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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Open range

Brad Nelson Published on 28 January 2015
Open Range sign

They were mostly black, three in number. They were traveling together, the two in the rear following the first. I was traveling east on Highway 375 in southern Nevada when I noticed the trio moving in behind me.

They followed for a short distance, then the leader pulled out and checked the road ahead before passing me. The leader, as did the followers when they passed, seemed to slow down beside me and marvel that the vehicle they were passing was nearly 120 feet long.

These cars were not momma’s typical grocery-getter. Low, wide, two-door, painted a sparkly black color with lighter accents and stripes.

They had Michigan license plates on the rear, and by the time the third had passed me, I was able to note that they were Dodge Viper sports cars. The rear tires appeared to be a good 14 inches wide. My vehicle had 550 horsepower of Caterpillar power. I think they had more.

They passed me with gusto. Their taillights were getting smaller – when almost in unison their brake lights came on. There was other mostly black traffic in the area, of the all-terrain variety. They were not four-wheeled but four-hoofed.

The group was scattered on both sides of the road going about their business of finding enough grass and tender leaves to eat. Every several miles, a yellow warning sign with the silhouette of a cow was posted, with the words “Open Range.”

The trio seemed averse to getting black hair and black paint mixed, and I needed to apply the brakes to leave safe distance between the cars and the truck I was driving. No cows were injured.

I’m in southern Nevada helping a friend, and most of the roads in this area are indeed on the open range. We are moving hay from Nevada’s Railroad Valley with a Nevada-legal “hay train” that is almost 120 feet long.

The hay is going to a yard in Fish Lake Valley, which is near the California border. From there, the cute little California trucks, which are limited to 65 feet in overall length and 80,000 pounds gross weight, take it on to the end user.

In six days of hard running, leaving me without much energy to miss my favorite (only) bunk mate, I can deliver nine loads. It takes the California trucks 15 loads to take it away.

Driving on the open range can be frightening to the novice. Here are a few notes about the dangers.

If you approach a group of cattle while traveling on the open range, note that individuals will want to be with the group. This means that if one animal is on one side of the road, and the rest of the group are on the other, that one is probably looking for a chance to cross the road to join the group.

That it is not with the group is a bigger issue to the lone cow than is your $60,000 SUV approaching at 80 miles an hour.

Youngsters with the group will want to be with momma, and your approach will make them want to be with momma right now. Don’t assume the momma cow the calf is standing next to is its momma.

Its momma may be on the other side of the road, and you and your vehicle are seen as a threat to keep it from being with its momma, which is why it may well run out in the road in front of you.

An old cow wandering across or up the road will think she has the right-of-way. Honking your horn may cause her to move off the road, or it may cause her to stop and look at you in the “staring you down” mode.

In the dead of winter, the dark surface of an asphalt road will gain some warmth from the sun. When the sun sets, cattle on the range will be looking for a place to bed down for the night. A warm place is always nice. A sun-warmed road is warmer than snow.

If your headlights catch dark shapes in the road, don’t assume it is tumbleweeds.

Cattle are rather indiscriminate as to where they relieve themselves. If an animal happens to stand in one place while depositing a cow-pie, that pie may well be 10 inches tall.

Cow pies freeze to the consistency of concrete. If the undercarriage of your low-slung car collides with a frozen cow pie (which will also be firmly frozen to the road), it will damage your car as if you hit a similarly shaped object made of concrete.

In a worst-case scenario, should you find yourself unable to stop before hitting livestock on the road, remember this: Your vehicle will protect you and your passengers from a frontal impact with a cow much better than it will protect you from the impact with a tree or boulder if you swerve to avoid a collision and lose control. It’s less hassle to replace a cow or two than it is to replace a wife and child.

If you are traveling alone, and feel the need to travel fast, note that you will be displeased with the manner in which your friends attempt to console your widow.  FG