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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Roadside repairs

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 29 October 2019

Repair No. 1

Sometimes just getting the truck home under its own power counts as a suitable roadside repair. The venerable SQHD rear axles were bulletproof behind the 220 Cummins engine and the 6-71 Detroit engine which were the standard for power when the SQHD showed up.

There were heavier units available, both in weight capacity and the ability to transfer more horsepower to the ground, but at a noticeable weight penalty.

So the SQHD axles soldiered on as the lightweight and less-than- severe service option. And when low-cost, lightweight flatland freight trucks were retired and ended up in service as potato trucks or hay haulers, that’s what was usually found putting the power to the ground.

My 1973 Freightliner had these. One trip included having John Scherer bringing a front drop-in between Mountain Home and Fairfield, Idaho. Another was a winter adventure involving a snowbank, a piece of cardboard between my body and the snow, and a grindstone at the local Chevron station in Mountain City, Nevada. The lock nut on the lower pinion of the front drive axle had not.

I cleaned it up with the grindstone so I could get the threads started, then used a cold chisel and 4-pound sledge as a torque wrench to get it good and tight. Then I put a fresh edge on the cold chisel and seriously goobered the threads so if it ever came loose, it couldn’t come off again.

Repair No. 2

Another adventure occurred after repowering the truck with a 400 Cummins engine, pulling uphill towards a stackyard to unload – with the truck in low gear and just creeping along trying to not break anything. The terrain required just a touch more throttle to get us over a little hump, and though we didn’t stop moving, we heard a severe metallic “clang.” Our hopes for the best faded when after unloading and back on the highway we could hear an increasing grumbling from the rear of the truck.

The “clang” was something important in the rear drive axle going away. We pulled both axle shafts and with the inter-axle power divider locked, drove it home.

Repair No. 3

After the first sprained ankle far from home, I always kept a semi-retired pair of western work boots in the truck. Slit from between the toe and instep all the way to the top, on the front of the boot, I could now put a swollen and wrapped ankle in it. Then folding the top of the boot tight against the ankle and leg, duct tape liberally applied made a wonderful field walking cast.

I’d try to sprain the left ankle rather than the right one. Once the truck was rolling, I could shift without using the clutch and just let the injured left ankle rest. There was no way I could reach the throttle with the left foot if I goobered the right one.

Repair No. 4

I once rolled into a rest area, and once I’d made the successful trot to the station, found the driver next to my truck dealing with a lighting issue. He seemed to have diagnosed the problem to be the plug on the cord connecting the lights from his front and rear trailer. He could wiggle the cord and the lights would come on bright but go out when he let go.

I suggested he get his screwdriver and take the plug apart and tighten the screw holding the wire, which was obviously not firmly connected. He said he didn’t have a screwdriver. Ten minutes later, with my screwdriver, he was on his way with all his lights working. I should have sent his trucking company a bill.

Repair No. 5

And then there was the fellow we ran with for a season who was so dangerous with tools and machinery that his toolbox consisted of a quarter for the pay phone.

Repair No. 6

John Scherer shared this one with me: The clutch on his cab-over truck had symptoms and John determined the center of one of the two discs in the clutch had broken out. Against his better judgment, he was cajoled into making just one more trip, since the outfit he was hauling for was in a pinch. Feather-footing the throttle, he made it and delivered his load somewhere north of Portland, Oregon, some 400 miles from home base of Caldwell, Idaho. He tiptoed a few miles to another yard and got his return load on board. Easing out of that yard as he engaged the clutch, the truck started to move and then just kinda coasted to a stop as the engine revved up.

John, always a bright boy, had thrown on board a new clutch and carried tools with him adequate to fix about anything on the road.

“It was about 45 degrees and raining just a light rain. I was almost blocking traffic, so I moved right along. I anchored a come-along to the top of the headache rack and lassoed the transmission to hold it up. I was able to unbolt it and get it swung out of the way so I could change the clutch. Got it back together without dropping the tranny on myself and was back on the road in about 45 minutes. I was about froze to death and so wet and greasy I was sure I’d have to steam clean the driver’s seat of my truck,” is how John related the incident.

I’ve known John a long time, and I’ll wager any man a substantial sum that about 45 minutes was all the time it took. end mark