This story came to mind when a couple of big-rigs loaded with
old fashioned bales of hay passed our motorhome. It had been a long time since I had seen hay
baled that way which brought back memories from my childhood.
Typical hay truck
When I was 12 years old my family moved out to the country or what was called country then.
Actually we moved to the suburbs to a low-income, blue-collar neighborhood. My father died just
before my sixth birthday; as a result we were part of the low-income people in the neighborhood.
Our house was next door to an agriculture auction that was open for business every weekend.
Conventional tri-wire bales of straw
For me to have spending money, I had to find a way to earn my own. Fortunately, a neighbor
boy, named Bob, introduced me to unloading hay trucks. One of the products sold at the auction
each weekend was hay. I think Bob was sorry he showed me how to unload hay trucks. Because I
lived next door to the agriculture auction I could hear the trucks come into the auction grounds.
I would have already struck a deal with the truck driver and be climbing to the top of the truck
by the time Bob arrived. He lived three houses down from the auction.
The hay was in the form of bales that were rectangular in shape, weighing from 35 to 100
pounds each and held together by two or three strands of twine or wire. The 2 string bales weighed
from 35 to 70 pounds and the three string bales weighed from 70 pounds all the way up to 100
The hay would arrive at the auction during the week usually in the late afternoon or early
evening. A few times a hay truck showed up after dark. Each truck would be carrying from 100
to 400 bales of hay. The hay was of several types including straw, sedan grass and alfalfa.
With hay bales being standard in size and shape, the type of hay and its water content determined
the weight of each bale. Fresh cut alfalfa usually made the heaviest bales, especially if
they had been in the rain before arriving at the ag auction.
The trucks, bringing the hay, were stacked with bales to as high 12 to 13 feet. A few trucks
were stacked as high as 14 feet and the driver had to plan a route that didn’t have any
low underpasses or bridges. The first thing I learned was how to climb up the vertical side
of a load of hay. It helped me to be a 12 year bean pole of a kid.
I learned right away that I usually could choose to unload the truck or stack the bales that
were unloaded. At first I tried stacking because I was somewhat afraid of heights. I learned
very quickly that I wasn’t able to stack bales that sometimes weighed more than half as
much as me. The stacks contained 10 bales with a stack being just a little lower than I was
tall. This meant that I really had to struggle getting the last bale on top of a stack. So I
normally took the high ground on top of the truck.
Once up high I had to learn the proper way to drop a bale of hay. If dropped correctly the
bale would land intact with a solid thump. If a bale landed on one of its corners there was
a twang sound as the stings broke and hay flew all over. This doesn’t sound too bad until
you hear about the consequences.
One way hay is baled today
Up to 6 ft. in diameter
First I should talk about how I got paid; I charged one cent per bale unloaded. My average
pay was around two dollars, however, on one particularly large load I made over $4. I could
unload as many as three trucks in one day, but I usually unloaded one or two in one day. If
I was lucky I would get trucks coming in every day.
I really had an incentive to learn to drop the bales flat because I had to pay for any bales
I broke. The bales would normally sell for 40 cents to as high as $1.10 per bale. If I broke
a bale I was usually charged 50 cents for any bales broken. Over a three year period I paid
for only 4 or 5 bales, most of which I broke during the first six months I unloaded hay. By
the time I was 14 years old I was able to drop bales without breaking a single one.
Unloading hay was how I made my spending money until I was a little older than 14. I also
mowed a few lawns until I got my first real job washing dishes at Cal's Chuckwagon Truck Stop
and Café, a place that no longer exists.