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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Is it time to start a bucket list?

Brad Nelson Published on 30 September 2013

Once upon a time, there was a country music song in which the singer bemoaned always having his truck passed on the highway by Greyhound buses.

Those of you close to my age may remember the line, “Just once, before I turn to dust, let me run the wheels right off a Greyhound bus.”

The singer was upset because no matter how light his load or how powerful his engine, those buses just came up behind, flashed their lights, blew their horns and drove right on past.

He was wishing for a truck that would do about 100 miles an hour fully loaded, including uphill, so he could pass him a bus or two. This had also been on my “bucket list,” or list of things I wanted to do before “kicking the bucket.”

It had been one of my favorite country trucking songs. I got a measure of relief some years back. After I got my first diesel pickup, one of my sons was using the previous ’82 Dodge while working on a hay ranch in the Winnemucca, Nevada, region.

En route to the ranch one morning there was a right-of-way dispute with a cow. The boy wasn’t injured (other than for the humiliation of having to call home), the truck was repairable but not drivable, and the cow did not survive.

We brought the ’82 home. On the Spring Creek grade, on I-84 north of La Grande, Oregon, my little Dodge diesel, still stock at 160 horsepower with the other pickup and a car trailer in tow, passed a Greyhound bus.

I held it in fifth gear and maintained the 65 mph speed limit, which the bus was not able to do. And I sang the old song all the way home.

It wasn’t until I replaced the engine in my 1973 Freightliner truck with a Cummins 400 that I had a Jake brake on my truck.

This is an ingenious device that when applied opens the exhaust valves on the engine at the top of the compression stroke, in effect turning the engine into a massive air compressor which releases the pressure.

Set up properly, it will generate a retarding force approaching the power output of the engine. Now I could come down the Cabbage mountain grade south of Pendleton, Oregon, at 50 miles per hour and have cool brakes at the bottom of the six-mile, 6 percent grade.

Without the Jake, it had been 20 miles per hour with smoking brakes at the bottom. This had also been a bucket-list item.

The Ford Mustang came out just before I graduated from high school. I thought they were the neatest thing since sliced bread. I wanted one. I sat in one at the dealership, and my head hit the ceiling.

In 1979, Mazda began importing the rotary engine RX-7 sports car. I liked it better than the Mustang but never tried one on for size. About seven years ago, I was offered one in trade.

I tried it on for size, and I could sit up straight in it without my head colliding with the roof. I was able to modify the seat position to give me proper leg room.

By the stickers under the hood, it appears that one of the few rotary engine specialists on the West Coast had re-built the engine. It runs fine. It shows its age in a few areas, but so do I.

Check off one more bucket-list item. My wife doesn’t like to ride in it. It rides rough. No air conditioning. All four tires make a slight squealing sound in some corners. She doesn’t understand me when I explain, “That’s what an RX-7 is for.”

In the early 1980s, I discovered the TC Contender single-shot, target-hunting pistol. The term bucket list didn’t exist back then, but the pistol went on my gotta-have-it list.

The lady who won’t ride in my RX-7 got me a Contender for my birthday back then. As I look back, I realize that two items were checked off the bucket list: First, possessing a finely made pistol that was more accurate than most rifles. Second, being married to someone who would surprise me with it.

Some bucket list items you dream of, plan for and hope you last long enough to enjoy. Others you find in the rear-view mirror.

These are the things you never planned or looked forward to; things you never realized were important when they happened.

These are the experiences and relationships that shaped, changed and directed your life so that who and what you are today would be different without them. Sometimes the rear-view mirror happenings are of more substance than those hoped and planned for.

Joe, an acquaintance from years back, told of a conversation he had with his father as a teenager. His dad asked him what he planned to be.

Joe told his father of his plans to get into college, and through the ROTC get into the Air Force and become a fighter pilot.

From there he would have the option of a career in the military or becoming a civilian pilot. His dad told him that he had a good plan as far as how he was going to earn a living.

“What I meant to ask,” said his father, “was what kind of a man you intend to be when you grow up.” Joe concluded, “Dad’s question altered my thinking on life.”

Junior high school (I guess now they call that “middle school”): that’s the best time I can think of for a person to begin the bucket list. That’s when most of the doors of opportunity are still open.

Starting then, pre-teen and early teen years is when we start making choices that can close doors, some forever. Some of these doors we will need to be opened later.

What do you enjoy doing? How about qualifying yourself so someone will pay you good wages to do something you really enjoy? This is the time in a young person’s life to start deciding what is important in life and what is fluff.

Some bucket-list items are of massive importance, others not so much. My outdoor grill gets lots of use. On my bucket list was to be able to grill chicken so it was done, and not burned or dry.

I finally got it figured out. I place the chicken on a hot grill and immediately turn the heat way down. Then I must be watchful and patient. This is on the “not so much” list.

On the “of massive importance” list: In 1968, I met someone who had similar principles, priorities and life aspirations as I did. She was also alluring, flirty, fun to be around and desirable to me.

Added to my bucket list was getting this wonderful person to fall in love with me. Her father helped. She told me that after meeting me the second time, her dad told her not to let me get away.

She promised him that she wouldn’t. This is a rear-view mirror item, but after 45 years I realize more each day that if I hadn’t been able to get her to fall in love with me, none of the other list items would have had any meaning.

Things became important to her because they are important to me. After making her smile and laugh and feeling her love for me, as intense now as when she was 18 and I was 22, anything left undone on the bucket list is just fluff.  FG

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