The hard (but happy) work of harvest
Was out of high school for the summer and looking for ways to make money in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. My friends Ted and Leonard lived on a farm and knew farmers around them. They found jobs with a neighboring farmer, who needed more help. Ted and Leonard passed the word to me, and I started working with them.
We loaded newly baled hay from the fields onto a truck, hauled it to the stack yard, and stacked the bales. Leonard and Ted took turns driving the truck slowly through the field while one of us hoisted the 70- to 100-pound bales from the dry stubble of the field. The other guy, riding in the swaying bed of the truck, received the bales and stacked them on the truck.
I never did get to drive, the easiest job, because I had no seniority on our crew. But I didn't object. I was so pleased to be earning money, I was willing to do anything. And I knew that throwing the heavy bales up onto the truck was good training for next year's high school wrestling, when I planned to be on the varsity team and pin every opposing wrestler who had worked an easy summer job.
Two crews loaded, hauled, and stacked hay on that farm that summer. Three men who had been out of high school for years worked together. Ted and Leonard and I loaded and hauled faster than they did. We built our stacks of hay bales as carefully and tightly as they did, but faster.
I think they were pleased that we raced them and always won. Our high-speed work meant they could take it a little easier, and, at the end of the day, the total number of bales stacked would still satisfy the farmer who hired and paid us.
Our truck broke down, and the farmer had to rent a truck while the one we had been using was in the shop. The only truck he could find to rent had a much higher bed, so we had to throw the bales up higher than our heads. We took it as a welcome challenge and still loaded faster than the other crew.
Hay dust stirred into hot summer sunshine as we threw bales of hay and slammed them into place. Dust settled on us. We finished work for the day, drove down to the river, and swam until day began to fade from the valley.
When we had cleared the fields of hay, we harvested grain. Ted rode the machine, placed burlap sacks under the spout, and wheat poured into the sacks. Ted sewed full sacks shut. I wrestled heavy sacks of wheat from the harvesting machine and set them on the field, where drying stubble and windrows of straw were all that was left of growing wheat.
Leonard brought the truck, and we loaded sacks on it. Then the boss hauled them to town. That was even dustier work than loading hay bales, and we really needed the river at the end of every day.
Summer dwindled. School officials delayed starting the school year - a common practice then. The harvest of beans, fruits, hay, and grains was still in full swing, and students were an essential part of the workforce harvesting the bounty of the Willamette Valley. The delay pleased us, because it meant more money in the bank and a wider choice of clothes for the school year.
The river ran slow, deep, and almost warm. We swam until there was little light to guide us up to Ted and Leonard's highly polished '40 Ford sedan waiting silent above the riverbank. We finished harvesting hay and grain in time to shop in Eugene for clothes to start the school year.
Then the school year did start. We walked the crowded halls of high school and started finding out what our friends had done through the long, hot summer. We dressed well and had plenty of energy for wrestling after school. We mixed classes with socializing and sports, and we learned and gradually approached our adult years.
The fields, orchards, and vineyards of the Willamette Valley rested after harvest, then began to soak up heavy winter rain in preparation for repeating the cycle of rest, lush growth, and the hard work of harvest.
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