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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Just pondering work attitudes

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 30 August 2017

Farm kids and town kids can be light years apart, even when those town kids are from small rural communities.

An Idaho hay grower told me about hiring a 23-year-old young man to run his big bale hay stacker – from inside the air-conditioned cab of a late-model tractor. He had never stacked hay before but seemed to catch on quickly. The grower had hopes the new hire would be with him for the entire haying season.

About the third or fourth day, the fellow never showed up – but his mother did. She told the hay grower he was working her son too hard, and the son had taken a job in town working at a fast-food place. The grower just shook his head. He said he knew he had been paying twice what flipping burgers paid and with way more hours.

I asked another grower about a young man he had working for him. He told me the kid was just barely 14 and was the son of the fellow he was renting ground from. He said the kid pestered him about a job until he finally gave up and told him he may be able to find something for him to do a couple of days a week. Starting time was usually 7 a.m.

“That kid has been on my doorstep at 6:40 a.m. every day since,” commented the grower.

He went on to say the youngster was an eager beaver to work and seemed to have a natural knack with mechanical things.

Years ago in Idaho, one of my friends had a brand-new son-in-law who was out of work at the same time I needed a hay-hauling helper. John said the kid claimed to be looking for work every day and was coming up with zeros.

John said he was sure the kid could handle throwing hay bales, as he spent most of his time telling everyone how tough he was.

He wasn’t that bad of help. The work was easier for him once he realized I really did know the easy way to get a bale of hay from the haystack onto the hay elevator.

He quit after about 10 days. His new father-in-law asked why I had told him I was out of work and no longer needed his son-in-law. I hadn’t. John was never one to mince his words. He told the kid if he didn’t like hauling hay, he’d better find a job he did like because in about two days he was going to be out on the street.

After the three previous weeks of coming home with “nobody is hiring,” the prospect of having to be a hay hauler suddenly had this fellow showing up the next day with a job helping a drywall installer.

When the harrow-bed and other stacker wagons came into common usage, it marked the end of an era. Unnumbered youth learned to work walking beside hay wagons, pitching bales onto the wagon or standing on the wagon and stacking those bales.

Then the hay loader that fastened to the side of a wagon or a truck and raised the bales so the crew only had to pull them off the loader and stack them came into common usage.

It didn’t take long to get one’s “sea legs” on the back of a truck moving up and down the rows of baled hay. Badger dens in the field could make for a wild ride should a wheel of the truck fall in one.

I remember being all wet with sweat and how good it felt for even a 95ºF breeze to blow and cool us off. Thing was, that breeze was always from a direction that blew the dust from the bale loader in our faces. We were about 14 years old but, when the job was done, we had money that was ours.

Later, while operating my own hay truck, one of my younger brothers was my helper for the summer. He said his football coach wanted him to start coming in for practice the first week of August. I told him to tell his coach what kind of job he had, and he did. The coach told him to keep throwing hay bales, that he’d be in better shape than the rest of the team.

Once rural kids could work from their early teens, and by the time they were 18 they had both a good work ethic and a good amount of experience with farm animals and machinery. Currently (unless it’s a family member), age 18 is the earliest a person can legally get a job that involves doing much more than sweeping the floor.

It’s challenging and sometimes a little dicey for youngsters to get work experience. There are only so many lawns to mow or sidewalks to shovel.

I heard a fellow venting his frustrations as he did his best to put a recent high school graduate to work: “How in the world can someone live to be 18 years old and not know anything?”  end mark