I was challenged by a writing sister of mine Lindsay Lonai Linegar after bemoaning the fact me writing a story on hauling hay in the summertime or sitting my butt on a Farm All tractor wouldn’t help someone cope with real issues.
She said she wanted to hear some of those stories, including ones where I hauled hay as a young man.
For any of you who’ve sweated your tail off and broke your back working in the field you probably remember the first three questions you needed to ask before you signed up on a hay hauling crew.
How much a bale?
Back in those days it was usually $.02 per bale. That’s right two cents per bale. If you got three cents you were going to be an even richer little sucker. You’re all probably thinking how in the heck can you get rich at two cents a bale?
It’s all about volume folks.
And the word rich is relative.
The jobs I worked on were usually upward in the neighborhood of five to seven thousand bales at a time.
Yes you read that right.
Five to seven thousand.
Of course, getting your riches often depended on whether you stuck it out to the finish or if you died of a heatstroke in the attempt. Either of which meant you weren’t getting paid.
What type of grass?
This was the second question you needed to ask. If it was rye or anything other than alfalfa the average weight of the bale was usually about twenty to thirty five pounds.
This is important.
Especially when you’re having to do a dead lift of the bale and toss it up on a flatbed to a “shaper” who’s sole job was to build the perfect hay bale castle.
Usually the “shaper” was either the brother, cousin, uncle, or second cousin twice removed, of the owner of the flat bed truck.
Sometimes he was just the dude who paid for gassing the truck up.
Needless to say, as the walls got bigger it became necessary for the grabbers (for some reason I was always a freaking grabber) to toss those bales above our heads onto the truck.
Now alfalfa was a beast.
The grass is much thicker and the bales were much tighter and heavier. On average the bales hovered in the sixty five to seventy five pound weight class.
Imagine five thousand bales of alfalfa and a crew comprised of a driver, a “shaper” and four grabbers.
At the very minimum a grabber in a single day would lift on average one thousand two hundred and fifty, sixty five to seventy five pound bales off the ground and toss them above his head onto a truck rolling along at about three to five miles an hour.
Toss, run, literally run, to the next bale, get it staged, toss, run to the next bale, get it staged.
Nothing to it right?
String or wire?
I can’t tell you the number of times some fool owner would pay the dude to bale his alfalfa using string. That’s like suspending a ten pound bowling ball from the end of a piece of sewing thread.
It ain’t going to work very well.
Even more frustrating was the fact if a bale broke you didn’t get paid for it.
After a summer of hauling hay I learned what the hay hook was for and that year I bought one out of my own earnings.
Yeah if you were dealing with string bale and alfalfa, you just skewered the butt end of the bale with your hook, then using your thigh as a fulcrum you got your hand beneath the opposite end of that hay bale and jettisoned the sucker up on the flatbed.
If you were lucky, you did it with such force it knocked the shaper on his butt.
He probably borrowed money from his dad to put gas in the driver’s truck so he didn’t have to do any real work.
Wire around a bale of grass on the other hand was a wonder to behold.
Wire was kryptonite to an alfalfa bale.
And to your hands. Even if you wore gloves.
Oh yeah, I had my share of huge puffy blisters on my fingers and even in the well of my palms. But imagine what my hands would have been like if I hadn’t worn a pair. Nobody but a darned fool would ever take the job without a pair of sturdy work gloves.
Unless you were the driver of course. Your truck, your rules right?
I’ll share all the work getting the bales from the truck into the barn and up in the loft another day folks.
But there you have it Lindsay Lonai Linegar a hay hauling story just for you.
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