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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Older than dirt

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 30 May 2018

In the summer of 1964, shortly after graduating from high school, I was working at a dairy farm near Nampa, Idaho. The owner decided to get his hay from Fairfield, Idaho, hauled in by a smaller trucking outfit, which was relatively new on the scene and struggling.

Fairfield, Idaho, sits centered in a high, flat prairie north of Mountain Home. The alfalfa hay raised there is usually lower than most in protein but also much lower in both acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber, making the hay high in energy and very desirable for milk cow hay, even with the lower protein.

From Mountain Home to Fairfield, the road is two-lane and winding with a number of significant grades. The interstate highway system was not complete, so some of the flatland roads were also two-lane.

The hay hauler involved that summer had an interesting mismatch of trucks and trailers. One was a Ford, single-axle, with an overshot over the cab. That’s a flat spot suitable for stacking three layers of hay bales above the cab (at least you drove in the shade). The Ford also pulled a short trailer.

A Chevy was in the mix – straight truck only, also with an overshot. The other truck was an old R-model International Harvester. It was a two-axle semi-tractor and pulled a two-axle trailer about 40 feet long. All the trucks ran gasoline engines, with the International running a 450- or 500-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine.

The drivers were about my age. One day I asked the guy driving the International how he got stuck with that old, ugly, slow truck. He told me once they got to open highway, his old “Binder” would run away from the other trucks. The Ford V-8 would have been the 332-cubic-inch Lincoln engine and the Chevy either the 262 six-cylinder or 283-cubic-inch V-8, for comparison.

Before diesel engines became almost the exclusive engines for serious trucking, Joe Larrea, hauling out of Fairfield, ran a fleet of 48-foot semi-trailers, two-axle, with the axles set forward, pulled by single-axle International tractors with the 549-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

Anybody know offhand when the first 413-cubic-inch Dodge engine showed up? It was about 1935, and the engine was a flat-head six-cylinder truck engine. It had dual carburetors, a split exhaust manifold and dual exhaust, and made 170 horsepower. The engine weighed about 1,200 pounds. Old iron gets interesting.

Anybody have a loader or forklift around powered by the 4-71 Detroit diesel engine? They were 284 cubic inches, two-cycle and, in the late ’40s and early ’50s, most were found powering heavy trucks. When the 6-71 came out, it was the “big horse” of the day, with eventually a whopping 238 horsepower. The 6-71 was very competitive across the board for several years and saw use in highway trucks until the two-cycle diesels were replaced by Detroit four-cycle engines decades later.

Hall-Scott and Buda had gasoline and butane/propane truck engines in that era of around 1,100 cubic inches, with around 400 horsepower output. The big boys told of pulling a grade at night and seeing the Hall-Scott butane-powered trucks coming from behind with the cab-stack exhaust glowing red-hot and a blue-yellow flame shooting from the exhaust tip.

In 1968, I shortly drove a 1954 Mack concrete mixer truck with the (approximately) 400-cubic-inch flat-head Mack gas engine – Mack 5x4 transmission. It wasn’t a racehorse, but it got there and back. Similar power plants by various manufacturers were the norm on the highways and under the hoods or beneath the “doghouses” of hay trucks in the late ’40s into the late ’50s.

The venerable Cummins 220 diesel competed very well in its day. Shorter on horsepower but mightier in torque, it usually had the advantage on the two-cycle engines on the hills. My first diesel was the 220, 5x4 gearboxes, and you could walk faster than it would go in the lowest gear. Sixty-two miles per hour was as fast as it would go – downhill or flatland with no wind. Pulling hard, it also would run a flame from the exhaust.

Diesel contains about 25 percent more energy per gallon than gasoline, and gasoline contains significantly more energy per gallon than ethanol or propane. This energy advantage for diesel, plus the development of the turbocharger, tipped the scale from gasoline/propane heavy truck engines to diesel.

The combination of the higher energy content plus more efficient combustion (due to the turbo) resulted in the diesel engines having more power plus dramatically improved fuel economy.

The change to diesel power in farm tractors was sooner than for heavy highway trucks and for the same reasons.

The 400-horse Hall-Scotts and Budas were said to get about 1 mile per gallon on propane and a little more on gasoline. My last truck, with a 400 Cummins, was good for around 4.5 mpg, and my son’s 500 Caterpillar, also hauling circa 100,000-pound gross vehicle weights hauling hay, 4.5 to 4.7 mpg.

It’s fun to look back and reminisce. But to go back? That’s like mourning the 50-foot hike to the outhouse is no longer necessary.  end mark