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May/June 2013 – The Smash Club

The Smash Club

How to work hard without destroying hard

In terms of production, the greatest haying crew we ever assembled was in 2011. Six strong young men were at the core of the group, augmented by the same number of other young men who came and went. The core group included Danny, who could carry two bales at a time and still carry on an easy conversation about books; James, a steady-paced kind of guy who chucked bales for hours without ever waning; Mike, a strapping one-time semi-pro soccer player who could lob bales with the ease of a NBA guard knocking in 3 –pointers; and Claudio, a vivacious, irrepressible Italian traveler who liked to build impossibly huge loads on the trucks and kept everyone laughing.

To see this group at work, as I did often that summer from the vantage of the tractor seat, was something to behold. Arriving in a field as some sort of farm SWAT team, the hay crew could load, transport, and restack in our barns, hundreds of bales an hour. Two balers working full out had a hard time keeping up. Whole fields of hay bales vanished, as if by magic. At any time on a sunny afternoon, young men were swarming the fields; bales were flying onto the trucks. It was mad, fun, infectious, wonderful.

However, in terms of damage to our equipment, 2011 was also a record. In the course of bringing in hay, or doing other farm work that summer, both sides of an F250 were crunched, the rear window of a Dodge Dakota was smashed, the door of a little Ford Ranger was buckled and the guard on a hay rake was bent. Tractors went in ditches, trucks were high-centered on rocks, back-up mirrors were torn from doors.

In fact, there were so many dings and prongs that a unique group was established—the Smash Club. Membership required an accident.

Nearly everyone was a member.

Yes, some of this damage was inevitably part of farming, but much was a result of the energy and pace of work. It is hard to set a blazing pace loading hay bales in 25C+ temperatures then remember to pull in the truck mirrors when backing into a narrow barn.

A couple of “come on guys” talks with the crew didn’t do much good and I understand why. What is the power of a few sensible words from a middle-aged guy in the face of the adrenalin-juiced energy of hard work—especially when that energy is run through the multiplier effect of young guys working together?

I might as well have asked a river in spring freshet to slow down.

Steps taken after that summer to reduce damage to trucks and equipment included: purchase of a flat deck truck (less fender to ding) to haul hay, exercising more discretion about who drives what, and where (no more under-age drivers in the hay fields—or at least the fields with ditches).

At the same time, I have changed my attitude too. I have come to accept that some energy-fueled recklessness is simply part of the cost of making hay, just like twine, or lubricant.