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After A Fatal Tractor Accident, A Mosaic Mural Reminds Midwest Drivers To Share The Road

Theresa Young.jpg
Rich Egger
TriStates Public RAdio
Theresa Young works on creating a mosaic of the family’s sesquicentennial farm. “I really hope the mosaic not only sparks beauty and excitement but that people can come and think about the bigger impact of agriculture and how to be safe with farmers on and off the road.”

A memorial in Illinois is hoping to remind drivers to share the road with slow-moving farm equipment.  

Farm tractors are supposed to be used in the field, but sometimes farmers take their tractors on the highways when they need to get from one field to another, sometimes with deadly consequences.

After a local farmer died while driving his tractor on the highway, Kelley Quinn, an artist in Macomb, Illinois, was inspired to use her art to raise awareness about tractors on the road.

“We’re looking at trying to prevent any future deaths by making Macomb a place where there is awareness through a very unique project of mosaicking antique tractors and putting them on pillars, so people see them,” artist Kelley Quinn said.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries for workers. Tractor accidents are by far the leading cause of death and serious injury in agriculture, according to the National Ag Safety Database. Around 250 people die each year from tractor overturns, runovers, entanglement, and highway collisions.

Honoring Tim Sullivan

Farmer Tim Sullivan was driving his tractor on a stretch of highway north of Macomb, Illinois, when he was struck from behind by a box truck.

The impact threw Sullivan from his tractor, killing him. He was 64.

“He loved farming,” said Theresa Young, his youngest daughter. “It made him happy, and he got to do that every day.”

Four tractors are lined up next to the road.
Courtesty of Jessica Lambert
A line ofLocal farmers parked their tractors along the route from the church to the cemetery after Tim Sullivan’s funeral.

Young said as their family drove from the memorial service to the cemetery, they were comforted to see the route lined with tractors of all sizes — and even lawnmowers — as the community’s farmers paid their respects.

“It really made that drive after the service a memorable one and a beautiful one,” she said.

The sight sparked an idea in Quinn, a lifelong Macomb resident.

“The image of all those tractors at the intersections really struck me,” Quinn said,

She said Sullivan was respected and loved in the community. She wanted to use art to honor him and remind people to share the road with tractors.

A colorful monument

Quinn knew she needed help to turn a brown, crumpled 1939 Farmall tractor into a colorful monument.

“I typically use this material,” she said about the mosaic tiles that now cover the tractor. “It lasts longer than paint. And it’s a little bit fresher and newer looking.”

It took a couple of years, and donations of money, materials and time. But on a sunny and warm late summer afternoon, Quinn unveiled her latest piece of art: Tractor Town.

Rich Egger
TriStates Public Radio
The unveiling ceremony for Tractor Town drew a crowd on Saturday, September 11, 2021.

A mosaic with tiles of every color of the rainbow and more cover the tractor, painting pictures of farm fields, wind turbines, and puffy white clouds.

Quinn believes this work of art is one-of-a-kind.

“Nobody has mosaicked a tractor before,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a special first, and it will be neat that it is from Macomb.”

Three people glue small tiles on to a red tractor.
Rich Egger
TriStates Public Radio
Kelley Quinn (in the yellow shirt) works on applying the mosaic tiles with Alysson and Mark Bernards in March 2021

The mosaicked tractor now stands at the intersection of two highways and a train crossing, near downtown Macomb.

A safety hazard

Josie Rudolphi, who focuses on agricultural safety and health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she is an assistant professor and extension specialist, said despite the dangers, farmers use tractors just about every single day.

“We do know that farmers are very aware of the numerous hazards involved with their work. But they often consider those hazards part of the job,” Rudolphi said.

That sometimes means using public roads to get from one field to another, especially in spring and fall, so Rudolphi said some states, such as Illinois, now require new farm machinery to include flashing amber lights and red reflectors.

Tractor at Night.jpg
Rich Egger
TriStates Public Radio
The mosaicked tractor is also decorated with lights. Pictured just before dawn on Thursday, September 23, 2021.

Starting a conversation

A colorful array of lights festoons the mosaicked tractor.

Theresa Young said the Sullivan family is touched by the project. In fact, she was one of around a dozen volunteers who helped piece together the mosaic, including a depiction of the family’s sesquicentennial farm.

“That’s really a special thing for us to have and do and show our children,” Young said.

Quinn said she hopes the project will get people talking.

“The talking about it is really important. If people are thinking about tractors more, maybe there will be fewer accidents,” she said.

Quinn said she’s not done reminding truck and car drivers to think about tractors. Her goal is to mosaic several more tractors and display them around Macomb.

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