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Tales of a Hay Hauler: The bathtub ranch

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Columns - Brad Nelson
Friday, 06 February 2009 07:10

I mixed business with pleasure one day way back when, and it turned into a rather long day. I was driving my 1977 Dodge one-ton pick-up. It was only two-wheel drive, but it was a fun truck most of the time. It had the club cab, which was the industry’s first attempt at an extended cab on a pick-up. The back seat was just big enough to allow a very small person to be seated, and small enough that whomever got to ride in the back seat would remember why he or she did not want to ride there again.

It had the 440 engine, which burned gasoline very well. It had the automatic transmission, which I swore I would never again have in a pick-up. The carburetor was the Thermo-Quad four-barrel. If I had the understanding of the Thermo-Quad at that time that I gained in later years, I would have at least had it gone through by an expert. The carburetor may have been the source of my complaint with the transmission ... however, when I mashed down on the “go pedal” and the secondary half of the carburetor opened, things happened. The heavy truck moved forward rapidly, and the sound of the air rushing through the wide-open carburetor was exhilarating.

I had just replaced the universal joints in the driveline on the pick-up, and loaded up the whole tribe for a trip to Bruneau, Idaho. There was some interesting scenery on the way, and some of the best sand dunes in the world, the Birds of Prey sanctuary, and also a haystack I needed to look at. The kids were out of school on some holiday.

We traveled south from Nampa, Idaho to the Snake River, and then went east. A long time after we passed Murphy and a short time before we got to Grandview, the pick-up started making an annoying vibration. I stopped and looked it over. One of the new universal joints I had so carefully replaced had chosen to shed one of the end caps. I wrapped several layers of duct tape (“hundred-mile-an-hour tape”, according to Leo) around the whole joint, and then limped along slowly to Grandview.

Right along the highway on the edge of Grandview was a building that housed – all under one roof – a barbershop, laundromat, convenience store, gas station and repair shop. The repair shop had both a new universal joint cross kit, and time to install it. I had feared having to get a ride home and wait for parts to be shipped in.

The rest of the day went much smoother. The kids got to get sand in their shoes at the sand dunes, and I got to see the haystack and talk to its owner. The haystack was located on what we had been calling the “Bathtub Ranch.”

It was located south of Bruneau, off the road to Nevada. We often hauled hay from the area south into the Mountain City and Tuscarora areas of Nevada. The ranch changed hands a couple of times over the years, and we were able to maintain permission to use the scale to weigh our loads of hay, saving us a long drive to Grandview or Mountain Home to use a scale.

We noticed at the ranch a K-model International Harvester pick-up that did not sound like it had the original six-cylinder engine. The owner had transplanted in the V-8 engine and automatic transmission from a Ford Thunderbird car. It made a usable farm truck, but the body was too far gone to restore into a street rod or show truck.

One night as we returned to the Bathtub Ranch from Nevada, intending to spend the night there and then reload and head back to Nevada, we found one of the owners having a livid discussion with the Idaho brand inspectors. This was unusual, since it was past midnight. It seems the Idaho brand inspectors thought they needed their fees for paperwork for the ranch to move their own cattle from the feedlot at the ranch to their home place in the Mountain City, Nevada area. The owner hardly ever carried cash with him, and I ended up writing a check to the brand inspector to cover some fees the fellows insisted on receiving on the spot, or they intended on taking the man to jail that night.

Another time, we got to the ranch well after dark and weighed the truck, so that when we got up in the morning, we would be ready to go. The light bulb in the scale house had burned out, and I got the flashlight out of the truck. I noticed a mouse on the table beside the balance beam of the scale, oblivious to the light. What had the mouse’s attention was a large bull snake, coiled around the rod on the scale end of the balance beam. I pulled the truck off the scale and went to bed. By next morning, nature had taken its course and the scale was vacant of other life forms; I weighed the truck in privacy and left.

Many areas of Grandview and Bruneau have naturally hot water. This poses a problem to the irrigators, since the water is too hot as it comes from the ground to use for irrigation. The ranch had a concrete diversion box the well pumped into. It was about ten feet wide by about sixteen feet long and about three feet deep. From this box, the water could be diverted into four or five different ditches.

We discovered the “big bathtub” the year we hauled most of the summer from Bruneau to the Bell Brand Ranch south of Jackpot, Nevada. We scheduled ourselves to be loaded and weighed at the Bathtub Ranch just before dark. We then parked the loaded hay trucks in a rough circle around the hot water diversion box, and proceeded to make good use of it as a giant bathtub. The hot bath was the only thing that made that haul tolerable.

I still remember my mother’s shocked expression when it slipped out that we were bathing outside. There were as many as four hay trucks surrounding the big bathtub at a time, which adds up to eight or nine of us using the hot tub at one time. When the young man managing the ranch ceased his bachelor lifestyle, we mentioned to him our use of the diversion box, hoping to avoid a moment of embarrassment with his lady.

He assured us that he had already told her that when the hay trucks showed up just before dark, she really wanted to be somewhere else on the ranch. I asked if she wanted to know why. The answer was that she was native to the same kind of remote area as was the ranch, and she had a good idea of the use we were making of the giant hot tub. And had no desire to view the scenery.  PD


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