In the summer of 1963, two high school friends and I were hired by a dairy farmer who lived just outside the town of Burleson, Texas to haul hay for him. Given that the going rate for hauling and stacking was $0.10/bale flat, we thought the terms were actually pretty good at $0.03/bale for each of us plus fuel and the use of a mid-40s to mid-50s pickup truck he owned.
What we were to haul was low-value Johnson Grass and in some cases it was on land the dairyman didn’t own, but for the use of which he paid the respective land-owners a small fee with the harvest taken either for his own use or for him to sell to local livestock owners for around $0.75 to $1.00/bale. In other cases, it was work he was doing for hire mowing and raking the hay, baling it, delivering it, and stacking it in the land-owner’s barn.
All the hay was in two-stringer bales, meaning there were two lengths of baling wire holding each together, and the truck could handle 22 bales at a time.
First, four bales would go in the truck bed lengthwise. Next would be two layers of eight bales each stacked crosswise atop the four in the bed, with half the length of each bale in the first layer resting on the four in the bed and the other half hanging out over the bed sill and the second layer arrayed the same way atop the first. To minimize the chances of the two layers falling off the truck, two more bales would go lengthwise down the middle of the top layer to tie them in.
If you’re not working with some sort of flat bed truck or trailer with an attached baler or bale elevator/conveyer, there’s only one way to get the bale up where you want it and it takes two people to do it – One on the ground and one on the truck with a baling hook. First you have to scan the bale for potential threat, because the baler doesn’t just pick up the hay. It also picks up whatever critter decided to take up residence in the raked row, including Copperheads and Western Diamondbacks now unable to escape but still alive and able to strike. If it’s clear, the person on the ground grabs both strings near the middle of the bale, raises it high enough to get it on his knee and uses his arms and powerful upper-leg muscles to throw it upward to be positioned by the guy on the truck.
That summer, the first up was the grass in an orchard and the shine on the deal quickly dulled. As if watching out for critters and maneuvering the truck around the trees wasn’t enough of a hassle, the bales were way overweight because the grass had been baled green, something which is just not done. Instead of the normally approximate dry weight of 55 lbs./bale, we were gettin’ bales upward of 150 pounds or more and on our own could toss one into the truck bed and maybe another to go on the first layer, but the rest took two people to load and it was slow going.
The only good thing about that round is that it was early in the season and we weren’t out baking in an open Texas field. But it haunted us for the first few following days when we got our hands on the dry stuff – By applying the same energy we wound up throwing 55 lb. bales not only up to the top of the second layer, but completely over that layer onto the ground on the other side of the truck and for every one that broke open as a result we were each docked $0.03.
By early August, we had to shift to hauling by night not just because it was so hot outside but because the hay had to be packed in and stacked to the rafters and while the wooden barns became saunas, the steel barns became kilns. The down side of hauling at night, however, was that even with the truck’s headlights lighting up what was ahead, you could see the bale but not what might be in or around it that could hurt you and that ultimately brought it all to a screeching halt for me.
One of my companions picked up a bale and didn’t see the six inches of live Copperhead that was was sticking out until it the bale neared his chest as he got ready to put his knee under it and toss it. Of course he dropped the bale and killed the snake and we went on to finish the night’s work but I wasn’t going to do it anymore and I left it to the two of them to finish the last few days of the season.
Thing is, the season’s end was no better for them than the beginning had been for the three of us. The last delivery was to my step-grandfather’s place and a rear tire blew out going up a hill about a quarter of a mile from his gate. So, they had to take all the hay out and chock the front tires in order to deal with the flat tire and then reload the truck to finish the delivery.