It's been several years since I've had the opportunity to go back-to-back days working for my brothers on their farms.
This is mostly because my brothers, five of whom all dairy, have really good help and secondly, I tend to keep really busy with the newspaper and chasing my three kids around.
That changed this past weekend when I was called to double duty - one day hauling bales, the next day stacking them.
It started inconspicuously on Friday after work. I drove past my dad's farm with my youngest son, 2-year-old Jasper. I knew my dad and brothers were combining and round baling, and Jasper loves to see equipment, especially tractors and combines at work.
In my passing, my brother, Chuck, saw me drive by on the road. He called me and said if I have nothing to do he needs somebody to haul round bales of wheat straw from the field up to the yard. I immediately said yes. Getting paid to drive tractor on a 75-degree afternoon was easy money as far as I'm concerned.
I just had to negotiate what to do with Jasper, who was with me. He found room in the combine with his uncle, Jim.
I settled into the seat of the cab-less JD 3020 for two hours of fun. My nephew, Jarrett, and brother, Ron, took turns loading wagons. I just had to chase them around the field as we filled up the flatbed hay racks.
Being part of a team that works together to bring in the harvest was and still is very rewarding for me. Being able to do that with family is even better.
My role on Saturday wasn't near as glamorous.
I was sent to the haymow to stack in the 80-plus degree barn for three hours. I went from trolling around the field with a nice breeze in my face and abundance of fresh air, to dust, heat and 60-pound bales.
Two of Chuck's teenage hired hands who usually stack were busy during that time frame; one was competing in the local demolition derby at the county fair and the other had an amateur baseball game scheduled.
I used to stack in the barn by myself, but that was 15 years ago. Fortunately, for me I had help this time around.
The first load came in around 1:30 p.m. and I trekked up to the haymow with a neighbor who helped me with one load before my nephew, Brandon, came to help.
As I expected, stacking in the barn really hadn't changed in the past 15 years. There was no new technology to be used or handbook to read before we started. It simply came down to strength, endurance and stacking the barn layer by layer of bales and a good peripheral vision so I didn't get knocked over the head grabbing a bale before another fell off the ejector.
When I got done with the first load, I remember being all lathered up, being a little exhausted and thinking my time had passed with this nonsense. The bales weren't getting any lighter and I certainly was getting any younger.
But somehow, things got better as the load numbers increased. When Brandon started helping he would pull every other bale off the conveyor and I fielded mine off the ejector, which meant no back-to-back bales.
By the third load, it actually became routine. Stack for about 15 minutes, have a drink of water, and then get back after it. The higher the load count went, as five, six and seven rolled in, the easier it became. Part of that had to do with our proximity to the ejector. As the stack became higher, we became closer to the ejector so that during the last two loads I was close enough to the ejector I could pull them off myself. A horseshoe haymow also made it so I didn't have to carry the bales nearly as far.
By the time 4 p.m. rolled around, I had to leave, and I remember telling myself that it wasn't so bad. But, I was glad I didn't have to do it all over again tomorrow. Maybe this is what Toby Keith meant when he sang in his great hit, "I'm not as good as I once was, but I am as good once as I ever was."
Later that day, the only casualty was that I developed three blisters on my right hand and had plenty of dust in my eyes.
But, I didn't think that was too bad for back-to-back baling.