Hauling Hay; a lost tradition, please don't bring it back!

by Terry Hargrove

The Dad went to work at age 12, and he made a vow that his sons would never have to choose between work and education. Never. The Dad would choose for us.

June 3, 1971. My older brother and I were lounging in the yard enjoying a perfect late spring day. The Dad had promised us a surprise, and all our friends came by to help us ponder what the surprise might be. Fishing rods, perhaps, or a car of our own. So many possibilities. Glenn had just graduated from high school and I had completed my sophomore year. By 4:00, there were about 30 kids in our yard when we heard a rumbling, like distant thunder. There was dust, smoke, a wheezing diesel cough, the grinding of old gears. Our neighbor Ray looked down the length of Fourth Avenue and said:

“Hey, look. That’s a hay truck. You haul hay in a long flatbed like that. Man, that is the worst job in the world, hauling hay. Running to keep up with the truck, throwing 100-pound hay bales up, and sometimes there’s a snake or skunk caught in the twine. You get blisters on your hands that don’t heal, and when the bales are next to a creek, they can weigh up to 250 pounds. I feel sorry for whoever has to work that truck. Look at the size of it! That truck will hold 400 bales at least and… and… say, isn’t that Mr. Hargrove driving?”

It was, and all our friends disappeared, leaving cartoon dust trails behind them. That day was the end of my youth, as I was transformed from teenager to seasonal laborer. But it takes five people to work a hay truck and there were only three of us. The Dad drove to the Marshall County Jail and drafted the first two inmates who were released. There was William, a 300-pound, semi-pro wrestler who hated California hippies, and Lloyd, who thought wrestling
was fake and who was, you guessed it, a California hippie.

I hope that Heaven is like the American Public School System: when you get there, they have to take you in. I’m sure that Hell is an endless hay field and I’m tossing bales up to William and Lloyd, who fight and curse eternally, even as they stack the hay. It was the worst summer of my life. The days stretched out, hot and humid and surprisingly rainless, and there was no end to the hay. Somehow, in spite of the fighting, stacking lunatics, and my brother and I grumbling and muttering, and The Dad driving the truck way too fast, we became the best hay haulers in the county.

The Dad was having the time of his life. He was making money, and Glenn and I were gaining the reputation of being tireless workers, breaking the stereotype we’d not worked so hard to cultivate. Before the next school year began, I had to leave the hay truck for football practice. Two-a-days in August heat would seem like paradise compared to the hay fields. There were some stout cons up for parole, so The Dad agreed to release me, but Glenn didn’t like the idea of being the only worker on the hay truck without a parole officer. On August 2, I woke to find him gone. That night, Glenn returned to the house and announced that he’d joined the army.

“Why did you join the army?” I asked. “They shoot at you in the army.”

“Yeah,” he replied. “And I can shoot back. But I can’t fight that damn hay truck any longer.”

It made sense to me, but his timing was terrible. My replacement, Rogers Greer, worked one day then stole the hay truck. It was never seen again. The Dad and Glenn were devastated, though for different reasons. We did get a postcard from Rogers a week later. After we dropped Recruit Glenn off at the bus depot, we headed northwest to Clarksville to pick up William and Lloyd. They were fighting at the truckstop, just where Rogers said they would be.

5 replies »

  1. Ah, yes. I remember putting in hay. Miserable work, made worse by the fact that, as hot as it was, the general scratchiness of the enterprise meant that you had to wear long sleeves. Which made it even hotter and more miserable.

    Oddly, my cousin Gary and I took real pride in being the best in the game. I say oddly, because I avoided manual labor like Paris Hilton avoids underwear.

    We never had any skunks, though. So that was nice.

  2. I never had to haul hay, and from the sound of it I didn’t miss much. I’ve had a few summer jobs that made me work my butt off for a good education because I was NOT going to do that job for the rest of my life. Making rollerblade wheels 10 hours a day and cutting beer labels at a print shop second shift come immediately to mind with painting the exterior of Mom and Dad’s house coming in a distant third.

  3. If you want miserable, try detasseling on a hot humid day in July and August in Iowa

  4. Come to oklahoma it isn’t a lost tradition its an every day thing in the summer. I like doing it its good money and you wont ever get out of shape. thats for sure.