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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Old iron and old stories

Published on 12 July 2016
Brad Nelson and his 46 Peterbilt

This year’s annual meeting and show for the American Truck Historical Association was held at Salem, Oregon.

I justified the trip by plotting on a map a couple of hay-growing areas I’d have to pass through on the way – and actually did look at hay and talk to a hay grower on the way in Goldendale, Washington.

There I found an old Peterbilt truck of my vintage, a 1946, and asked a nice lady named Mary to take my picture next to it. I also found a handful of old hay haulers, and we swapped stories.

One hauler told of being at a California truck weigh station and observed a younger weighmaster dealing with a hay hauler. He said the official was nitpicking and had sent the hay hauler out to his truck to get one more unnecessary piece of paper. Then an older, more experienced officer put his hand on the kid’s shoulder and said, “This is a hay hauler you are dealing with.

Either write him a ticket or let him go because if you keep picking at him like you are, he’s going to blow up and we’re going to have to shoot him.”

I know how frustrating it can be when the people who wrote the rulebook never even saw a load of hay, let alone loaded or hauled one.

Back when kids were allowed to learn how to work by actually having a job, I got on with Anderson Bros. Dairy at Nampa, Idaho. I was about 14. Andersons bought hay for their dairy and baled and hauled it themselves.

They bought first cutting from some alfalfa seed growers who wanted to get the first cutting off early so there was time for the second to go to seed and dry properly for seed harvest before the late summer showers fouled that venture.

They loaded the trucks in the field with a loader on wheels that anchored to the side of the truck for loading. The driver then drove through the field, picking up the bales one at a time, the loader lifting the bales on an inclined track with a toothed chain in the center bringing the bales up beside the truck – rather, a hay elevator on wheels.

We’d first pull the bales down for the first couple of layers and then throw them up to finish the load. Things topside got interesting when one wheel of the truck found a badger hole.

The fleet was a mismatch – a late ’40s or early ’50s Ford, an ugly snub-nosed International Harvester of similar vintage, a new International and a GMC that had been a military vehicle. It had civilian sheet metal and 302 GMC inline-six engine. That truck pulled a semi-trailer that seemed to be about 30 feet long.

One day, we got a long rest between trucks. Seems that the fifth-wheel on the semi had separated from the truck frame and the trailer moved forward, hitting the cab. The driver was not injured, but both the truck and the load burned.

When things were synched properly, one crew would load trucks in the field and another would unload at the dairy, using a “Mormon” derrick and a Jackson fork to unload.

The truck beds were not the correct length for the bales to fit evenly on, and one day the field loader brought us a bale that was at least 8 feet long. We stood it on end right behind the cab of the truck, and it filled an odd spot nicely.

We heard later that when the Jackson fork pulled that bale out of the load, the whole crew had great big eyes, wondering what they had hooked onto.

One day would totally wreck a new pair of denim Levi’s, so my mother made me a hay apron out of denim. Before the job was over, I had found first a heavy canvas and then a leather set of hay chaps.

The California guys I met at Salem shared another story. I forget the name, but there was a 70-year-old Latino fellow who had spent his whole working life loading hay trucks. After work, he enjoyed a cold beer, and he also rather enjoyed a good fist fight.

One day he was minding his own business, walking down a sidewalk, when three hoodlums stopped their car near him, got out and told him they wanted his money. The old man made an obscene comment about the hoodlums’ mothers, and they jumped him.

The cops that sorted out the carnage were told the following: “I don’t remember what happened after I told them what I thought. Something just snapped, and it was like I was on autopilot.

The next thing I remember, there were these two laying on the ground (pointing at two bloody and near unconscious males lying on top of each other), and the third one was running away.”

The old guy was near his car, and the police asked if they could search it. Given permission, they opened the trunk – and there found a set of hay hooks and leather hay chaps rolled up. One cop said to the other as they left, “Now it makes sense.

Those punks were so stupid they picked a fight with an (expletive deleted) old hay hauler.”  end mark

PHOTO:  I found an old Peterbilt truck of my vintage, a 1946, and asked a nice lady named Mary to take my picture next to it. I also found a handful of old hay haulers, and we swapped stories. Photo provided by Brad Nelson.