Don’t cows understand that icy roads make it hard to deliver hay to their rightful owners? Would it be asking too much for them to munch a bit more conservatively during the worst of the winter weather?

I guess not. So last winter I had to load up my trailer and venture forth across the icy plains to deliver some of the good green stuff to the black-and-white crowd. It was a delivery to a steady customer near Conover. Getting to the actual farm requires me to cross busy Highway 52. That’s not a problem. The problems are these two really big hills in the mile and a half from the highway to the customer’s yard.

Normally, this would be a task for the big screamin’ diesel pickup. I pull my load into the yard, Mr. Customer brings his tractor out and unloads me, and the whole thing is over within a half hour. Unfortunately, Mr. Customer is a big dairy guy. He milks a little more than 200 cows in a stanchion barn twice a day. The barn holds 108 cows. Mr. Customer spends something like five hours at each milking. That means that the blocks of time from about 6:00 to 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 10:00 p.m. are not available for working with hay. Toss in a normal noon hour and pretty soon you’re down to a small window to get your hay activities out of the way.

There had to be a better way. Then it hit me like a bale coming down a hill. How does big business keep customers? Service! Full service! If I hauled my hay to the customer using my own tractor, I could unload it on my own schedule, at my own pace, with my own equipment. Mr. Customer had volunteered to let me use his loader tractor to unload my hay if he was still trapped in his prison cell — er, uh, in the barn — milking cows. Regrettably, Mr. Customer does not spend a great deal of money on his machinery like I do. Being given the privilege of driving a tractor roughly the same age as myself wasn’t much of a bonus, in my opinion.

So it looked obvious. Hook onto my trailer with my front-wheel-assist loader tractor, drive the short distance to the Conover metroplex area, transfer some forage, and laugh all the way home about how easy it is. I love it when a plan comes together.

I loaded up my trailer, strapped it down extremely securely, and headed toward the certified scale in Ridgeway to document my tonnage. Then it was on to Conover.

One small hill west of Conover presented no problem to me and my tractor. We sailed down the easy downhill part and climbed the uphill side with little if any struggle. Then it was time to get through rush-hour traffic in downtown Conover. I met three cars in almost a mile.

Once through Conover, we came to Highway 52 and made it across.

In the next half-mile, it suddenly occurred to me. Someone from the county road department had obviously been out here since my last trip with a load of hay and re-graded the road. That upcoming hill never looked that big and imposing in a pickup. It had obviously had its slope increased somehow in the middle of January. Whoever had done it managed to move all the gravel and snow back into place so as to leave no trace of activity. Those darned stealth dozers. Can’t trust ’em!

This next hill was starting to look a little imposing. But I could do it, I figured. None of those other hills had been a problem.

I made sure all four wheels were engaged and put it to the floor. The ascent to the summit began. It was looking pretty good. We were at 40%, then 50%, then 60% of the way to the top. The engine was starting to sound like this hill was for real. RPMs were dropping, but we were still moving forward. I shifted down a gear. We hit the 70% mark on the climb. Then we hit 80%. I shifted down again. Then we hit 85% and the RPMs were continuing to drop. I noticed that the wheels were beginning to turn much faster than what our forward progress would indicate. I shifted down one more time just as we climbed to the 90% level of the hill.

That’s when the forward progress pretty much stopped, but the wheels kept turning at the same speed. We were now reaching the 89% level, despite the wheels spinning for dear life. Then it was the 88% level. Pretty soon, I noticed 87% go by and 86% was coming up fast. A quick check of the mirrors showed me that I’d have to maintain absolutely straight and square position on the roadway. One little move to the side and I’d be reviewing levels 86 through 40% from the ditch!

We came to a full and complete stop at what I estimated to be 86.39% of the summit. The rear tires of the trailer would begin exploration of the ditch at something like 83%. My life insurance policy would come into play somewhere in the high 60s!

I tried a couple more launches from there, but it’s tough to start forward motion when you’re sitting at the 86.39% level of the summit and you’re on a glaze of ice that’s been polished by a set of Firestones. The solution would not be easy. I had to swallow hard, grab the cell phone, and admit defeat.

A call was placed to Mr. Customer. It had been several months since I last called him, but for some reason I remembered his number. His school-age daughter answered the call. I asked if she could send her dad to the hill west of Larry’s and make sure he brought a log chain to pull me up the hill.

A little while later, Mr. Customer showed up with his Johnson Administration tractor. His was a two-wheel-drive machine, but he did have chains on his rear tires. We hooked up our log chains and got ready to test our luck. The President Johnson Express was belching internal combustion fumes that would have made Al Gore throw a conniption fit. Before we could make any forward progress, we had to make some vertical progress. The PJE dug its way through the layers of ice down to gravel. When I realized that Mr. Customer and the PJE had a firm hold, I eased up on my brakes to keep me from sliding backwards and hit the differential lock so that all four wheels were turning in unison. Voila! We made it to 87%, then 88, then 90, 91, 92, 93 and straight on through to the summit!

I wanted to stop and plant a flag. Mr. Customer just wanted to get back to his cows. He suggested that we park the trailer right there on the summit and unload the bales on the spot. We’d store them in the adjoining field driveway. It was a field that belonged to his cousin, so it was perfectly kosher to put them there.

In a way, I was a little disappointed. We’d made that hill with no injuries and minimal destruction to public and private property. Surely we could try to make the next summit to the east. After that one, it would be a cakewalk to Mr. Customer’s buildings.

No dice. We played it conservative and unloaded the load at the first summit. The next ascent would have to wait for another time. Besides, it was only early February. The way this winter was going, I’d have plenty of chances to roll the dice again.

The Hay Dude

 

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