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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Sleep

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 31 August 2020

It was well past “zero-dark-30.” It was winter. We were hauling hay south from the Mountain Home and Bruneau area in southwest Idaho to ranches south of Mountain City, Nevada.

It was winter, and we’d been doing well missing most of the snowstorms. The road did have a center stripe; however, for the last several miles it wouldn’t stay where it was supposed to be on the road. We had passed Grasmere and climbed a number of steep winding grades, finally reaching a plateau of sorts, and as we rolled past the sign announcing the thriving metropolis of Riddle, Idaho, we concluded it was time for a nap. Between the glow of the headlights of the truck and the nonexistent street lights of Riddle, I got the old yellow hay truck off the road without getting us stuck in a snowbank.

Winter road

The wintertime “nap” mode was to shut off the engine and either throw a pillow over the steering wheel and just crash or to stretch out on the sleeper bunk with only a light cover. Somewhere between 15 minutes and two hours later, the driver would wake up because it was cold. Then, as one rolled out of the bunk and started the engine, the truck was exited to use the sagebrush/dark corner facilities. Back in the truck and shivering, but also wide awake, it was time to venture farther south.

Just as I’d gotten comfortable, I realized I’d parked so that the unmuffled exhaust of a one-cylinder diesel generator (which was the sole electricity) was echoing off the side of the truck. I grumbled and growled and thought of having to get up and start the truck and move it to be able to rest. Then the survival mode of my body took over, and I quit hearing the noise until a couple of hours later when I awoke. It seemed like someone flipped a switch on the noise.

One ranch had both a place we could plug in the truck and a heated and enclosed back porch, where brother Lyle could roll out his bedroll. I then shed enough clothes that what went inside the sleeping bags with me was fairly clean. Wearing a knit wool cap on my head in my cocoon of sleeping bags, and with the engine beneath the cab at least warm enough to start the next morning without issue, I slept very well.

The most peaceful sleep times were when (after unloading and parking in a secure lot in weather that was warm enough to not worry about a cold engine refusing to start) having the lullaby of rain pattering on the cab roof through the night.

I learned that when parking behind another parked truck, it was prudent to find a rock or piece of wood and wedge it behind the rear tire of the other rig. I learned this the day the truck parked ahead of me started up while I was sleeping peacefully and, as the air brakes on that truck got aired up and released, it rolled back. The bump brought me out of deep sleep.

I had a broken headlight. I walked up and hammered on the door of the other truck. The driver was oblivious to his truck having rolled back and hit mine. He helped me replace the headlight bulb. (I always carried a spare.) Live and learn.

One night, I pulled into a parking area at Biggs, Oregon, along the Columbia River. As I went to sleep, I could see a sky full of bright, twinkling stars. When I woke up a few hours later, I couldn’t see out the windshield. It was covered with snow. There had been close to a foot of snowfall since I’d gone to bed. The worst part was that my hay tarps were still neatly rolled up on top of my load of hay and under the snow.

Then there were the handful of times when, after a comedy of upsets and sometimes 36 hours without sleep I’d actually pull in and park at a motel, grab some clean clothes and enjoy a hot shower and an actual bed to sleep in. Life gets interesting when you get up and the clock says it’s 7 o’clock – and you have no idea it it’s 7 a.m. or 7 p.m.

I always hated it when I’d finally find a safe place to pull off and get a nap, getting to sleep good and soundly, only to have some idiot passing by scream at you over the CB radio. Everybody in a truck had a CB radio, kind of like cell phones today, so I hated to turn it off lest I miss something important.

Nothing, however, compared to finally getting home in the wee hours after spending two or three nights in the truck, sneaking in the house without waking everyone up, finding the shower and hoping the several days’ buildup of sweat and dust didn’t clog the drain. Once clean and shiny and dried off, there was nothing better than dragging my exhausted carcass into my own bed. Sometimes I’d get soundly asleep, sometimes just drifting off – and occasionally I’d just be getting comfortable when the other occupant of my bed made it obvious I’d been missed.

Sweet dreams. end mark

PHOTO: Winter road. Photo by Mike Dixon.