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Forage, flat tires and flames

Winter in the northern part of Iowa comes but once a year. A lot of the time, it stays for six months. But we don’t just fold up our tents after harvest in the fall and head south to SissyLand. We stay here just to develop a deep, deep appreciation of the dog days of August.

Some days, it seems like August may never come. This was one of those days. As you might expect, it involves hay and the transportation of same.

The day started out with a light dusting of snow. I believe the official weather description for the accumulation was a skiff. My dictionary defines a skiff as “A measurement of snow, just enough to make you wish your butt was actually bigger so as to provide more padding as you fall on the ice underneath.” How descriptive. How accurate. What an omen.

In the morning I loaded my trailer with a lot of hay for delivery to Mr. Steady Customer and headed toward Ridgeway with my tractor. I got to Ridgeway with my load and pulled onto the Winn Co-op scale from the exit side to weigh. When I got inside the office, Carol, the office secretary/bookkeeper greeted me. “Hi, Jeff. Is it pretty slippery out there?” No, I told her, I really didn't think it was that bad. We discussed the skiff. I guess it was common knowledge that we’d had a skiff.

Once my scale ticket was printed, I jumped back into my tractor to begin the trek to suburban Conover. The scale exit, which had become an entrance during the winter season, is right across from a house whose occupants have several vehicles, with a couple of them parked on the street. That’s not a problem when you’re driving forward off the scale. When you’re backing up to exit the scale, though, it’s pretty easy to crunch a vehicle. That’s especially true if you’re hauling a wide load, like, say, HAY! Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.

To avoid crushing a pickup and a car, I exit from the usual entrance side of the scale. Then I make a left turn and leave the co-op grounds. Not a problem...until you factor in the skiff.

I began my descent from the incredibly small slope on the entrance side. Gravel had been spread on the ascending side to enable semis to climb the hill to be weighed. The gravel went down a good share of the slope — straight down the slope. I needed to make a left turn before I got to the bottom.

As soon as I began my turn, my world began to spin. Instead of being visible from my rear window, my load was now quickly approaching my driver’s side window. I wasn’t going more than 3 or 4 miles per hour, but it looked like 11 bales were heading my way at about 65 or 70. This was a textbook case of the term jackknife being used as a verb. In a matter of one or two seconds, it was all over. I had come to rest against a snowbank piled up from months of significant snow accumulations. No skiffs. Just real accumulations. The whole trip was a distance of maybe 20 feet, but 135 degrees of rotation. I was staring at bale #3 on my load right outside my door.

I tried to drive ahead to un-jackknife myself. Wasn’t gonna happen. Skiffs and traction are incompatible. Besides, I seemed to be sitting at an odd angle. I bailed out to look over the situation. No damage to the trailer. No damage to the tractor right offhand. Then it came into view. The reason I had stopped was that I had come to rest against the snowbank. With 21,180 pounds of hay as a momentum generator, I had been pushed into the bank and popped the bead on my rear tractor tire. It was flat as a pancake.

I pulled out my cell phone and got my Goodyear guy dialed up on speed dial. He’d be out right away. I then went back to the co-op office with my head hung low. Carol was already back at her desk. “Now it’s slippery out there, Carol!” I said with a smile. She brushed past me to look out the window and see what I’d gotten my self into.

The rest of the co-op staff gathered to gawk. One of them volunteered to get the Army truck/snowplow out and get me un-jackknifed. We pulled the tractor ahead just far enough to straighten me out and allow me to unhook from my trailer. Then I waited for Mr. Goodyear to show up.

After a few minutes in the heated co-op shop discussing the difference between a skiff and an accumulation, I heard the familiar hum of the air pump on the Goodyear truck. I looked out the door to see my trusty helper, Steve STEVE and his shiny white and blue truck. I call him Steve STEVE because he usually has his air pump running full blast and I have to have every conversation with him twice, frequently at an extreme volume the second time around.

Steve STEVE assessed the situation and decided that no damage had been done to the tire or the rim. This would be a simple project. He assured me that he’d have me outta there in 15 minutes if everything went according to plan.

We got the tractor jacked up. We positioned the tire in its normal spot. Then it got interesting. Steve STEVE pulled out an aerosol can from his service truck. He also pulled out a small handheld LP torch that he put in his holster. Next, he put the air pump hose on the valve stem of the tire.

I was beginning to have recollections of when my Uncle Gene ran a service station in Ridgeway in the 1970s. To put big tubeless tires back on the rim, he’d always spray them with ether and light a match as he pumped air into the tire. The resulting explosion would blow the tire onto the rim, seat the bead, and usually knock at least half of his wrenches off the wall if everything went well.

Steve STEVE motioned for me to come over to him. He pulled some extra air hose out of his truck, kinked it, and handed it to me. “You’re gonna be my assistant. Hold onto this hose. Keep it kinked and don’t let go until I tell you to.”

Aye-aye, Steve STEVE.

He then started spraying the bead of the tire with the aerosol can. Generously. Excessively, I thought.

After the fourth trip around the circumference of the bead, Steve STEVE told me to get ready. He gingerly pulled his torch out of its holster and held it toward the tire. The whole time, I was holding onto the kinked air hose. Since it was connected to the tire’s valve stem, the pump thought that air was being released. Because of the kink in the hose, it was building pressure at a high rate of speed.

After two faux attempts at lighting his torch and yanking his hand out of the way, Steve STEVE was ready. With one smooth motion that lasted only a split second, he lit his torch, held it to the tire and screamed “NOW!” like it was life or death. I let go of the air hose right as the flames shot out of the tire. A thunderous roar erupted and the tire was seated on the rim just like it had come from the factory.

“YEEEEEEEAAAAAH! BeaUUUUtiful!” Steve STEVE yelled as we admired our success. I was doing my admiring from a crouched position, clear of the flames that had shot more than six feet out of the tire. For Steve STEVE, this was just another day at the office.

“You’re pretty good. I want you to ride shotgun with me from now on with these things,” Steve STEVE said with a smile.

Okay, Steve STEVE, but before I sign up, let me make sure my insurance policy covers magic tricks.

The Hay Dude

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