It has been a daily adventure getting around the farm over the past month, considering we went almost 30 days with the temperature rarely getting above the freezing mark and nightly lows in the single digits or lower. Then, throw in about a foot of snow during that same period of time, along with a howling north wind and a little freezing rain for good measure, and the old farm truck seemed to be permanently locked in four-wheel drive. I thought I surely had slipped and slid as much as in the past five winters combined, and things couldn’t get much worse… and then came “the January thaw.”
After the month of Siberian experience, we had about a ten day stretch where even the overnight temps didn’t get below freezing. The first couple of days weren’t too bad and I simply did my best impersonation of a NASCAR driver feeding hay out in the fields. With a couple of inches of “soup” on top of the permafrost, I could do complete 360’s just by tapping the accelerator or touching the brake pedal with one toe. But, after three or four more days of thawing, it got serious. There were several near-misses on getting stuck where I could eventually back out of the position I had gotten myself into – and then the one time – when I couldn’t. Thank heavens for good neighbors.
Each evening when I would get in from feeding, the truck would be more coated with mud and manure than the last. I even threatened to drive down to the truck stop and weigh my rig just to make sure I wasn’t running illegally over my 24,000 pound tag limit. You certainly couldn’t tell what the original color of the truck was, that’s for sure. By the end of that week, my wife was getting tired of my constant complaining and belly-aching about the problems I had encountered that day. “Stop your whining,” she chided, “it can’t be that bad.”
“Oh, yeah?” I asked. “Why don’t you go with me tomorrow and I’ll show you how bad it is.” I really just wanted someone along to open gates for me, but she surprised me by agreeing to go. As she rolled her eyes, I could tell she didn’t believe how bad things were.
Early the next morning, with Judy along for the ride, I attempted to back into the first bale yard. The truck sunk and spun, slinging mud several feet into the air and all over the windshield, until it stopped abruptly some 30 feet from the first bale of hay. I pulled out and tried once again, not reaching my old tracks. “Whatcha gonna do now?” she asked.
I got back out on the paved road and headed to bale yard No. 2 some five miles away. The mud there was worse than the first one, and I couldn’t even get close to the bale yard. “Do the cows really need hay today?” my wife asked. “They’re so fat; they look like they could go a month without hay and still be in good shape.” I assured her that they did need some hay and we left for the last available bunch of hay.
The third bale yard is located on a worthless acre of sloping land where the limestone rocks are at the very top of the ground. Of course, years of hay storage has left it with a layer of rotted straw and ruts from past winters of abuse. Judy seemed to hold her breath as I got a run at the opening to the enclosure. Sure enough, the truck started spinning and sliding as I hit one of the ruts that took me into a post and bent the drivers-side mirror straight back into the door – but I kept going –yelling and cursing. Fortunately I was able to keep spinning, and moving, until I was back far enough to reach one of the round bales with my truck bed.
“There you go,” my wife congratulated. “Mission accomplished.”
“Not quite,” I answered. “I only need about ten more bales out of this yard for today and every pass through here is going to make it worse.”
“Why do you think it’s so much worse today than it’s been all week?” she asked.
Looking at her in the seat there beside me, I said, “I don’t know, maybe it’s the extra weight.”
I had to open gates by myself the rest of that day… and every day since. When will I ever learn to keep my mouth shut?
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry call 1-866-532-1960 or visit www.ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’