Delp said he had been driving tractors at his family's Lower Oxford dairy farm "off and on" since that first harrowing experience. This month, he and his brother, Dan, 13, were among 14 county teenagers studying tractor and farm
machinery safety in a 14-hour evening and Saturday course at Octorara High School sponsored by the county Cooperative Extension.
The five sessions were to end yesterday, with U.S. Labor Department certificates for those who passed driving and written tests. The federal government requires certificates for youths age 14 to 16 to work as laborers on farms other than their parents'.
The Delp brothers won't need the certificates this summer - there's plenty of work on the home farm. But they will need the safety education that the certificates represent, their father, David Delp, said last weekend as he watched each boy take a turn hitching a tractor to a manure spreader.
"I sent them up here just to learn how," David Delp said. "I thought it would be much easier for somebody else to show them."
Clark, an eighth grader at Oxford Intermediate School, said he and his brother were both enjoying the experience. "I'm learning basic tractor safety and how (to be) responsible with machinery," Clark Delp said.
Another pair of brothers, David and Eric Hillebrecht of East Marlborough, don't live on a farm but expect to work on one this year. Their prospective boss, a horse farmer, advised them to attend the class and become certified. And their father, Wayne, who studied agriculture in college, decided to enroll as well, to refresh his knowledge.
The class "is really interesting," said Eric Hillebrecht, 14. "I never knew there was so much to a tractor before - so many controls and so many precautions you need to take. I never really thought it was that dangerous, but I learned that farm accidents were the number-one kind of accidents. I never knew that."
According to Cooperative Extension statistics, youths 5 to 14 have the highest rate of farm work injuries; males have double the rate of females, and 44 percent of Pennsylvania farm fatalities involve tractors. Children 4 and younger are most often run over on the ground, while children 5 to 14 are more often killed as extra riders.
"We all have to learn some things the hard way," extension agent Walter B. Wurster told the class last weekend. "But hopefully we can tell you some things that you won't have to learn the hard way - because not everybody is lucky."
Wurster, who has been teaching the course with the help of agricultural engineer Pat Ritchie, Octorara vocational-agriculture teacher Ivan Stauffer and Avondale State Trooper Robert Stanek, said he didn't expect the teenagers to be expert tractor drivers by the end of the course. But, he said, he hoped to teach them certain operations and procedures so that they would be able to prevent accidents and injuries.