rather the swather die than me.”
Bellio — who also took reserve cowboy champion in the versatility ranch horse category this week at the Colorado State Fair — joked she’s not too enthusiastic about cutting hay for a while.
“To say the least, I’m going to try my hardest to stay out of the hay fields in the future,” she said.