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Safety warning: Crop sprayer plus power lines equals danger

Gideon Nobbe survived a horrifying accident. He’s willing to share his experiences so that it might prevent someone else from going through a similar ordeal. And he knows that even as painful as his incident was, it could have been worse.

Nobbe, Fayette County, was operating a crop sprayer for a commercial dealership. Driving a sprayer with wide booms that were tall when folded, he knew he needed to be careful. His goal was to size up potential hazards whenever he pulled into a field.

Key Points

Sprayer boom caught in electrical lines means big-time trouble.

The operator is in danger once he steps out of the vehicle.

Nobbe suffered permanent injuries, but survived.

Nobbe was finishing up a field of corn, preparing to put the booms back in the cradle, when he fell prey to an unusual set of circumstances. “There were large transmission lines running along the side of the road, and I knew to stay clear of those,” he recalls.

“But there was another set of poles and lines serving local residents that ran close to the transmission lines, but which were actually in the field.”

Nobbe miscalculated, thinking the two sets lined up together, instead of one being several feet from the other. The result was that a nozzle near the end of the boom hooked the regular utility line.

Trouble begins

He knew something was wrong when he saw smoke below the cab. “Motors can overheat, and my first reaction was that the sprayer was on fire,” he recalls. “I never dreamed of being caught in the utility line.”

When you’re in a vehicle that contacts a high-voltage line, you’re usually safe if you stay inside. Once you step out, the current takes the path of least resistance to the ground — you. That’s when electrocution happens. Nobbe understood how that worked. But that wasn’t what he thought was happening.

So he prepared to leave the cab to see why the machine was smoking. “When I stepped down, somehow I fell off the ladder sideways and landed at an angle — that’s what saved me,” he recalls.

Quick action

When he touched the ground, electricity shot through Nobbe’s hands and exited through his feet. Those are the injuries he still deals with today. However, if he had stepped squarely onto the ground instead of falling, odds are he would have been electrocuted.

Still to this day not exactly sure what happened, he found himself on the ground free from the sprayer. The ground was dry, so it wasn’t carrying current. He crawled under the machine and summoned help.

He was transported to a local hospital, then to an Indianapolis hospital with more capability. Not knowing how much voltage had surged through his body, doctors were concerned about internal injuries. Fortunately, it eventually became evident that there wasn’t permanent damage to major organs, only to his hands and feet.

He shows those scars today if someone asks, hoping it may prevent someone else from meeting a similar or worse fate. A 4-H’er in Rush County turned his story into a 4-H project, emphasizing electrical safety. “I contacted 7,000 volts,” he says. “I’m just very happy to be here.”


Beware of power lines: Gideon Nobbe’s hand still carries scars from his close call with a power line.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.