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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Normal?

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 01 November 2021

Crazy Bob’s Cut Rate was an independent gas station a couple of blocks up the road from where we moved to in Nampa, Idaho, the summer of 1956.

About the following year, Dad bought a gasoline-powered rotary lawnmower, and Crazy Bob became my source for fuel for the beast. We’d traded an 84-acre farm for a 14-unit motel, and I became the de facto groundskeeper. I turned 10 in 1956. About three years later, this nice lady drove into the motel parking lot and parked by the office. She was asking who Mom’s groundskeeper might be. Every time she passed by, the lawns were green and trimmed, and the evergreens always in good shape.

She had been hoping Mom’s groundskeeper would be able to help her with her yard also. Visualizing less boredom and more money in my pocket, I found out where she lived, which was like two miles up the road. Since I was a year away from having a driver’s license, I convinced Mom and Dad I was safe tying the control handles of the lawnmower to the frame of the bicycle at the seat mount and hauling tools, water and gas in the basket on the handlebars.

The agreement was: I kept the home front neat and tidy, green and trim, and any side-gig income was mine. In two weeks, I had picked up the original lady’s two neighbors as paying clients. Thirteen and self-employed. I was stoked.

Late the next summer, and with a fresh driver’s license in hand, I was graduated to hauling the lawnmower in the trunk of one of the cars. Seems one of Mom’s friends had seen me on the shoulder of a 50-mile-per-hour federal highway trucking along towing a lawnmower behind my bike, and the friend was about to have a cow over it.

Two things Dad did as I was growing up fell outside of what I thought “normal” for him.

Crazy Bob always had odds and ends of boxed goods for sale inside his gas station. One item was a sheathed knife, suitable for hunting or camping. The handle consisted of stacked leather slices finished into a nice, oval, hand-filling shape. Dad saw me examining it and took it from me. After his examination, he handed it back and asked if that was something I needed. After I hemmed and hawed about need and want and Boy Scout outings on the horizon, Dad just up and bought the knife for me. I’ve still got it. I later made a leather sheath for it.

Sometime later, I noticed an ad in the local paper for a hot-rod car show at the state fairgrounds at Boise, Idaho, some 30 miles from home. I was seriously into building model cars at the time. I handed Dad the paper with the car show ad on top and wondered out loud if this was something we could go see. I went on to wherever I was going and was surprised to see Dad looking for me and asking if I had my jacket.

Dad talked about buddies and cars on the way over. About how the group had been given an old Plymouth that needed an engine overhaul. About how they’d saved money for parts and bummed use of tools to assemble it in the hope of selling it for enough pocket money among them to make it all worthwhile.

And then – one of them decided he needed to make sure all the head bolts were tight enough when the “ping” echoed on forever. They had to take the head off, replace the head gasket and at least the broken head bolt. “And fer cryin’ out loud, don’t let that big ape [the one who broke the last bolt] anywhere near a wrench.”

We walked through the car show until we couldn’t walk any more. Dad showed me the place on somebody’s T-Bucket roadster where his dad found that you needed to keep a piece of tin snugly in place to keep rainwater out of some wiring so his Model T would start in the rain. Dad went on that one day, he needed that piece of tin for something and didn’t get it put back before it rained … and it wasn’t a fun time.

We drove to the car show in Dad’s 1958 Edsel. That was the family car the year I got my license. Dad bought it instead of the 1958 Ford beside it because the Edsel was like $250 less money. He said later he thought it was the better car. 361-cubic-inch engine versus 332 for the Ford. A heavier car which rode better and would easily log 21 miles per gallon. Of course, Dad bragged it up, and so did I – which affected my personal “normal” aura, as seen by my peers.

Know what? Being normal can be a bad thing. And being not normal can be a very good thing.  end mark