Beating the Rain

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Kelly Cox's old truck

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I will never forget the custom hay-hauling crews that came to my parents' farm to put up hay when I was an Oklahoma youth during the late 1960s. As a little, skinny kid, the bigger kids at school sometimes picked on me. The guys that hauled hay, though, had Popeye-like arms that were tanned bronze, so I looked up to them. Their old trucks fascinated me, too, with pop-up hay loaders hooked to their sides. In time, I started to work as a hay-hand for Johnny Johnson, under the foreman Earl Phillips.

One day while haying at Bill Clay's place, I eyeballed a 1959 Chevrolet Viking 2-ton flatbed truck on sale for $500, along with a hay loader for $200. The year was 1977, I was 17 years old, and didn't have $700. I went to the bank to borrow the money, but the banker refused to loan it to me. Desperate for that truck, I went home and begged my Mom. She called another bank and convinced the bank's president to loan me the money, but asked him not to tell me that she'd intervened. When I got the loan, I ran home and excitedly told Mom the news. She didn't admit that she'd arranged the deal until 10 years later. Today, 28 years later, I still bank there.

My first hay hauling job was on the old Marshall place. We contracted many smaller jobs in those days, and our pay was 25 cents a bale (now it's 60 cents a bale).

Then the Jenks job - the big job, kind of like that lunker bass that a fisherman waits for all his life - eventually came along. We were so gung-ho that we hauled 3,000 bales (100 tons) without stopping.

Every time we told Louise Jenks that this was the last load we'd haul, she would say, 'There's rain in the fore-cast.' So finally, we agreed to keep going if she cooked us a big breakfast when we got done. The last load, at about daybreak, must have been about nine layers high because we didn't want to go back for another.

Steve Slagle ate a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs that morning. Tom Plummer was so beat that he passed out in my Chevelle. I was dog tired, too, but we hauled all the bales before the rain.

We did that job every year for 23 years until the summer of 2000. By then, the farm's east side was consumed by a subdivision. All that was left of that once-majestic farm were 20 acres on the westernmost edge. As I brought the loader home after we finished baling, I stopped to get gas, and a few fellas became curious. They stood a few feet away, talked and pointed at my hay loader. Finally, one man mustered the courage and asked me, 'What is that machine?' That's when I realized that a new generation - an urban culture -was taking over, one which which hadn't hauled hay, picked watermelons or cotton, or even castrated hogs.

Today, the hay field is almost all houses. Yet, every time I drive by, I can still picture the bluestem grass waving in the breeze, Louise meeting us at the gate to convince us to haul one more load, and Steve eating that pound of bacon and dozen eggs in one sitting.

Those hay haulin' days may be gone, but the memories remain like that old Viking truck. FC

- Kelly Cox was a custom hay hauler for years, and now farms wheat, corn and other crops. Contact him at P.O. Box 156, Leonard, OK 74043.