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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Something to learn, something to share

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 30 April 2020
Brad Nelson on his three wheel bike

I visited with an old friend, seems like better than a year ago now. He’s since left this world. He’d lost both legs from complications of diabetes and was fairly miserable. But he hadn’t always been that way.

He’d had his own construction company for as long as I knew him. He was never one to get excited about “new” things. Trucks, tractors, loaders and pickups were tools to him. He needed ability and dependability from his tools.

When I first met him, his work vehicle was a Ford Falcon Ranchero. That’s a car/pickup hybrid. The back seat and trunk area was replaced by an open pickup bed. He was much shorter than me to fit in the compact vehicle, and he seemed to love it. “Cheap to run, comfy to drive, and it’s a rare day that I have to come back for a second load of tools,” he’d say. He’d have construction supplies delivered to his work sites.

Just a few years back, I visited with him. We have lived two states apart for close to 30 years. He was just starting to feel good after the loss of his second leg. He said it was quite a feat to climb into the cab of his Peterbilt dump truck with his matched pair of mechanical legs. He said it made him feel so good that he hauled gravel the rest of the day. He’d always had a chipper personality and hadn’t let things get him down.

But the last visit was different. He was tired and discouraged. The mobile cart he liked best wasn’t working. True to his nature, both his carts had been gifts from others that he had repaired to be serviceable.

Days like that one would leave even the most gifted person at a loss for words. Clark had always cheered everybody up, and now he was in a rut. He’d been hospitalized for what should have been a minor procedure and ended up with a staph infection. He even said that if this was how life was going to be, he was ready to go.

As I left, I found words that were probably inadequate but were the best I could muster. “Every day the Lord keeps us on this earth is a day we have something to learn or something to teach or share with another.” It may not be something we intended to learn. And as we look over those we care about the most, what understandings do we have that they would wish, down the road a spell, that we’d shared with them?

I still have a few things to learn. I remember my mother telling me to “Act your age.”

Well, how about today? I really don’t know how to act my age. I’ve never been this old before. I lost my last grandpa when I was about seven, so I’m winging it trying to be a grandpa now with teenagers and young adults in the mix. I lost my dad when he was 67 and I was only 37, with my oldest (his oldest grandchild) only 12 years old.

Among the standard jokes for my age are these:

  • It’s usually a good thing if you wake up in the morning. Even if the short list is the things that still work and don’t hurt.

  • “One for the road” now means to go find the restroom before getting in a vehicle.

Have I learned anything new? I have. I’ve learned how to season steamed vegetables so they taste good without being drowned in butter. I’ve got grilling chicken down so most of it doesn’t have a burned side. Most of my life, mealtime came when it was convenient to whatever I was doing and where I was (often it was sandwiches while driving, and that happened after the truck was loaded and unstuck). These days, I feel better if I eat by the clock. I consider my body like a car that has lost its “check engine” light. Time once was when I got thirsty, I’d get something to drink. Nowadays, if I don’t keep track of how much water I drink, I end up feeling like crud, only to realize I’m dehydrated.

I learned how to keep a roll of paper towels in my vehicle without letting them roll on the floor out of reach. I squandered 98 cents for a three-pack of white plastic mixing spoons. I drilled two holes in the wide end of one and used self-tapping screws to attach it to the far side of the transmission hump in the pickup so the handle pointed straight up and became the anchor spot for the roll of paper towels. Now I can reach them, and a passenger won’t be tossing them out of reach.

The current project is a three-wheeled bicycle. (Needing exercise and improved balance, I was left grounded from my two-wheeler.) I’ve learned lots of new things – like understanding the Ackermann steering trapezoid. So when you turn, the inside wheel cuts shorter than the outside wheel. It was really interesting to engineer the independent front suspension with coil springs. The front wheels lean with the bike in a turn. Still tuning on it, but I’ll work on it until it’s right.

My point is: There’s still more to learn, teach or do. Don’t stop living before you die.  end mark

PHOTO: Brad Nelson shares his latest project – a three-wheeled bike … of sorts. Photo provided by Brad Nelson.