February 23rd………“SHARE A WAY THAT YOU EARNED MONEY AS A TEENAGER WHEN YOU WERE STILL TOO YOUNG FOR A REGULAR JOB”.
Knuckle knocks, on our solid core front door, came in “code”. In August of 1967, when our family “landed” in our new hometown of Battle Ground, Washington, we were so blessed to have #1. A brand new home that, just recently, had the last nail nailed in place. And, #2. We were so blessed with the most loving neighbors anyone could hope to ask for. For the first year or so, we enjoyed living next door to Richard and Roberta Dunning and family. Richard, and his brother, Ernie, were the contractors who built our lovely new home on what was then known as Hawthorne Street, there in Battle Ground. When the Dunnings moved to a new home, we had the joys of welcoming Chuck and Jeri Gross, and family, as our new neighbors. Chuck and our father, Russell, became like brothers from another mother. The “code” of knocking, that I spoke of earlier, had to do with the same, consistent pattern of knock that Chuck would deliver to our front door. It usually had the rhythm of the old adage tune……….”Shave and a haircut, two bits”. Whether Dad was reading a western novel in the immediacy of the Living Room, or sitting clear across the house at the table in the Dining Room, Chuck gave his “code” on the door and our dad would holler, “Come on in, Chuck”!!!!
To the east of our new home resided our other super sweet neighbors, Roger and Sue Carter, along with their lovely family. Roger also had a “code” to his knuckle knock on our front door. “Come on in, Roger”!!!!!, Dad would holler and in waltzed Roger’s tall, friendly face!! Roger was a hometown boy and had graduated from Battle Ground High School. He was employed, by the Battle Ground School District, as one of the excellent team of mechanics that kept the very large fleet of busses running for our large school district. Like any young father, with a family to feed, Roger also was diligent to create as much extra income for his family as he could in the form of doing what was known as “Custom Farming”. He often baled hay for local land owners that either didn’t have the time, energy or equipment to do it themselves. The amazing thing was, Roger had allergies to contend with in life. He took medication to control those ailments, yet it must’ve been a struggle. I’d heard him say that if he failed to take those medications, he’d have such bad allergic reactions to all the hay pollen that his whole being seemed to want to swell up and shut down everything from his eyes to his very breathing. I was always impressed with his tenacity to do what he had to do to make ends meet.
It was on one of Roger’s visits to our home that he actually came to see ME!!! Being about 14 years old, at the time, I was still too young to hold down a steady job (that was usually only available when you were 16). Roger needed a hired hand to help him do some hay baling and I was to be paid for my efforts. Money in the pocket was a great motivator to say, “Yes sir, I’ll be glad to help”!!! 😉
I was soon to find, though, that farmers in the Pacific Northwest sure did their hay-baling differently than we did back home in Minnesota. Back home, we had a “flat rack” wagon hooked right up to the baler machine so that every time a bale emerged from the baler, we hooked it and immediately stacked it to the wagon bed. Over and over we did this until we had a tall, full load of bales on the “flat rack” wagon. That full “rack” was unhooked and an empty “rack” was bolted to the baler, in its place, and then baling continued. The full “rack” of hay was hooked to a tractor and was taken to the barn for immediate lifting into the haymow.
In contrast, these Northwesterners were about to show me something very different! As Roger and I arrived at the field to be baled, he showed me a device that lay flat on the ground and was hooked up to the back of the hay baler machine. It was made of wood and appeared to be some sort of a sled. I asked, “What is this for”? Roger began to explain that I was to ride on that sled with one foot on each “blade”; kind of like skiing, in a way. As each bale came out of the back end of the baler, I was supposed to stack it at the back of this sliding apparatus, with the first layer crossways to the sled. I would then cross-stack the bales with each layer until the stack was about six feet high. At that point, I was supposed to step to the ground, between those wooden sled blades and push my weight against the stack of hay bales. The sled would then pull out from under those bales, due to the forward motion of tractor and baler, and I would then run to catch up to the sled and we’d do this again and again till the field was finished.
Later on, that day, we’d return to the field with either a tractor and “flat rack” or a pickup truck and move those little stacks of bales, again, onto the “rack” or pickup truck. Once at the barn, we’d then have to move the bales yet again to the haymow or storage area. I must admit, I was really scratching my head as to the rationale of this, seemingly, inefficient way of farming. I felt that the Midwest way of handling this type of agricultural operation was much more efficient. But, as an ignorant teenager, and not wanting to “bite the hand that feeds me”, I kept my silence and adjusted. It was my respect to Roger, and being grateful for his dollars gracing my pockets, that sure made more sense than trying to rationalize their way of farm life.
This bale by bale type of earning money was really earned during summertime employment by another area farmer near Dollar’s Corner. It wasn’t just a pickup truck or a wagon we loaded to from those bales in the field……..it was a ginormous old Ford dump truck whose “bed” was super high to begin with. With each bale lifted, every one of them seemed to gain at least ten pounds, as far as I was concerned. What absolutely amazed myself and my two other teenage working buddies, was the phenomenal strength of the short, stocky employer farmer that hired us. Towards the end of the day, we could hardly get those bales up onto the tailgate of that dump truck, say nothing about getting them to the top of the load. Short, stocky “Phil”, he really humbled us teenagers as he, from ground level, literally threw those bales to the top of that dump truck load.
For that dump truck farmer, not only did we get paid cash for our super sweaty job that day, but we also received the blessings of as much as we could eat at the very well-known food stop called, “O’Brady’s Drive-In”. The last load of hay bales had been stacked and “Phil” told us boys to enjoy the cooling wind as we rode in the empty dump truck bed to the little berg called, “Dollar’s Corner”. The heavy tailgate had been left open in the chained flat position. “Phil” spun into the drive-in’s parking lot and threw the transmission into reverse. As he quickly rolled backwards, towards all those giant glass “O’Brady’s Drive-In” windows, the look on the staff’s faces were priceless!!!! It appeared he was gonna put that truck’s tailgate right through their windows, but he slammed on the brakes just in time. We guys all had a good laugh and a good meal and some good money in the pockets of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉