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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Vic

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 30 September 2020

“An acquaintance saw what I had done with this old bread truck and was so impressed that he went out and bought one like it to make into his own camper.

About a year later, he was mad at me, himself, his project and most of the rest of the civilized world,” mused Vic Sachtjen as he showed me his adventure vehicle.

This was somewhere in the early 1970s. The vehicle in question was a 1949 Ford panel delivery truck that had long since been retired from delivering bread to grocery stores. Vic had updated the running gear. It was now powered by a 390-cubic-inch Ford V-8 with an automatic transmission behind it. The rear axle had been updated to an axle geared so it was more suitable to running at normal highway speeds. The interior had been re-done into a rather cozy abode for a couple to tour the country in, which Vic had done, his favorite being forays into Mexico.

Vic shared the experiences of his acquaintance. “He changed out the engine and transmission to something more suitable, but that was as far as he went. He mounted a small used household refrigerator and threw in a couple of cots for beds. He said it wandered on the road so bad he was afraid to drive it over about 45; it was noisy and rattled. It got horrible gas mileage, rode like a tank – and when they tried to sleep inside it, water condensed on the inside, and it rained on them.”

He continued that on his bread truck camper he had also machined new kingpins for the front axle, altered the springs for a softer ride and added suitable roll bars for control. The creature comforts had included an RV-style three-way refrigerator, propane water heater and stove/oven. He had stripped and insulated the whole interior, added the proper vents and a compact shower and flush commode. The guy who tried to copy Vic’s camper had done none of this.

VicVic was a machinist. He had been working as a machinist in an aircraft manufacturing place in California when Pearl Harbor was attacked. As a normal patriotic young American male, he tried to enlist in the military to go help defend his homeland.

As the bus was ready to pull out on the way to boot camp, someone boarded the bus and made the driver wait. He then called Vic by name and asked him to come forward. It was his boss’s boss. He yelled at Vic for not telling people what he had in mind and that it had taken numerous phone calls and meetings but, in about a day-and-a-half, the company he was working for had gotten him a manufacturing deferment from joining the military. “You’re too valuable to your country machining parts for the war effort. We’d never be able to find others with your skills.”

I worked with Vic one summer between semesters at college, helping a local farmer with the mint harvest. I was the truck driver, and Vic was running the still. The mint was chopped into open-topped bins which were then hauled to the still. Backed into position, a steam-tight lid was lowered over each bin and sealed. Then live steam was piped into the bottom of the bins, both cooking the chopped mint plants and moving the mint oil, along with the steam, via the lids and through cooling coils which returned the steam to its liquid state, with the mint oil floating to the top, where it was skimmed off and barreled for sale. There was enough wait time for Vic and me to get acquainted.

Vic had farmed, including a 100-plus-cow dairy nearby. He had been heavily involved when the Grade “A” Milk Producers Association had been formed in the Boise valley of Idaho, with headquarters at Meridian. That private association gave stability to the marketing of Class 1 (fluid usage for drinking versus Class 2 and 3 for manufacturing, i.e., cheese and butter) for decades.

Nearing the end of my college career, I needed a topic for a term paper for an ag econ marketing course. Over Christmas break, I found Vic and got the history of the Grade “A” association, and with that and a few conversations with other dairymen, made that the topic of my term paper. It scored me an “A.”

Seems that everyone you get to know has some influence on a person’s life. Having been around Vic, I’ve had way better than 51% success at fixing things that were deemed non-repairable.

Somewhere over 10 years ago now, while sourcing hay for export, I stumbled onto Vic’s son John at Cambridge, Idaho. Like his dad, John has his own machine shop on the farm and also makes “non-repairable” repairs.

John is one of those guys who appreciates abnormal repairs and ingenuity making things work and fit – things like how I installed an air suspended driver’s seat in my pickup.

As he noted something he hadn’t seen before on my pickup, he said, “It scares me to think what your wheelchair is going to look like, with all the bells and whistles you’re going to add to it.”  end mark