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Tales of a Hay Hauler: ‘The best years of my life’

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 30 August 2016

I’ll hit the big 70 come August, and my body remains afflicted with eyes that see the world as though I was still 35. I still cuss the Ford Mustang for being too small in the driver compartment so I never even got to drive one.

I know why the half-ton pickup is the best-selling vehicle in North America. It is the only vehicle a person of average or larger size can sit in and, upon egress, not feel like he’s sitting in a ditch.

Time once was that those pickups had places on the dash where extra gauges, doo-dads and CB radios could easily be mounted. Now the powers that be think their creations are perfect – and no one could possibly want to add anything more.

Same with the front bumpers. Adding lights is just part of personalizing a truck. It was the same with the big hay trucks. Back then, the “big boys” would source aircraft landing lights and use them for long-range driving lights.

They had to be used judiciously or they would attract the boys in blue, but they would let you see a mouse run across the road half-a-mile ahead of you on the darkest night.

Current production trucks of all sizes make it a challenge to find a solid spot to anchor extra lights – or extra anything else. To make it worse, the new pickups have the tail-light wiring meshed through the computer so that if you desire additional lighting on the rear end, the only safe way to add it is to utilize the trailer-light harness.

The day I brought home my current pickup, now home at my house for over four years, my daughter gave me grief because I was already altering it. All I was doing was installing a house-current inverter so I had house current available from the back seat.

Back when all of my body was circa 35, there was a constant quest to figure out how to get just one more hay bale safely on the hay truck. Since we regularly got “darked on” when loading or unloading, we added our own loading lights.

I learned early on to unload the truck ahead of the trailer when it would be dark before we finished. Then the loading lights on the truck would keep us from killing ourselves as we worked on the trailer. Daylight still beat out the very best loading lights.

My mother’s increasingly frail body finally gave out completely a short time ago. Leo Ritthaler, who had been my trucking buddy back then and is still one of my best friends, showed up at the cemetery. Later, we had time to share old times.

One of my sons, who is currently a hay hauler, was listening in as we recounted one particular day. We had both been stuck in the mud while loading hay in the spring. I ended up putting tire chains back on my truck and unhooking my trailer out on a nice, dry road to back in and pull Leo out.

Leo was exasperated and exhausted from chaining up in the mud and moving a truckload of mud with his shovel. He was snorting and bellowing and throwing things. I made a succession of smart-mouthed quips and was nimble enough to dodge or duck when Leo threw things at me. He finally broke out laughing and said, “Dagnabbit, Brad Nelson, you’re not supposed to make me laugh when I’m having a perfectly good mad.”

I told him we couldn’t help being stuck in the mud, but we could still have a good time while we dealt with it. My son, Dan, chimed in that now he knew where he got it from – said his buddy Brett Millard is annoyed by his (Dan’s) ability to make Brett laugh when the day has not been fun.

It was about then that Leo’s wife, Mary, chimed in. She said Leo often claimed that the years he spent hauling hay were the very best years of his life. I’ll have to agree with him. Usually running just one truck each, we dealt with the smaller hay growers and delivered to the smaller dairies.

Those guys were the salt of the earth. Most of the ranches we delivered to in northern Nevada were of similar size – large enough to need to buy some hay and small enough to know you by first name.

We ran together when we delivered out in the wilderness. We each had a “goodie box” of miscellaneous parts and pieces that could be critical to the old trucks making it home under their own power. A couple of times, it took stuff from both boxes to get one of us home that night. It was never spoken, but we both knew we would never be left alone.

I’ve got to agree with Leo, those were some of the best years of my life. I’m looking forward, however, to even better years to come.  end mark