It’s been a while since I have written about Peanut, but he has been on my mind of late. A few of us in Honey Grove during the Seventies, not being afraid of hard work and also not being afraid of making good money would haul hay during the summers, brutal hot honest work. This was back when those infernal ‘round bales’ were just making their appearance, threatening to put all the ‘square bale’ haulers out of business. (The bales were not geometrically square of course, but ‘rectangular bales’ just didn’t have a ring to it.)
Hauling hay was a two-man operation: one man would drive the truck guiding the hay loader along the rows of bales. The other would stand on the back of the flatbed and stack. Once the truck was loaded the duo would head to the barn (or more often than not, an old depression era house which served as a hay barn.) One guy would throw the bales off the truck and the other would drag and stack. Return to the hay field and repeat, but with the rolls reversed for fairness.
Generally, but not always, one guy would be the truck owner and the other just a hired hand. I was a hired hand behind a famous hay-hauler named Nubbin. He paid me a nickel a bale; not bad money considering hauling a thousand bales a day (our usual goal) would net me fifty bucks tax free. If we hauled in prairie grass fields (which always had bumble bees) he would pay me two cents extra to stack every load. Nubbin was frightened of bumble bees. I wasn’t.
If the ‘haul’ was from a hay field close to a proper drive through hay barn, we could sometimes haul fifteen hundred bales a day. But more often we had to drive a few miles and stack hay in an old house, dragging the bales through the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, past the old bathroom, the wasp nests, dead skunks, eventually stacking hay in the back bedroom and filling up the place as we worked forward through what was once the pride and joy of some dirt farmer from the Dust Bowl days.
Peanut was hauling using his uncle Hungry’s truck. Hungry was the most celebrated hay hauler in North East Texas, a real legend. Even Nubbin would admit this. There was no man had hauled more hay than Hungry. Memory fails as to when Hungry actually hung up his hay hooks for the last time, but Peanut was eager to take up The Legend (and the truck).
A word about your average hay truck in the fleet back then: There were none younger than about Nineteen Forty Eight. Most had gone through a several overhauls or downright re-building with new engines—well new to the truck anyway–held together with spit and bailing wire, and they did just fine.
There were a few other teams all hauling behind a gentleman named Mr. Scott, whom one would call a ‘custom bailer’. He was also a ‘custom hay planter’. Basically it broke down like this: Mister Scott would prepare the hay field, plant the hay, come back and cut and bale the hay then use the local hay-haulers to get the finished product to the landowner’s barns. There were many elderly land-owners in the region who had not the time nor inclination, nor ability to manage their own land any longer. Hiring Mr. Scott to grow hay was a good way for them to sustain some income from land they had long since ceased to work on their own.
Hauling behind Mr. Scott was the best gig a hay-hauling duo could score, as there was always plenty of haulin’ to do: often too much actually. I have more often than I care to recall hauled hay for forty-eight hours without a break. If there is hay in the field, it must be hauled: Day or Dark. The threat of rain hung over our heads. Rained-on hay is worthless. And hazardous. You cannot stack wet hay in a barn. It will eventually spontaneously combust with somewhat unhappy consequences.
The competition among the hay haulers was fierce, especially if the particular haul had less than a few thousand bales. Mostly it was friendly competition, but serious shit-talking was always the norm between crews. Nubbin had the only truck with a working (rigged up) radio and we blasted rock music continuously, to the envy and irritation of the other crews. All of the trucks had mounts under the flatbed for beer coolers, but rarely did anyone drink beer in the hay field. ‘Rarely’, but occasionally, generally, mostly, always of course we did. Especially toward the end of a long day’s hauling. Many a time with the hauling done, the trucks would remain in the field with the crews sucking down Lone Star and critiquing each other’s performances. And of course bragging rights went to the crew which had thrown up the biggest numbers for the day.
I have seen some funny shit in the hay field. Two such incidents come to mind. One afternoon we were twenty-four hours into a grueling stretch of hauling with no end in sight and rain in the forecast and thousands of bales still on the ground. Nubbin and I had just loaded up and were heading to the barn when we saw a Coca Cola truck lumbering into the hay field. It looked almost brand new, brightly painted red and white and pristine clean too. It had been modified to have a flat bed, all the racks for cases of coke taken off. Nubbin stopped and we watched this thing pull up alongside a row of bales. There were about a half dozen Mexicans riding on the back of the truck.
They jumped off wielding pitchforks, (Pitchforks?!) began struggling to load the hay onto their truck. Now let me tell you, a bale of hay, if properly cured and baled weighs about 70 pounds; much more if not. Stabbing it with a pitch fork and hoisting it unto the bed of a truck about four feet off the ground is not the most efficient way to load hay. As we sat there, mesmerized by this spectacle, Peanut pulled up alongside with his loaded truck.
“I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that shit there!” he yelled over the Led Zepplin Nubbin and I had blasting inside our truck.
I reached over turning down ‘Communication Breakdown’ and said, “What!”
“Ah said, I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that!” He yelled again, this time loud and clear. “Them boys frin’s a-y’all? Part ah yer crew?”
“Hell no P‘Nut!” I said. “Thought they was y’all’s since y’all ‘two loads behind us. Figger’d ya had to bring in some extra help.”
“I ain’t studyin’ ‘bout no Meskin hay haulers! Race y’all to the barn!” he yelled throwing his truck into gear and almost losing his load in the sudden lurch forward.
When there is only one barn to fill, it is very important to always get there ahead of the other trucks, or at least when no one else was already there off-loading. Having to sit around and wait to unload will kill your final tally for the day. Happily for us, in Peanut’s enthusiasm (and his sloppy load-stacking) he had to stop to reposition his top layer or risk dumping the entire load back onto the hay field.
As Nubbin navigated past Peanut and headed to the barn, he said, “What th’ hell ya make ah them Meskins?”
“Hell Nubbin,” I said. “You know Ol’ Man Scott gets antsy when we got so much hay on the ground. Them boys prolly came by lookin’ for work an’ he hired ‘em in desperation. Or insurance.”
“Ah doan like it,” Nubbin said. “Tha’s our hay to haul. Scott knows damn well, we ain’t never let no hay git rained on.”
“Nub,” I said. “Them boys ain’t gonna get no hay hauled usin’ their ‘technique’.”
We both laughed and continued to the barn.
The old man who owned the land we were harvesting was ‘old school’. He was what I could call, ‘Too Much Hand’s On’ when it came to supervising his ‘crop’ and he watched most of the off-loading and stacking of his hay.
We arrived at his barn and as we were throwing hay and stacking same, we were treated to the entire life history of his barn. He rambled on and on of how he had built, by hand, and with no help from his ‘Goddam no-count brother-in-law’ the barn we were stacking his hay into.
“Took me six month to bilt this he’ah barn, by my own-sef” he told us for the fifth time.
I rather liked the old man and it certainly was a fine barn, but he was certainly a pest. As Nubbin was throwing the bales down to me this old codger kept standing in the way, jabbering on all along and pointing out his fine craftsmanship. Every time I would stack a bale, I’ll be damned if the old son of a bitch wouldn’t drag it off into a corner and restack it, ‘to make best use of the space’, I suppose he was thinking.
“You see them beams” he was saying, “Them’s solid oak.”
“Yessir, Solid,” I grunted, struggling to be polite.
“You don’t see barns like this’un no more,” he continued.
“No sir. I reckon ya don’t” I said, as we both had hold of the same bale of hay locked in a tug-of-war.
We were about finished with our off-load when Peanut showed up with his re-secured load. He impatiently waited about after backing his truck into position for unloading as soon as we finished.
With the last bale stacked (and re-stacked by Mr. Barn Builder), Nubbin and I got into our truck and carefully pulled out of this Palace of a Hay Barn.
Just as we had cleared the entrance, Peanut, obviously in haste, misjudged and rapidly backed his truck into one of the main support beams of the barn, cleanly severing it and collapsing the entire front just as you have seen condemned high-rise buildings come down—dust and noise and splintering beams.
I had not until that day, seen a grown man cry.
“Uh Nubbin’, I think we should get out of here. I think this might turn ugly.”
As we were pulling away, I overheard Peanut saying to the old crying man, “Well… That’s what that hay haulin’ kin do to a fella. Dan’grous bizness, hay haulin’.”