SMITHVILLE, Mo. — One woman is turning her family tragedy into help for others and educating farmers about tractor safety.
Ralph Griesbaum was always on a tractor.
“He’d probably driven it as many times as he ever drove his pickup,” his daughter Lacey Miller said.
On Father’s Day last year, Lacey got a call from her brother about the 58-year-old Marion County cattle farmer.
“The tractor rolled into the ravine. They say he tried to jump, but ultimately the tractor landed on him,” she said.
The same thing happened to Miller’s high school agriculture teacher a decade earlier. The teacher survived, her father didn’t.
“If we would have just thought about it after Frank’s accident, Daddy could have been OK,” Miller said.
While Miller and her brother work to keep the family farm going, she now travels the state letting farmers know an estimated 99% of all tractor rollover deaths are prevented by roll bars used in conjunction with seat belts.
More than half of all farm-related deaths are caused by tractor rollovers, according to the Missouri Farm Bureau.
All tractors manufactured after 1985 come with roll bars. The 1965 John Deere Smithville farmer David Borrowman got from his dad didn’t.
“He said you can use it as long as you want, but you have to put a roll bar on it,” Borrowman said.
“When that tractor would go to come backwards, this is going to hit and your tractor is going to stop,” Miller demonstrated.
Her family has also dedicated a permanent memorial at the State Fair to educate farmers about the importance of retrofitting open station tractors. It features a video with her kids talking about their grandpa.
“He was a hard worker,” her 7-year-old daughter said.
“He was my best friend and probably the kindest person I know,” her 9-year-old son said in the video.
“If I can get another grandkid or a kid to say I don’t want to lose my best friend, or wife or sister or brother, that’s what we are trying to do,” Miller said.
Adding those rollbars and seat belts often costs somewhere in the range of $2,000. Farmers in several states are eligible for rebates through the National ROPS Rebate Program, but not those in Missouri or Kansas.
Miller said that’s something else she’s going to work on trying to change.