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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Milestones

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Columns - Brad Nelson
Friday, 13 March 2009 09:52

Old bridges are part of trucking hay or cattle in the backcountry. Leo told of hauling cattle out of a backcountry ranch and questioning the bridge. The usual response from the ranchers was that the bridge had been holding up big loads for all their lives. They had no idea when or why the bridge in question had been posted for a ten-ton load limit.

The truckers inspected the bridge and could see no obvious fault and, with the urging of the rancher, went ahead and tried to cross it. Leo ended up first, with a Freightliner cattle truck and full trailer combination. He said he was not going very fast – but he did not want to remain on the bridge a long time, either.

When he had the truck on the bridge, it made noises Leo found upsetting, so he gave the truck full throttle. About the time the drive axles of the truck pulled off the bridge, it started to collapse. The loaded cattle trailer was the “possum-belly” type, and Leo had enough momentum built up to drag the trailer out of the creek bed where the bridge had been by sliding it on its belly until the rear axle jumped up onto the road. He stopped and the across-the-creek conference ended with Leo going on, the other trucks and ranchers figuring out another way to cross the creek. Leo said he waited at the rendezvous site for some four hours before the other trucks joined him. I do not remember if they found another bridge or a place to fjord the creek.

One place we hauled hay into required a water crossing because a bridge had failed. These experiences caused us to stop and closely examine the bridge crossing Mary’s Creek on the way to Rowland, Nevada. It was posted for ten ton and was long enough that we would have the trailer starting on the bridge before the truck was off. Thankfully, it never failed us.

While stopped to inspect the bridge, we found the remains of a cabin on a high spot near the creek. I always wondered who built it and how long it was used. Every house built has a story, and I pondered the story that went with this one.

One place we hauled to south of Mountain City, Nevada had the most interesting house, and still had the family that built it living there. The couple (try as I might, I cannot remember their name) were in their late seventies. Their children were off being doctors and lawyers and such, and visited on holidays.

When age took its toll, this house, too, would stand unoccupied. It was a sturdy old house with rock walls running up some four feet high before the wooden walls took over. The house had electricity, but it was obvious it had been added many years after the house had been built. Still in use was the springhouse where a natural cold spring ran year ‘round to keep milk, meat and produce nice and cold, as was a fruit cellar, where the preserved produce of the garden was stored.

This was a homestead that stood the test of many winter storms. If the storm snowed the place in for weeks at a time, it did not matter, since all that was needed for life was right there, preserved, stored and accessible. This was a lifestyle that most of the current generation should take some hard lessons from. For most of us, if the power goes off for two hours we start to have difficulties “surviving.”

On the way to Leslie Gulch, one of the approaches to Lake Owyhee in Owyhee County, Oregon, we used to pass an abandoned house. It was off the road on a flat spot, with several large trees around it. I wondered, again, who built it, who lived in it, and what the history of the family was.

After my dad moved from Mink Creek, Idaho in 1952, the house we lived in there stood unoccupied for many years. It was a small, simple house with two rooms downstairs, the kitchen/dining room, and the living room. Upstairs were two bedrooms. The coal stove in the kitchen and the oil furnace in the living room was the heat for the house. There was running water in the kitchen, and the bathroom was twenty yards away out the back door. Saturday night baths happened in a galvanized bathtub on the kitchen floor.

As I passed by in later years to visit relatives still in the area, I watched as first the barn and then the other outbuildings collapsed under the annual snows and were eventually removed. We stopped a couple of times and walked through the field that surrounded the old house and explored it. We could feel it rock a bit as we explored.

Then we started hearing that it was gone. It had been moved. One of the current locals had moved it “up Birch Creek” and made a cabin out of it. One of my cousins had pictures, and a couple of years later, I made it back in the area and found the house. I never found the owners, but I got some good pictures. They had placed it on a good foundation and added about a six-foot- wide covered deck and porch that surrounded the whole house. The supports for this strengthened the structure of the old house to withstand the occasional four to six feet of snow that comes to the area.

By the way, the bathroom is still twenty yards away.  PD


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