- Format: 1 hour lecture, 3 hour lab; once a week
- Grading: Pass/No Pass
- Enrollment: 96
- Course Goals:
1. To provide the student with "hands-on" farm equipment operation in a field
2. To educate students about farm equipment management to include proper set-up,field adjustment and maintenance of tractors and farm equipment.
3. To develop farm equipment decision-making skills of students concerning the
strategies for use of tractors and implements to accomplish specific crop cultural
When you think of rites of passage at UC Davis, the last thing on your mind is probably classes - we all have to take them to graduate, but that doesn't necessarily make them a “must do before I leave” ordeal. That is, except for Field Equipment Operation (ABT 49), a class that strays so far from your typical course load that if you were to delve just a bit deeper into what it is actually about, you would understand why it boasts a “classic UC Davis class” status as well as its own Davis Wiki page. While it is true that the course is listed under the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science and has to do with the great outdoors, dirt and all, but the main component is a four-wheeled lean mean killing machine - or less dramatically, a tractor, in the class that is more commonly known as “tractor driving.”
Hands on experience, especially in the agricultural field, is a treat that not many college students get to indulge in. Lucky for us, Davis being Davis - the campus often dubbed a cow-town, an agricultural wasteland, or “the farm school” - tractor driving is offered to students of all majors. “It is certainly unusual and unique at the University level,” Dr. Mir Shafii, who teaches the course, said. “Many [Agricultural] students take the class to put it on their resume. It is not unusual for that experience to be a contributing factor to students getting a full time or summer job. Other students take the class because it is so different from many other classes on campus. It’s pretty cool to brag that you, the student, gets to drive a brand new enclosed cab tractor [worth $150,000] while plowing, disking, land planing, and such.”
Jim Rumsey (class of ‘65), who taught the course for 24 years beginning in 1982, has fond memories of ABT 49. He explained that “the best part of teaching the class for me was the ability to give students a seriously hands-on course that enabled [them] to accomplish what was talked about in lecture.” Rumsey himself grew up on a walnut farm and has been driving tractors since the age of 11.
Rumsey warns that this class is as real as it gets. “The most challenging part of teaching the class was the safety issues,” he explained. “This class is not ‘virtual.’ Tractors are fairly sophisticated and complex to operate, [so] safety was always my highest priority.” According to Rumsey, agriculture is typically one of the most unsafe occupations to work in, with tractors being a major contributor to farm deaths. He continued: “When I taught the course, on the average, about one farm person per day was killed in the US.”
If you were to take ABT 49 now, you would have Professor Shafii who has been teaching the course since 2009. His focuses are “working on research, design and development, and teaching in the area of Agricultural Machinery.” According to Shafii, who received his doctorate from Ohio State University in Agricultural Engineering, the biggest concern he has with the class is its large size. “My ABT 49 teaching assistants and I have been doing our best to satisfy the objectives of the course and continuously promote the quality and quantity of ABT’s theoretical and practical instructions in a very safe manner,” he said.
Thus, the objective of the course isn’t simply having fun in the sun - although that is surely a given - it is also being able to identify various tractors, understand the mechanisms behind tractors, and of course, to work a tractor safely and strategically.
Oh and ladies, tractor driving isn’t just for guys. In fact, according to Rumsey, the class usually consists of 50% men and 50% women. If you want to meet your country cutie or simply a guy who is not afraid to try new things, you may be looking into the right class. It seems that driving tractors can form some romantic connections. Rumsey noted: “some of the tractors were set up to allow two students to be in the cab simultaneously. It was interesting to see students try to buddy up with someone to whom they might be attracted - I am aware of at least one marriage of students who met in my class.”
So whether you’re a senior who is crossing off things on her to-do-before-I-graduate list or a freshman looking to dive head first into all that Davis has to offer, sign up for ABT 49 this spring quarter. It is, after all, a rite of passage.