Al Favazza knew a southbound tractor hauling a manure tanker had crashed along Dodge Road a few months back, so when he rode behind one that began losing control in the same spot Wednesday, he feared for the driver of a northbound pickup truck.
“There was a white truck coming north and I was worried that the manure (hauler) was gonna hit the guy,” said Favazza, 18, who rode in a car driven by his girlfriend, Lissa Hana, as it followed a tractor pulling the hauler loaded with 9,500 gallons of liquid manure about three miles southwest of Cass City.
“It was kind of crazy because I was thinking this just happened right there a couple months ago,” said Favazza, who lives at the corner of Dodge and Elmwood roads where a manure hauler crashed about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday – within 40 yards of where a manure hauler crashed in the summer.
And last year, a manure spreader traveling south on Dodge Road traveled off the road into a ditch south of Elmwood Road, said Toni Ventline, 80, who lives along Elmwood Road about one mile from that crash scene.
“I don’t know what’s happening to them,” Ventline said. “Three times in a row makes you wonder.”
The tractor driver on Wednesday, 18-year-old Delton R. Zimmerman of Sanilac County’s Moore Township, “apparently suffered minor injuries” when the manure-hauling rig left the road and struck a ditch bank on the west side of Dodge Road, causing the tractor to break in half, according to Deputy Steven Anderson of the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department.
The tractor “suffered some type of mechanical issue which caused the unit’s motor to turn off while traveling down (a) hill” on Dodge road, Anderson wrote in an email to The Advertiser. Delton Zimmerman “only had slight steering capabilities after the motor turned off,” stated Anderson.
The tractor’s headlights also shut off in the darkness, said Darrell Zimmerman, 49, of Sanilac County’s Moore Township, who owns the tractor and manure tanker that crashed Wednesday. Zimmerman also owned the tractor and manure tanker that crashed at that locale in the summer.
“When the tractor crashed (Wednesday) it was bouncing up in the air; it was crazy,” Favazza said. “It looked like a cartoon. I’ve never seen a tractor break in half, either. Those things seem so heavy duty.”
The summer crash of the manure-hauling rig “was more due to driver error and having overinflated tires,” said Zimmerman, adding that he contracts with Dunganstown Dairy – on Dodge Road north of M-81 – to haul manure from the dairy farm. The manure tanker on Wednesday was headed to a nearby farm field where workers would apply manure to the soil, he said.
While Darrell Zimmerman didn’t confirm Delton Zimmerman was the driver of the manure-hauling rig that crashed Wednesday, he said the driver was “bruised up” in the crash.
Zimmerman estimated the crash caused about $90,000 in damage to the used tractor and about $10,000 in damage to the manure hauler. Police said no manure spilled from the tanker. “We emptied the tank out last night and a wee little bit (of manure) came out in the ditch after we unhooked the hose from the tank,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said he can count a total of nine “instances” this year in Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties where manure haulers have crashed or suffered mechanical problems on roadways.
“One guy’s bolts came off a tire and it swung him into the ditch,” Zimmerman said.
Police continue investigating Wednesday’s crash, Anderson said.
Zimmerman said about 25 businesses haul manure in the three-county Thumb area, adding “I’m just one of them.”
“There are 70 of these tankers in the Thumb and 60,000 cows in between those three counties,” Zimmerman said. “Michigan is a great place to raise dairy cows because they don’t like extreme temperatures and the lakes control our extreme temperatures.”
While workers hauled the two pieces of the tractor out of the ditch and into a nearby field Wednesday night, the crash scene drew occasional onlookers Thursday morning, including Dailey Parrish, 73, of Tuscola County’s Elkland Township.
“We live near (a large dairy farm) and we can hear the manure haulers going by at night,” Parrish said.
When asked if he thinks manure haulers are posing an undue hazard to Thumb-area motorists because of the number of crashes in recent months, Zimmerman paused.
“So far, not necessarily,” he said. “This is equipment failure. As far as drivers of manure-hauling vehicles, they pay more attention because they have to. They know they’re not supposed to text and drive.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at [email protected]