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Serving: United States

Under the radar

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you’re a rural type who needs to deliver same hay to a customer. Let’s say your customer lives in a pretty good-sized urban area a little more than an hour away from you. This customer was quite a find several years ago. He runs a company that makes pet food for some unusual animals. These animals really like hay. You happen to grow some of this hay, which is not terribly common in Iowa.

Now let’s say your customer’s partner suddenly calls on a Thursday morning in January around 10:00. Turns out they’re out of hay and could really use some, preferably two bales. When, pray tell, would you be able to get it to them? You do the quick story problem of math, time, physics and logistics and spit out a number almost completely at random. Two o’clock it is.

You no more than hang up the phone when you realize that you maybe, kinda, sorta parked the rest of that particular hay way in the back of the hay shed with the concrete floor. It’s behind 48 round bales you carefully stacked in BaleHenge columns to preserve their bright green color, which should generate far more revenue when you finally pull them out of the shed later in the year. You suddenly realize that it will take the movement of a minimum of 22 of those 48 bales in order to reach the two big square bales behind them that you need today.

You remind yourself of the discussion you had with another hay producer at the hay auction in Fort Atkinson two weeks ago. Both of you were talking about the way customers always call with orders for whatever type of hay you have stored in the least-accessible area of your shed. Got some fine-stemmed fourth-crop candy stored by the door? The guy is gonna want some coarse first-crop grass hay instead. Got that stored in another shed where you can get to it, too? Great. In that case, he’ll want straw instead, and that’s stacked behind both first- and second-crop in another deeper, harder-to-access shed. Do they ask for these things when the ground is bone dry and you can start tossing bales about the yard willy-nilly as you mine for gold inside the shed? Heck, no! They ask when it’s sloppy outside and you can’t temporarily set any bales down on the bare ground to reorganize your inventory without getting them filthy and instantly making them worth half as much.

Before I even got to the other place to do my forage version of Where’s Waldo, my phone rang. This time, I got lucky. The manufacturing process in the major metropolis is now being farmed out to an organization that employs people with special needs. They have their own facility in which they do the work. The original plan was to deliver one bale to headquarters and one to the special needs facility. Turns out that only one bale would be required and that would be delivered to headquarters. Things were suddenly looking brighter for me.

When I got to the other farm, I remembered something from my January 1 inventory recording. There were a few bales of my special hay in an easy-access area of another shed! Then it was just a matter of loading the bale on a pallet and placing the pallet in the back of the truck. Too easy.

Once I got my bale onto the pallet and in the truck, I got the ratchet strap out and secured it. Wouldn’t look good if I tromped on the gas at an intersection and had my cargo slide right off the plastic bed liner onto the roadway, would it? I got myself strapped in and headed down the road.

When I got about 40 miles from home, I saw a rather troubling sight. Headed down a gravel road about a quarter of a mile off the pavement was a blue Iowa Department of Transportation officer’s car (affectionately known as a “bluejacket”). In all my years of motoring, I have NEVER seen these guys on gravel. From the stories my hay trucker friends tell me, it seems their mission in life is to pull over semis hauling hay and go over them with a fine-toothed comb in search of violations. I see them parked at major highway intersections all the time.

I did not break my pace. The same could not be said for my heart. Sure, I had my load strapped in, and it wasn’t hanging over the edge of my truck, but it still made me uneasy to think that a bluejacket would have the audacity to drive down a gravel road. Are those of us who occasionally create feed-related traffic hazards not safe ANYWHERE?! I thought we had an agreement. You stay on the pavement and keep your car a lovely shade of highly visible sparkling blue and I stay on gravel and keep my truck a lovely shade of camouflage gravel-taupe.

Amazingly, the bluejacket kept motoring down the gravel road. He didn’t even hit his brakes when I went by the intersection of his turf and mine. Things were finally going my way.

Several miles later, the law of averages kicked in for me. Of all the people without a badge I could meet on the road, that far from home, on that particular day, with that particular cargo in the back of my truck, who would I have to meet? That would have to be Billy, the guy who trucks a lot of my hay, of course! He was in his semi, which meant he had a bird’s-eye view of my cargo as we met and waved. I reached for my phone right away, because I knew what was coming. About 45 seconds later, I felt it vibrate. Billy’s name came up on the screen. Billy always refers to me as “The Expert” after an incident on a local radio station where the DJ cited me as “our resident expert on Barenaked Ladies” and failed to inform his listeners that “Barenaked Ladies” is the name of a rock band. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I flipped open my phone and did my best secretarial impersonation as I said, “Expert Services. How may I help you?”

Good thing we were on a lightly traveled two-lane road because Billy was laughing too hard to negotiate a lot of traffic. When he finally got himself together, he began the interrogation. “The Expert! What in the ______ are you doin’ way the ______ out here today? I see you didn’t want to overload it, huh? Ya know, it’s gonna take a long time to move all your inventory one bale at a time.”

Yeah, yeah. I filled him in on my agenda for the day. When I told him I almost had to take two bales and would have hooked the flatbed on for that rather than create a potential traffic hazard stacking two bales in the back of the truck, his opinion of me went up slightly. Then I told him that the price I was getting for this load left me plenty of margin for delivery costs. Not enough to hire a guy like him with a fancy semi, but enough for a guy like me in a poor dirt farmer’s truck.

Not to be outdone, I mentioned our little blue friend and his adventures in gravel a few miles back. Billy was empty at the time, but he was still going to keep an eye out for dirty blue cars.

I made my delivery to the pet food manufacturing facility where half of my team of two forklift buddies, Lenny and Carl, got me unloaded as usual. It was Carl working solo today. I noticed that Carl has apparently been spending all of his disposable income at the tattoo parlor. This being January in Iowa, he was in a lovely sleeveless number. On a guy with artwork like his, that works. On a pasty college intern nerd like some of his coworkers, not so much.

We got the cargo unloaded and I dropped the invoice off at the front office. They already had a check waiting for me. I hopped back into my decidedly non-urban, less-than-spotless vehicle and took a spin down the main drag of this metropolis. Hundreds upon hundreds of vehicles were on the city streets. Not one of them was dirty. Well, except for one. “I saw him, officer. Filthy looking truck. Big screamin’ diesel. He had chaff spilling out everywhere, too. Can you arrest him for something?”

I have some business to do in Minneapolis soon. Perhaps I’ll take the truck, but hit the car wash on my way up there. Then I’ll stick my giant magnetic Two Guys Farming signs on the sides of the truck. Think I should put a bale in the back just in case someone with a horse drives by? I mean, for marketing reasons, you can’t fly under the radar all the time.

Maybe I’ll be discreet. I’ll take the buggy.

Guy No. 2

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