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Tales of a Hay Hauler: ‘Old memories and young sons’

Brad Nelson Published on 12 November 2012

The GPS can be wonderful and useless at the same time. I was south of Mountain Home, Idaho recently, looking for an old friend and hay grower.

The problem with the GPS was that since I had been there last, the number of roads increased about 600 percent. It did not help that I could not remember the road I wanted even having a name, let alone remembering it after over 20 years.

When I was sure I was in the right area, I flagged down a native and asked him if I was close to where I wanted to be. He said, “Follow me.”

Two miles and two turns later, he slowed down and pointed up a road, then drove off. Half a mile up the road he directed me to, I recognized the place.

No one was living in either of the double-wide homes and the shop did not seem to have any current activity. I thought my friend’s wife had made him move to town. I left the office pickup in the shade and walked over to the stackyard.

Four-by-four bales of alfalfa hay, some marked with spray paint designating the cutting and the crude protein and RFV numbers on the second cutting. Nice hay: green color and baled with almost all the leaves intact and attached to the stem.

The ranch always had grown excellent hay. I think it had more to do with the fact that Kent Peterman had been a dairyman before he moved to the desert to grow hay than anything about the land.

I remembered the time Kent told us of a conversation he overheard as he entered his shop one day. It seems that the local preacher’s son had taken a fancy to Kent’s daughter.

One of the problems was that the preacher’s son was not walking the walk that went with his father’s Sunday sermons. Kent said that his two sons were being very protective of their sister.

As he rounded the corner into the shop he overheard one of his sons say to the other, “If that dope-addict SOB doesn’t stop hanging around our sister, I think we should take him down to the river and drown him.” Kent said his other son was in agreement.

On the way out of the area, I got a call from the fellow who had directed me to the place. He asked about the price of hay, as he was considering growing hay the next year.

I told him what I thought the price range was at the moment. Then I mentioned that the quality of the hay had a lot to do with “the eye of the beholder.”

Over the years in the export business I have seen buyers reject hay as not of suitable quality, only to have buyers from another market segment fight over it.

Kind of like guessing if a buddy’s friend will like your girlfriend’s roommate – considering you have never met the friend’s buddy and have hardly noticed the girlfriend’s roommate.

He told me that the ranch he directed me to was no longer owned by the family I knew there. That was not a surprise, since there was a large dairy about three miles away. It had not been there 25 years before, either.

The Petermans thought we were having too much fun hauling hay and bought a nice Peterbilt tractor and a pair of hay trailers. We ended up unloading together from time to time until the reality of mountain passes and snowstorms took the fun out of hauling their own hay.

We were in the Tillamook, Oregon area unloading together one time way back when. We had to back into a hay barn one trailer at a time and, for some reason, we were not using a hay conveyor.

I was on the ground, picking up bales and moving them away as others threw them down from the truck one bale at a time. I heard a sound from the top of the load of hay that was a mix of someone stuttering and sucking all the air out of the room at the same time.

I tensed up and, before I could turn to see what the problem was, a 100-pound bale of hay hit me square across the shoulders.

The bale bounced off of me – surprising me that it had not knocked me down. I looked up to where the bale had come from and saw one of the Peterman brothers standing there looking at me with the color draining from his face.

He finally asked if I was okay. I did a quick check of all systems and answered in the affirmative. He made sure there was someone between the two of us for the rest of that trip. He was not convinced that there was no revenge lurking in my system.

I later asked him what he was thinking just after he hit me with the bale of hay. He said he was in a quandary. He didn’t know if he should throw more bales at me as fast as he could or just take off through the rafters of the hay barn and hope I couldn’t catch him.

Later during the same trip, I did not get lost. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon the son of a fellow who had helped me back in my college days.

He was the source material for a term paper in an Ag Econ class. Seems mine was the only paper for that class that was original research and I scored an “A” on it. The subject matter was the history of the Meridian, Idaho Grade “A” milk producers association.

When I heard the name, I thought this hay grower had to be related to Vic. It was his son. Vic’s grandson greeted me as I drove in. Said his dad would be out as soon as the TV report on a combine demo-derby was finished.

When he joined us, he said that the reporter spent too much time running his mouth and not enough time showing video of the event.

The younger hay grower said he had been ready to call me; he had questions about hay probes to collect a proper sample for a lab analysis of their hay.

One of the local farm fertilizer and supply stores had a core sample tool that was available to the local growers to use – but there had been issues with it.

One of the questions asked was about the size of the tip and if it made any difference. Someone had told him that a tip over three-eighths of an inch was too big.

My tool has a three-quarter-inch tip. I told them that a couple of years ago we had the same question and two of us probed the same bale of several down a stack, on two different stacks of hay, then sent the samples pulled to the same lab.

The sample from the three-quarter-inch core tool and from the three-eighths-inch tool tested too close to the same to shave on the difference. A sharp tip is needed, no matter what size of type of tool is used.

The idea of the hay test is to get a representative sample and then use the lab results to guess how well livestock will do when fed that lot of hay.

As I talked with the young hay grower, I noticed his father standing there grinning. I wonder if I’m that obvious with pride for my sons. No way; I’m probably worse.  FG