Those days, in our corner of the world, nobody knew about those huge round hay bales which are so common today. It was customary at that time to make relatively small, rectangular bales which were manually picked up out of the field, hauled to a barn and stacked.
This is the sort of work the pickup truck was originally designed for. How a pickup performs during hay hauling season is the acid test. Hauling hay will not only prove the mettle of any machine, it also tests the stamina, strength and endurance of anyone who is involved. In the summer months along the Coastal Bend of South Texas, it is hot, sweaty, nasty work.
Anyone who tells you different is a liar.
Itís simple as that.
Cutting and baling hay involves a lot of anxiety and guesswork because weather is unpredictable. The rain that the rancher has prayed for when his crop was growing suddenly becomes his enemy as harvest nears. The crop must be dry during cutting and baling because moisture will cause hay to mildew and rot. The rancher must move quickly once the harvest is in motion. The idea is to get those fresh new bales out of the field and into the safety of a dry barn as quickly as possible, before a dark raincloud blows in and ruins everything.
If you were the fellow who was depending on that hay crop, you needed all the help you could get from your equipment, your neighbors and your family. If you happened to be an awkward, knobby-kneed little boy like I was, it didnít matter how bad you wanted to help, you were pretty much a worthless pain in the posterior unless you could drive.
My older brother Johnny had done the driving until he got big enough to stand in the truckís bed, catch the bales and stack them as Dad tossed them up. At that point my mother had taken over the driving.
Struggle though I did, I was just too scrawny to lift or drag a bale fast enough the catch the truck, much less toss it over my head. This was very frustrating. Completely unable to appreciate the laws of physics which prohibit a 60-pound boy from shot-putting a 120-pound hay bale, I was livid.
I was about to blow my top. But, I knew that my father would not tolerate my having a reckless, slobbering fit of blind rage. So, I seethed a while and then did the next best thing. I began to scheme. Before long, brother Johnny and I came up with an ingenious solution. We attached wooden blocks to the pedals of the truck with wraps of friction tape. This allowed my short legs to operate the clutch, brakes and accelerator.
As the saying goes, the rest is history. I replaced Momma at the wheel and she happily went back to her domestic routine while us menfolk stayed in the hay field. I was so darned proud I was fit to burst.
I was fresh and bright-eyed at the dawn of that first day. Nothing could stop me. Those wooden blocks had given me super-human strength. No clutch pedal would shove me around any more. I could mash that sucker clean down to the floorboard and hold it there. I was invincible!
The first couple of hours were glorious. I steered the Chevy along behind Dad as he zigzagged from one bale to the next, bringing the bed up close as he swung around and tossed the hay to Johnny. A gentle breeze floated in from the Southwest. The scent of freshly cut hay was like perfume in the air. God was surely on his throne and all was right in the world.
Along about 9:30 the heavy, low clouds of early morning had disappeared and the sun was beaming down. The sweatband of my straw hat began to overflow. Salty perspiration streamed down my forehead and burned my eyes. It tickled as it ran down the back of my neck.
Dadís khaki workshirt was dripping. Droplets of sweat flew off him with every movement. We stopped frequently and took turns drinking from the galvanized water can which rode inside the cab beside me. Johnny was soaked to the bone too. His face was so wet that his glasses were constantly slipping down and threatening to fall off his nose. The calves of my legs were beginning to feel a little stressed, but it was barely noticeable.
At noon Mom came across the field carrying a picnic basket of sandwiches and fruit jars of iced tea. As she approached Dad motioned for me to pull the truck under the scant shade of a mesquite tree near the fenceline. The faithful old Chevy boiled over the instant I killed the engine. We ate and drank as the radiator gurgled and spewed and then slowly cooled.
Dad warned Johnny and I to eat slowly and not to overload ourselves, to avoid stomach cramps caused by the heat. I heard him, but gobbled down two more sandwiches. I was sure we would rest at least an hour. I was wrong.
"The radio says there are thundershowers moving this way," my Mother said.
Dad stopped chewing. His facial expression hardened. I saw Johnny look up at the sky and curse under his breath.
Lunch was definitely over.
Dad refilled the Chevyís radiator from a canvas bag which had been tied to the grille. We were back to work within seconds. This time, the pace was quickened. It seemed as though Dad was possessed by a demon. No longer was he striding from one bale to the next - he was trotting. The steering wheel of the old truck burned the palms of my hands as it spun through my grasp. I could barely keep up. Johnny would hardly get a bale positioned before another was airborne in his direction.
We were loading and unloading the truck about twice as often as before. Dad kept telling me to drive faster on our way back from the barn. As determined as Dad was to outrun the approaching clouds, the scorching sun was just as relentless. The combination of heat and humidity was severe. Every breath was an effort. The air burned the insides of my nostrils as it rushed in and out.
Particles of dirt and hay chafe and debris clung to every inch of our bodies. Every orifice was caked with sweaty mud. It burned and itched and stung but there was no time to scratch or even wipe it away. We were too busy. The hay had to be brought in.
The extra sandwiches caught up with me about two oíclock.
I barely got the door open and leaned outside before my stomach emptied itself.
Afterwards, I felt better but my head ached. It didnít matter. We kept going.
Rain poured that night. Our feed store gauge registered two and a half inches the next morning. I never heard a drop hit the roof. I slept right through the storm - exhausted, sore and proud that I had done my part.
I looked out the window that morning and saw the truck parked out under its tree. It looked strange without a mountain of hay stacked on it. The rain had washed away all traces of our labors the day before. It was wet and shiny and empty.
The barn, however, was full.
Read Chapter 5