Farmers reap ill will when they hit the road Motorists annoyed by slow-moving tractors, combines WEST COUNTY--Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

August 19, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

On west county roads, John DeLorean and John Deere don't mix very well.

With the influx of residential development in the area, as well as in neighboring Carroll County, farmers are seeing a lot more angry motorists passing them as they plod along in their combines or pull loads with their tractors.

"They'll pass you on the shoulders, they'll throw bottles at you, they'll use foul language at you. You name it, it's happened," said Brice Ridgely, who has to move equipment between his 300-acre farm in Cooksville and smaller parcels he farms, both about 10 miles away, in Mount Airy and in Sunshine in Montgomery County.

County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who represents the western part of the county, said that recently, "a little gray-haired xTC lady shook her fist at me when I was traveling the highway with two loads of hay."

But the problem can cause more than just hard feelings, as Gene Mullinix, the proprietor of an agricultural supply business along Route 94 in Woodbine, knows too well.

"This spring, we've already had one accident with a combine," he said.

The mishap involved a car on Route 94 about 1 1/2 miles south of Lisbon. Mr. Mullinix thinks the driver would have missed the 24-foot-wide equipment except that "he panicked, hit his brakes and he skidded into the combine." There were no injuries.

"He did $500 worth of damage to my combine, but fortunately, we had some parts to fix it with," Mr. Mullinix said. If the parts had not been handy, the result might have been a week's delay and crops rotting in the field.

Mr. Mullinix attributes much of the increased traffic to new development in southern Carroll County. Many of the new residents commute through western Howard County to jobs along the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County, he said.

"Between 6:30 and 10 o'clock in the morning, we don't think about going out on the road," Mr. Mullinix said. The same rule applies between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., he said.

Although most of the commuters use routes 94 and 97, an increasing number are finding alternate routes among the smaller county roads, Mr. Mullinix said.

The problem has prompted Mr. Feaga and the Howard County Farm Bureau to ask county and state traffic engineers to put up signs warning motorists to watch for slow-moving farm equipment.

The yellow, diamond-shaped signs feature a black silhouette of a farmer sitting on a tractor.

At a minimum, Mr. Feaga said, "it gives the impression to the public that [farmers] do have a right to be on those roads."

"A couple of years ago, we did have a bicyclist who called the police" after being delayed by farm equipment, Mr. Feaga said. "He tried to get them to arrest the guy on the tractor with a load of hay because he thought they didn't belong on a highway."

The county is willing to put up such signs, but there is a danger in overdoing it, said Ed Walter, chief of the county Traffic Engineering Division.

The more signs that are posted, the more likely motorists will be to ignore them, he said, so he is asking the Farm Bureau for a list of specific locations.

The idea is to alert motorists to a specific place where farm vehicles frequently travel, much the same way cattle-crossing signs are used, rather than designating an entire road for slow-moving vehicles, Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Walter said farmers with individual requests for signs are welcome to make them by calling or writing the Traffic Engineering Division in Ellicott City.

Mr. Feaga said that in a letter last month to James M. Irvin, the county public works director, he and the Farm Bureau asked that the warning signs be posted on 18 roads in the western part of the county, including Triadelphia and Ten Oaks roads and Sheppard Lane.

A similar letter was sent to the State Highway Administration, requesting signs on state-maintained roads including routes 94, 97 and 144.

The only signs the county has posted, Mr. Walter said, were at the request of the University of Maryland Central Maryland Research and Education Center on Folly Quarter Road.

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