tiling field
CALL 811: Tiling ground, as well as any other kind of digging on the farm, should be cleared by calling 811 at least three days in advance.

Near miss leads to tiling warning

Farm smart and call 811 before you dig.

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.

View the video of Masterson, or the aerial footage of the Illinois accident.

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