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Tales of a Hay Hauler: A warm dog and frozen boots

Published on 14 July 2014

Tip, named for the white end of his tail, had to be a master of PR. Dad told me that Tip was on my lap being petted on his ride to our house as a weanling pup. I don’t remember the trip, so I must have been younger than 3 at the time.

I do remember going with him to bring Tip home from the vet after he survived a learning experience with someone’s car or pickup. That left Tip understanding that vehicles always had the right-of-way.

Tip came with us when we moved from Mink Creek, in southeast Idaho, to Parma, in southwest Idaho. Tip was a mild-mannered cow dog.

Dad could send him by himself to bring the cattle from the pasture on the far end of our 82-acre farm. Tip was gentle with the cattle, but the cattle understood that he meant business.

Tip knew who belonged where. Dad shipped milk in the old traditional 10-gallon milk cans, and Val Feller was the milk hauler who showed up each morning to haul it to the creamery.

Tip made it a point to be there so Val could pet him each morning. One day Val had the monthly milk check, and for some reason, no one was home.

It looked like rain, so he didn’t want to leave the check stuck between a milk can and its lid. He told Dad later that he had it in mind to just leave it on the kitchen table, but Tip would not let him near the door to the house. He saved the delivery of the check for the next day.

Dad commented that Tip was friends with the cattle. He said that on a cold winter morning he would find Tip sleeping snuggled up tight against a warm sleeping cow.

Dad found Tip a home on another farm when we moved to town in 1956.

Winter chore time in a big old windblown barn could get cold in the winter. It wasn’t bad if I was doing something, but the waiting made me think my feet were going to freeze to the ground.

The milk parlor was a stanchion type, and occasionally I could get two cows to stand close enough together so I could sandwich between them and get warm.

The directive to “come hold the light” in the winter usually meant I was going to freeze to death before Dad got the repair done. This was a mutually exasperating experience at times.

If I could see where the flashlight beam was shining, Dad couldn’t. If I couldn’t see where the beam was shining, it was difficult to aim the light where Dad needed it. I have done my level best to remember this when I need a kid to hold the light for me.

Jumping ahead a few years, I remember noticing that my leather boots had been frozen. I was about an hour from the stack in eastern Idaho where I had loaded in the winter.

I had arrived on schedule to load by appointment. I had been forgotten, and “Grandma” was the only one home.

“No problem,” she said, “I can certainly run the loader, and we’ll get you loaded.”

And we did. By the time I had dealt with tire chains after getting stuck while moving the empty truck and trailer to the stack yard, it was almost dark.

The temperature had been in the 30s when I arrived, but as the sun set it dropped to below zero. After dealing with tire chains, my boots were soaked. I was wearing good heavy wool socks, and was staying very active, so my feet were never more than chilly.

“Grandma” ran the bale grapple, which was mounted on a front-end loader on a big tractor. She ran it well. I shed my heavy coat and was still wet with sweat.

She would place 10 bales on the truck, and before I had them positioned, she was waiting with 10 more. By the time it was fully dark, I was loaded and tied down and had the truck back on a good enough road to remove the tire chains.

“Grandma,” who had obviously loaded a good many hay trucks in her time, had the loader tractor parked and was back inside her cozy warm house.

It took a few minutes to get the old yellow hay truck up to operating temperature, and when I did, the heater that was at foot level just behind the driver’s seat commenced to blowing wonderful hot air.

When I reached down and touched my boots to see why they felt “funny,” I found that the heel was sopping wet and the tip of the toe was still frozen solid. I could feel my toes and they all worked; the wool socks had done their magic.

And so ends a cold story for a hot summer.  FG