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Tales of a Hay Hauler: The ‘Arkansas Traveler’

Brad Nelson Published on 05 June 2009

List the more memorable “firsts” in your life. You know, like first date, first fistfight, first speeding ticket, first child, first day of school, first home run or first job.

As you think of these, think of the apprehension as the time came for the event. Would you do it right, or would you make a fool out of yourself?

I remember well my first date. I hope the young lady has forgotten it. I am not going to discuss it. The “Arkansas Traveler” was my first diesel truck. It was very experienced when I acquired it. In fact, I think the previous two or three owners had given it up for the scrap heap when they traded it off. One of the previous owners had it lettered, just above the radiator grill, “the Arkansas Traveler”.

The Traveler was a 196l Freightliner cab-over-engine tiltcab truck. I was dairying at the time, and had had words with the local hay haulers, so was hauling in my own hay.

The “Traveler” seemed an improvement over the F-800 Ford I had been using. The engine was the venerable Cummins 220. There was a five-speed main transmission and a four-speed auxiliary, or “Brownie”. You could walk faster than it would go in first and deep-under gears. 62 miles per hour was the fastest it would go in high gear and overdrive.

The 220 Cummins engine did not come with a turbocharger. Pulling hard, the exhaust would be rather black and heavy. At night, there was a flame visible at the end of the exhaust stack.

This was common for trucks of this vintage. The flame concerned me a bit, so I re-did the exhaust stack. I went higher, and added an elbow in the very top, to blow the exhaust smoke and flame out to the side of the truck rather than just straight up and towards the load of hay.

The muffler was worn out, so I replaced it at the same time. Being on a tight budget, I got the least expensive offering available. It looked like an over-grown “Smitty” glass-pack. It was about four-feet long and had about seven feet of exhaust pipe above it, including the big elbow.

Some folks told me it looked like a periscope. Now a good 220 Cummins by itself has a very nice cackle to the sound it makes. Add the “Smitty” and the long pipe beyond it, and yee-haw!

You could hear us coming for a mile. One day we loaded in Fairfield, Idaho, and got on the road headed home just after dark. Westbound from the Hill City scale, there is about a five-mile long grade that had me bouncing between gears all the way.

In one gear, the engine would reach governed speed, and in the next gear, it would pull down and start to lug the engine, so I had to go back into the next lower gear until the engine speed came back up, and back and forth.

Once it was good and dark, I asked my brother Neal to open his window and look at the end of the exhaust stack and tell me what he saw. It took some coaxing, but I finally convinced Neal that this was important, so he rolled down his window, stuck his head out, and twisted about to see the end of the exhaust stack.

He came back in excited, almost stuttering. His hands spread wide apart and he exclaimed “There’s a flame this long (about 18 inches) coming out of the exhaust stack!” I just nodded my head and said, “Good — that means it’s running just right.”

The “Traveler” was the last of an era. The newer trucks were all turbocharged, and 350 horsepower became the minimum for a truck.

Roadranger transmissions replaced the two-stick five- and four-speed transmissions, and power steering and air conditioning soon became standard equipment. The “good old days” are interesting to visit, but I am not sure I want to live there again.  FG