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AGO 1966 No. 119 - November 23, 1966
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- FARM IMPLEMENTS ‑- LICENSING ‑- SCOPE OF EXEMPTION.

The exemption from the motor vehicle licensing requirement of RCW 46.16.010 of farm tractors, certain farm implements, and certain trailers used exclusively to transport farm implements, does not extend to any of the following:

(1) A self-propelled motor vehicle owned by a farmer and used solely for the purpose of transporting gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil which the farmer uses for maintenance of his farm equipment; 

(2) A trailer owned by a farmer and used exclusively for hauling gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil in the maintenance of his farm equipment; or  

(3) A weed-burning device mounted on a trailer owned by a propane gas company used by a farmer the majority of the time for the purpose of burning weeds and stubble.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                               November 23, 1966

Honorable Arthur R. Eggers
Prosecuting Attorney
Walla Walla County Court House
Walla Walla, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 119

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on several questions pertaining to the scope of the licensing exemption contained in RCW 46.16.010.  Specifically, you have asked whether this exemption applies to:

            (1) A self-propelled motor vehicle owned by a farmer and used solely for the purpose of transporting gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil which the farmer uses for maintenance of his farm equipment;

            (2) A trailer owned by a farmer and used exclusively for hauling gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil in the maintenance of his farm equipment; or

            (3) A weed-burning device mounted on a trailer owned by a  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] propane gas company used by a farmer the majority of the time for the purpose of burning weeds and stubble.

            In our opinion, for the reasons explained in our analysis, none of these items is within the scope of the exemption.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The term "vehicle" is defined in RCW 46.04.670 to mean:

            ". . . every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, excepting devices moved by human or animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks."

            Unquestionably, each of the items of equipment described in your questions, including trailers, is a vehicle.  Thus, the operation of each such item on the public highways of this state is governed by RCW 46.16.010, which provides that:

            "It shall be unlawful for a person to operate any vehicle over and along a public highway of this state without first having obtained and having in full force and effect a current and proper vehicle license and display vehicle license number plates therefor as by this chapter provided:  Provided, That these provisions shall not apply to farm tractors and farm implements including trailers designed as cook or bunk houses used exclusively for animal herding temporarily operating or drawn upon the public highways, and trailers used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another during the daylight hours or at night when such equipment has lights that comply with the law: . . ."

            Significantly, the phrase ". . . including trailers designed as cook or bunk houses used exclusively for animal herding . . ." was inserted into the statute by an amendment in 1963.  See, § 51, chapter 3, Laws of 1963, Ex. Sess.  Thus, the concluding phrase relative to ". . . trailers used exclusively to transport farm implements . . .," etc., which, along with "farm tractors" and "farm implements . . . temporarily  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] operating or drawn upon the public highways . . ." was in the proviso as originally adopted in 1947 (see, § 1, chapter 33, Laws of 1947), should be regarded as describing a separate category of exempt vehicles, rather than a class of vehicles subject to being characterized as "farm implements."

            Accordingly, it is to be seen that each vehicle which you have described must be licensed in order to be operated on our public highways unless it is either

            (a) a "farm tractor," or

            (b) a "farm implement" (including trailers designed as cook or bunk houses, etc.), or

            (c) a trailer ". . . used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another . . ."

            Since the legislative definition of "farm tractor" (RCW 46.04.180) is limited to,

            ". . . every motor vehicle designed and used primarily as a farm implement for drawing plows, mowing machines, and other implements of husbandry."

            it is readily to be seen that none of these items of equipment can be said to be "farm tractors."  The only points remaining to be considered, then, are whether any of these items can be characterized as "farm implements" within the meaning of RCW 46.16.010,supra, or as trailers ". . . used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another . . ."

            Before proceeding to consider these possibilities we should make note of another pertinent statute, RCW 46.16.090, which provides:

            "Motor trucks or trailers of less than twenty-six thousand pounds may be specially licensed based on the maximum gross weight thereof for fifty percent of the various amounts set forth in the schedule provided in RCW 46.16.070, when such trucks or trailers are owned and operated by farmers, but only if the following condition or conditions exist:

            "(1) When such trucks or trailers are to be  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] used for the transportation of such farmer's own farm, orchard or dairy products from point of production to market or warehouse, and of supplies to be used on his farm; and/or

            "(2) When such trucks or trailers are to be used for the infrequent or seasonal transportation by one such farmer for another farmer in his neighborhood of products of the farm, orchard or dairy owned by such other farmer from point of production to market or warehouse, or supplies to be used on such other farm, but only if such transportation for another farmer is for compensation other than money: . . ."

            In construing statutes, it is presumed that the legislature does not indulge in vain and useless acts and that some significant purpose or object is implicit in every legislative enactment.  Guinness v. State, 40 Wn.2d 677, 246 P.2d 433 (1952); Kelleher v. Ephrata School Dist., 56 Wn.2d 866, 355 P.2d 989 (1960).  Applying this rule, we may deduce two distinct conclusions from the statutes we have thus far noted:

            (1) The legislature did not intend, by the proviso to RCW 46.16.010,supra, to exempt from licensing all vehicles used in a farm operation, for had this been its intent, the special licensing provisions for certain trucks and trailers, as provided for by RCW 46.16.090, supra, would be absolutely meaningless.

            (2) Furthermore, the legislature did not intend the term "farm implements" as used in the exemption proviso to include cargo-carrying vehicles (whether trucks or trailers) used to transport farm implements from one farm to another ‑ for otherwise, there would have been no reason for the legislature to have expressly exempted, as a separate category, trailers used for this purpose.

            Against this background, we shall now give consideration to each of the three items of equipment you have described:

            (1) A self-propelled motor vehicle owned by a farmer and used solely for the purpose of transporting gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil which the farmer uses for the maintenance of his farm equipment.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Under RCW 46.04.310, which defines "motor truck" as meaning,

            ". . . any motor vehicle designed or used for the transportation of commodities, merchandise, produce, freight, or animals."

            read together with RCW 46.04.320, which states:

            "'Motor vehicle' shall mean every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails."

            it seems clear that this vehicle is a motor truck.  It most certainly (as previously noted) is not a "farm tractor" (see, RCW 46.04.180,supra).  Because of its motive power, it is clearly not a trailer.1/

             Lastly, since as explained above, the term "farm implement" cannot be construed to include a cargo-carrying vehicle (for the reason that otherwise the separate exemption of certain cargo-carrying trailers would be meaningless), it follows that the motor truck which we have denoted item (1), supra, cannot be considered a "farm implement" within the meaning of the licensing exemption contained in RCW 46.16.010,supra.  Rather, it is our opinion that this item of equipment is subject to the special licensing provisions of RCW 46.16.090, supra.

            (2) A trailer owned by a farmer and used exclusively for hauling gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil in the maintenance of his farm equipment.

            On the basis of the analysis previously set forth, it is to  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] be seen that this vehicle, likewise, is neither a "farm tractor" nor a "farm implement" under RCW 46.16.010,supra.  Is it then

            (a) a trailer ". . . used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another . . ." and, hence, exempt from licensing under RCW 46.16.010,supra, or is it

            (b) a trailer owned and operated by a farmer to transport farm products to market or warehouse, or, to transport and supplies to be used on his (or occasionally, another) farm ‑ hence subject to the special licensing provisions of RCW 46.16.090, supra?

            Assuming without deciding that transportation intrafarm as well as interfarm would be covered by the phrase ". . . used exclusively to transport . . . from one farm to another," the cargo carried must in any event be classified as "farm implements" for the exemption under RCW 46.16.010,supra, to apply.  It is a cardinal rule of statutory construction that where a statute does not define a word, it must be given its plain and ordinary meaning.  Crown Zellerbach Corp. v. State, 53 Wn.2d 813, 328 P.2d 884 (1958).  As pertinent here, "implement" is defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary as ". . . a tool or utensil forming part of equipment for work."  The term "supplies," on the other hand, as pertinent here, is defined in that volume as ". . . items or a quantity (as provisions, clothing, arms, or raw material) available for use, exploitation, or development or esp. set aside to be dispensed at need . . ."

            Fuel and lubricating materials are necessary in today's farm operation, but they are consumed by the machinery and do not in any manner become a part of the device consuming it.  In the light of the above definitions the conclusion is therefore inescapable that fuel and lubricating materials are "supplies" and not "farm implements."  A trailer hauling these materials, then, could not be exempt from licensing under RCW 46.16.010, though it would qualify for the special licensing provisions of RCW 46.16.090,supra.

            Lastly, we turn to item (3) ‑ a weed-burning device mounted on a trailer owned by a propane gas company used by a farmer the majority of the time for the purpose of burning weeds and stubble.

            This device presents a little different problem.  It does  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] not come within RCW 46.16.090, supra, since it is not owned by the farmer who from time to time may use it.  It is not a "farm tractor" and it is not a ". . . trailer used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another, . . ." so any relief from the general vehicle licensing requirements must hinge upon whether this type of equipment can be considered to be a "farm implement."  Propane burning devices such as this are unquestionably of value to the farmer, but they are also suitable for and used for other purposes unrelated to agricultural pursuits.  In this respect they are to be distinguished from another type of device ‑ an anhydrous ammonia applicator ‑ which this office held to be exempt from licensing in a letter dated April 21, 1955, to the director of licenses (copy enclosed).  There, we said:

            "It seems to us, however, that the anhydrous ammonia applicators referred to in your letter would qualify for the exemption as a farm implement,since it has no other use except the application of fertilizer."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Applying the rule that exceptions to general legislative provisions should be strictly but reasonably construed with all doubts resolved in favor of the general provision rather than the exception, State v. Christensen, 18 Wn.2d 7, 137 P.2d 512 (1943), it is our opinion that the propane burning device described in your item (3), being neither designed nor exclusively used for farming operations, is not a "farm implement" and, therefore, is not exempt from the general licensing requirement of RCW 46.16.010, supra.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

RICHARD F. WRENN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/RCW 46.04.620 provides:

            "'Trailer' includes every vehicle without motive power designed for being drawn by or used in conjunction with a motor vehicle constructed so that no appreciable part of its weight rests upon or is carried by such motor vehicle."

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