Since my father was a teacher, he always had the summer off from work. To make extra money when we lived in Ponca City, my father ran the local swimming pool for many years. Later, when we moved to Greenfield, he ran the local swimming pool there for a few years as well. As a change of pace one summer in Greenfield, my dad decided that he was going to put together a crew to haul hay and make a bunch of money. The crew ended up consisting of my dad, my brother Tim, me and any local kid he could coerce into working with us and being our fourth hauler. Since all the good hay haulers had already locked down a job on a good crew, we were usually stuck picking up some juvenile delinquent that my dad found hanging out around the malt shop to fill out our crew.
As luck would have it, the local principal from our high school had the baling equipment and a flatbed truck and all he needed was a crew to haul the hay. For those who have never hauled hay, it is not as glamorous as it sounds. The hay would be cut about mid-morning and after it had dried out, you could begin to bale it. These were the rectangular shaped bales that weighed anywhere from 35 to 75 pounds each. Most of the crews had an automatic loader that would place the bale of hay on the flatbed truck and all you had to do was stack it, take it to the barn and then restack it in the barn. We had two loaders for our crew, Wayne and some local juvenile delinquent. Tim, who was in junior high at the time, would always stack and my dad would drive.
Around noon, during the hottest part of the day, the hay from the first field would be baled and we could begin loading it and hauling it to the various barns and sheds that it had to be stored in. The hay was usually in nicely aligned rows in the field allowing my dad to drive between two of the rows. With me on one side and with the local delinquent on the other side, we would run along the truck throwing bales of hay on the back of the flatbed while my brother stacked. At some point the hay would get stacked so high on the back of the truck that one of the loaders would have to get on the flat bed and help Tim stack the top of the load.
Once the flatbed was fully loaded, the fun part began. On most crews there would be a rush to ride shotgun to get out of the heat in the cab of the truck, but not on my dad’s crew. I rode shotgun with him one time, as did just about everyone else on the crew. He spent the whole ride telling me how my part of the job was the easy part and that he had the hard part. The first time he told me how driving the truck was the hard part; I looked at him with skepticism and said, “How do you figure?” I was in total disbelief how he could think that driving a flatbed pickup truck was harder than running alongside the truck and throwing bales of hay on the back of the truck in the 100-degree heat.
My father then began to demonstrate how tasking his part of the job was as he began turning the wheel, and with every turn continued to groan and to grimace, while looking in my direction, while saying, “You get a break riding to and from the barn. Not me, I have to drive this truck the whole way. I never get a break”. He then added a few extra groans for good measure to drive his point home. And if his aching shoulders weren’t enough, he had to clutch and break with his bad knees the whole time. After that, I decided it was better hanging out on the pile of hay we just stacked and baking a little bit longer in the hot sun, than it was listening to my dad wax poetic about how hard it was driving the truck.
Stacking hay in barns was the creative part. Some barns were easy to access, and you could just back the truck right through the doublewide front door and start stacking the hay. It would get tricky when the barn started getting full and we would have to start stacking in the lofts. The worst place in the world to stack hay is the area near the roof where the heat from the mid-day sun was baking and the dust that was getting stirred up was starting to fill the air. Even worse was trying to load hay through the small barn door at the very top of the pitch of the roof. We would always tell the newbie that it was better being in the barn because it was out of the sun. It would usually take about a week before they would figure out that the top of the barn was a nothing more than a dusty convection oven.
When stacking the hay in the barn it was always helpful to shout out warnings to the person you were tossing the bale to who was stacking it in its final resting place for the summer. We shouted out warnings like; loose bale, heavy bale, light bale, or snake in bale. It was in one particular barn that the Principal came over and told us that we could no longer say light bale or heavy bale because it made the farmers feel like they were getting cheated on some of the bales. The Principal said the famers felt like all the bales they were buying should be busting at the seams and should be heavy bales.
We rolled our eyes as the Principal walked away, and after that, the new designations became “top bale” and “bottom bale”, while snake in bale just remained snake in bale. No one ever complained when we called them top or bottom bales, quite possibly because they never quite figured out our nomenclature.