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Tale of a Hay Hauler: Changing times

Brad Nelson Published on 31 January 2011

Interesting how, over the years, times and circumstances change, sometimes carefully orchestrated and sometimes with a little surprise factor thrown in.

Marriage would be one of the biggest changes; in my case, carefully orchestrated. (I remember the old country song about the guy who woke up with a hangover and a new wife and could not remember how it all happened.)

The first big upside to being married is that it puts an end to kissing the love of your life goodnight and then turning around and going home alone.

There is some change in the footloose and fancy-free that comes with marriage, since there are now two sets of wants and needs to consider.

Within reason, for a guy that means there is this cute, warm, very friendly person who wants to go with you. When the first child arrives, there is a major change in the ability to spontaneously take off. The next big tie-down factor happens when the first child starts school.

One great unforeseen, as far as employment goes, is the fact that what you train for at college may not be what you actually end up doing.

The reasons are as varied as the variations in people. The swings of the economy in general, and the dairy or forage markets in particular, wreak havoc on the best-laid plans.

Life then gets interesting as Plan “B” unfolds. I went from a dairyman to a hay hauler when the dairy industry took an upset back in the early 1970s.

I went from a hay hauler to an export hay plant manager when health and another upset in the dairy industry helped many of my clients decide to retire from milking cows.

The latest change is, I’m still connected to the export hay business, but now in the role of procuring product and working with domestic users of the various types and grades of hay.

It’s actually very refreshing. I forgot how friendly and interesting the people who raise hay and the people who feed hay are.

One dairyman in the Sunnyside, Washington area told me that his cows got very little, if any, grain. They got hay and cannery waste.

The last hay he purchased was third cutting and fourth cutting that had been cut at the proper stage of maturity to make high-test dairy hay. He got it very reasonable because the hay grower made the decision to bale it too wet rather than getting yet another crop of hay rained on.

The dairyman went on to explain that while his cows may average a little less milk production than the cows of the “big guys” who spent three times as much for grain as for hay, he also had no DAs (displaced abomasums, which can be a problem for dairy cows fed a ration high in grain and low in roughage.)

He also commented that his cows were used to a little spot of mold in the silage or hay every now and again, and that the super-high-production spoiled cows of his neighbors were prone to be found dead the next morning if any of the above showed up in the feedbunk.

It was just after noon when we parted. His closing remarks were that it was nap time. His day had started early and “Tomorrow don’t look any more promising.”

I stumbled across an amazing hay shed near Midvale, Idaho the other day. Back in the 1980s we had hauled some hay into the area, and when we tried to go over the old trestle bridge across the river to our destination, we found either the hay trucks were stacked too tall or the bridge was too short.

The fellow receiving the hay had to come across the bridge with a pick-up and hay wagon and we unloaded the top layer before we fit on the bridge.

Now, the two spans of that old trestle bridge, which I think went up in 1907, formed the north and south wall structure of the hay barn. It was lettered, MIDVALE BRIDGE, 1907 to 1994 (Barn 2004). The owner of the barn was most helpful with directions and phone numbers of his neighbors whom I needed to contact.

“They may be sold out right now, but these are really good people and you need to get acquainted with them for next season.” He stated that he would help anyone looking to ship hay out of the area. “Tired of feeding the neighbors’ kids when they can’t get their hay sold” was his classic comment.

I had just come from the neighboring town of Cambridge, Idaho, and there discovered the son of the man who gave me most of the history of the old Meridian, Idaho-based Grade “A” Milk Producers Association, information which I used to write a term paper for a college Ag Econ course back in 1969 or 1970.

John told me that he loved the people and the quiet peace of Cambridge. He said that when he was out of the area and someone asked him where he lived, and he said “Cambridge”, the usual response was “Where is that?” His response was to say “thank you” and keep walking. Cambridge was his personal “Shangri-la” and he intended to keep it that way.

I needed a local hay hauler to move some Cambridge hay to central Washington. I stopped at Loveland’s general store, asked a few questions and the owner of the store and his son spent quite a bit of time tracking down some people they thought would be interested. One of them asked me to stay put, he would be there directly.

We struck a deal. He had hauled to exporters before, so I did not have to explain that there was a difference between tarping the hay and keeping it dry.

As is the nature of most small communities, when someone has a spell of bad luck, the whole community feels it. Cambridge was concerned about one of the locals who had bad heart problems and needed surgery that only two places in the country were willing to perform. He was home now, and the surgery was scheduled.

The son said they were trying “to keep Dad pretty much in the house, since anything he saw on the farm stressed him.” The doctors told him to make sure his blood pressure stayed down until the surgery.

As I was leaving the area, I stopped in Midvale at the coffee shop and café one of the locals had mentioned. It was a pleasant surprise.

It was small but very nice and clean and with the correct ambiance for the community. The lunch crowd was there and the place was packed. One couple was just leaving and I was offered that table.

In the door, right behind me, came a mother and daughter and baby. They were driving a pick-up pulling a gooseneck horse trailer. I told them I was alone, and to go ahead and take the table. A fellow, also by himself, offered me a seat at his table. I accepted.

I ordered the lunch special, which included the salad buffet, complete with homemade pie. My lunch companion asked if I ate there all the time, and I answered that I had never been in the place before.

He was a long-haul trucker and was as pleased as I was with the quality of the food. By and by, the waitress asked how I lost my finger.

I gave the nonchalant answer of “that was just the day I learned it was not a good idea to reach out and grab a waitress when she had a knife in her hand.”

I forgot about the pie. The lady told me I couldn’t leave without my pie. I sat back down and ate a very nice piece of mixed fruit pie that I really did not have room for. I wasn’t sure how close she was to a knife, but nine fingers beats eight fingers any day.  FG