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Tales of a Hay Hauler: ‘And they wonder why I’m grouchy’

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 01 October 2018

Shaving. Washing your face. Buying gas or diesel for the vehicles. Mowing the lawn. And, in my end of the country, dealing with goat-heads or puncture vine. These are just some things that are regular, reoccurring – and not a big deal if done regularly.

One of the local hay growers here in central Washington state uses the time right after checking the irrigation circles in the morning, and before getting on with the day’s events, to patrol for puncture vine. The procedure is to pull the whole plant up by the root and put it in a bag, and later burn the whole bag.

Herbicides will kill it but not the seeds in the thorns, which are robust enough to deflate bicycle and other less-than-robust tires. It hugs the ground, and one plant can spread out to cover a 5-foot-or-larger circle.

The thorns stick to anything and spread the infestation by eventually falling out of the truck, tractor, pick-up or road grader tire miles from where the little brutes were picked up. And the plant is very robust and prolific.

“We do our best to keep the roadsides bordering our fields cleared of the pest, and that keeps it from spreading into the fields and stackyards,” was the explanation given. “When we have a stretch of roadside that’s fairly clean, then see someone turn his or her pickup around getting off the gravel portion, and then the next summer find that turn-around spot infested, well, I guess I get a little grouchy.”

He wondered if people were unaware they were spreading the noxious weed as they drove from place to place, or didn’t care, or both.

He changed the subject. “Another thing – had a fellow buy one load of hay. There were two stacks, one long, the other short – identical hay. I asked the guy to load from the shorter stack so he wouldn’t need to drive through the hay field to turn around to load. Now you’d think that was a simple request, but no.

Next day, I found he’d loaded, then driven out leaving deep tracks in my timothy field. And he wonders why I was grouchy.”

Last year, when the total eclipse of the sun passed through parts of the Northwest, I talked to a hay grower in the area. He said the evening before the eclipse, he found a group camping in his yet-to-be-harvested alfalfa field, without permission, awaiting the solar event the next morning. He said they thought he was a world-class grouch as he ran them off.

Decades ago, the Midwest was having a prolonged drought. It lasted long enough federal funds were allocated to subsidize hauling Western-states hay into the stricken area. I was hauling a load of hay from the Mud Lake, Idaho, area back to my dairy customer in western Idaho. The grower said he was loading many trucks daily that were going east and gave me a specific time to arrive to load.

The grower told me it was a relief to see someone show up for a load of hay who had at least seen a bale of hay before. (This was all two-tie hay bales.)

He said he had flatbed freight haulers show up, and they learned that before they set a bale of hay on the truck, they needed to ask how they intended to secure the load. Most had many cargo straps to secure the load crossways but nothing to tie the load on end-to-end.

He said they had the local hardware store order in a spool of hay rope and some heavy portable cable winches. They gave the store the formula for how much rope was needed for a given length of trailer deck. When the truckers would call for directions, it would be to the hardware store.

When the trucks showed up to load, they first had to show him they really did have the means to tie the load down end-to-end. Yes, the drivers thought he was a terrible grouch.

They loaded with a grapple, or bale fork, that placed a flat pad of 10 or 12 bales at a time on the deck and, knowing the drivers didn’t know how to stack hay, had a man on the truck to properly position the bales. They tied down the loads properly and allowed the driver to add cross-straps as they wished.

With all of that, they still had the flatbed freight haulers dumping loads before they got from the haystack to the road. He told me it didn’t take him long to realize there was a big difference between a truck driver and a hay hauler.

One driver, he said, dumped his load twice before he got to the road. He noticed it as he was positioning the following truck to load. He quickly got in his pickup and drove over. Said he couldn’t figure out how he did it, but all but a couple of bales were down an embankment. Over the last several days, some 40 trucks had passed that spot without incident.

“I guess I got the Grouch of the Year award about then. I told that driver he would be wise to just keep going, that it wouldn’t be healthy for him if the guy who stacked his load twice before arrived and he was still here.”  end mark