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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Survivor

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 29 March 2017

Survival skills can be just so much bluster and bluff. Survival history is a completely different beast – heavy on the “beast.”

During my last year of high school, I worked for a local dairy farmer. One of the chores was to grind the grain for the milking cows using a portable grinder, which consisted of a power takeoff (PTO)-powered hammer mill mounted on a trailer.

It had a storage bin and a loading elevator, which fed the hammer mill, and an auger to unload the ground grain into the grain room of the milking parlor.

Grainaries were scattered about the farm, and an Allis-Chalmers WD45 tractor pulled the grinder to whichever granary we were using. Then, the barley was scooped into the intake while the WD45 and the hammer mill did its job.

The grand finale was backing the loaded rig beside the milking parlor so the unloading auger entered the proper window, destroying neither the building nor the auger.

One day, after unloading and while the PTO shaft was still turning but slowing down, I went to step over it – only to have my pant leg catch in the still-rotating shaft. It pulled the denim fabric tight against my leg, and then stopped.

In the slow-motion one or two seconds this took, I had visions of being thrown over the still-rotating PTO shaft onto the ground while my leg was shredded.

It was a long time before I told anybody about this close call, but I never again made a move to step over a moving PTO shaft. My pants didn’t rip that day, and my leg didn’t even have a bruise and I survived, but I darn near wet my pants.

I drove potato truck one season – the semis that moved the potatoes from storage sheds to the processors. One shed had a mud problem, and most of the trucks were getting stuck trying to pull out of the potato cellar loaded. The grower had a big 4X4 tractor there, which would then help the trucks through the mud.

My F-800 Ford also mired in the mud and had to have help. The tractor backed down in front of the truck, and I took one end of the chain from the tractor and was in the process of hooking it to the tow hooks on the truck when I felt something very large pushing against my back.

There was no slow motion. I realized the tractor was rolling back on top of me, and I screamed as loud as I could. That snapped the tractor driver out of “la-la land,” and he immediately moved the tractor forward before it did me any damage. Another driver heard me scream and ran over. He told me he was expecting to find a corpse due to the noise I had made. But I survived.

The better plan would have been to chain up the tractor and the trucks on the flat surface inside the cellar. I have never since put myself between vehicles unless I can see the operators and they can see me.

While on the road with the old yellow hay truck, I had a few bouts with food that I should not have eaten. One of these events caused me to lose 45 pounds in about six weeks. During those six weeks, I passed everything on the freeway except for a rest area. Unfortunately, I gained it all back, plus interest.

One event left me so sick in the sleeper of the truck that I feared I was going to die. I actually prayed to be able to survive. I thought I would pass out making the short trek from the truck to the restroom. I lived to see the sun come up and felt well enough to drive the five hours home, where it took me a couple of days to recover.

About three decades later, I had a hernia repaired. The surgeon told me the CT scan he’d had done prior showed my appendix was not normal. I suggested that since that was the corner of my body he’d be cutting on, why not remove it while he was at it? He did.

After the surgery, he told me somewhere along the line I had survived an undiagnosed case of appendicitis. I asked what the symptoms would have been, and he told me. I told him I was sure I remembered the night it happened, and I hadn’t been sure then that I would survive it.

It’s been several years now, but my wife developed a taste for country music. I told her developing a taste for country was a sign of maturity. I was able to survive that one too, but just barely.

The real sign of maturity has to do with our reaction when we have an “I survived” episode in our lives. For example, traveling in the winter with the vehicle on cruise control and finding a patch of ice in a curve.

After we get the cruise control shut off and the vehicle back in control and still on the road, the experienced traveler through this life will whisper, “Thank you, Lord.”  end mark