I give credit to Don Masterson, an Indiana farmer who ate a piece of humble pie by sharing his mistake with others online, so they wouldn’t risk their lives like he did.
Masterson had just bought a new piece of ground that needed to be tiled. He knew there was a gas pipeline through the property, as there were markers at each end of the field and a survey on the property showed it to be a straight line.
While his son and grandson wanted to call 811, he says in the video, “I was in a hurry to get planting. The season was coming early, and I overruled them. I thought as long as we stay 75 feet away on either side, we should be in good shape.”
The tiling equipment, capable of reaching 7 feet deep, was put into motion with a 17-year-old hired hand walking alongside the equipment. Masterson’s grandson recalls watching a small airplane overhead that passed and then circled around again. He waved.
Just 35 minutes later the first Marathon truck arrived, following through on a phone call to authorities by the concerned pilot. The tiling stopped, and the Marathon employee used line-locating equipment to mark the pipeline, which was not in the straight line as presumed.
In fact, Masterson’s son, Kevin, had already swiped over it 14 times, with only a half inch of dirt between the tile and a 22-inch gas pipeline. He says he’s lucky to be here, as well as his young hired hand.
“It turned into what I consider a fiasco. And it all could have been avoided if we’d have just called 811," Kevin says.
Near misses and disasters
There’s also stories of a farmer clearing land and hitting a pipe, but the wet dirt averted a tragedy.
That wasn’t the case in a horrifying accident Dec. 5 in Illinois. While tile was being placed, a natural gas pipeline was pierced and flames shot several feet into the air, killing the father-and-son team and badly burning a hired hand. Many of you may have seen the aerial footage of the aftermath on the news or Facebook.
It’s an eerie reminder that all farm work involving digging — including tiling, deep tilling, earth moving, pond digging, fence post installing and even ditch cleaning — needs to preceded by a phone call to 811.
It’s a free call and a free service to get your underground utilities marked every time before you dig.
Also, Michigan has the MISS DIG system, which is a nonprofit independent company that serves as a message handling notification service for underground facility owners. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, MISS DIG must be given at least three full working days for notice. The toll-free number 800-482-7171 can still be used to request flagging of underground utilities in anticipation of digging activity.
So, plan ahead. Three days is nothing compared to a lifetime of regret.