The best advice Kody Zeigler’s father gave him when it came to driving a tractor was “be responsible and don’t become complacent because the equipment will hurt you.” That’s advice the Clear Spring, Maryland, senior has clearly taken with him all the way to the top.
This August, Zeigler captured first at the Maryland 4-H/FFA Tractor Operators Safety Event at the Maryland State Fair. In addition to driving an obstacle course and taking a 50-question written test on safety, participants also had to put their mechanical skills to work and get a tractor up and running again.
For Zeigler, it was a contest he had been preparing for since elementary school.
“Tractors have always interested me and dad always told me I’m a good operator,” Zeigler said.
While Zeigler does not hail from a farm, the youngster was never too far from a tractor. When his dad and his dad’s best friend grain farmed together, they would often put Zeigler and his brother in the tractor with them. When Zeigler and his brother were just 8- and 9-years-old, his father bought the brothers a 1948 Ford 8N.
“We helped Dad tune it up, add lights, fix, and add gauges,” Zeigler said. “He taught us to check the oil, water, grease it, kick the tires, and give it a new paint job.”
To prepare for the 2017 contest, Zeigler’s father was right by his side again — reviewing safety, practicing tractor and skid loader maneuvering every day, and studying the “Safe Operation of Agricultural Equipment” student manual, a Hobart Publication.
Zeigler, who only needs two more credits to graduate, has also had the opportunity to practice working heavy equipment at his school work-release program. At Hamby Bros. Custom Farming, Zeigler feeds pigs and cattle, grinds feed, plants soybeans and small grain, hauls manure, builds fence, completes maintenance and repairs on equipment, assists loading pigs and cattle, and loading round bales of hay onto trucks out of the field.
It’s a decision Zeigler doesn’t regret.
“It made perfect sense to me to be able to work on the farm, learn from a different teacher about a subject I love, than to waste my day in school taking classes to fill the day,” Zeigler said.
After graduation, Zeigler plans to attend a trade school to continue his studies in heavy equipment operation. It’s an area Zeigler plans to keep practicing … after all there is no room for complacency.
And it’s something Zeigler suggests other FFA members entering a tractor safety competition do.
“Practice makes perfect,” Zeigler said. “Study the student manual, practice backing wagons with a short wheel base, use your instincts and common sense, and don’t get in a hurry.”