Old Trucks & Old Friends

I found a great old truck four years ago, in McAllister, Montana. It sat with 8 to 10 other old cars and trucks on my friend, Tiny’s, ranch. I dropped by to see him back then and spied this pretty cherry ’59 Chevy Apache sitting in his parking lot.  I checked it out, it had a lot of modifications on it… new after-market gauges, new interior, a different 283 V-8, 3 on the floor with overdrive. My kind of truck. I told Tiny I needed that truck, that he didn’t need it and should sell it to me. He just smiled at me and quietly said, “no.”

Perhaps a little background here. Tiny and I went to high school together at Ennis High. He and I were part of a six-man pack who played cards together, drank beer together, double and triple-dated together, played high school basketball and football together… we were buddies. To this day he still says “Hey bud…” I love it when old friends remember and acknowledge. And especially Tiny, who is a “no BS” kind of guy.

A year ahead of me in school, he was faster than a speeding bullet in basketball, and tough as a square nail in football. He was not afraid of anyone, or anything, and even the tough boys around the county left him alone. A typical conversation in the school halls between classes would go, “Hey, buddy-buddy, how they hangin’?”
“One behind the other, for speed…”
Or – “Want to go to Norris tonight after dinner and get some beer?”
“Yeah. Let me tell Hayden and Erdie. Oh, and the Sprouts.”
Or – “Want to double to the movie Friday night? Psycho’s playing…”
“You got it. I’ll pick up Riley and meet you there at seven.”

After high school Tiny went to an auto body school. Now he has a shop on his ranch, does auto body repair, paint jobs and rebuilds ’55-’57 Chevys. On his ranch he runs sheep and grows, harvests and sells sixty acres of alfalfa every summer. And that’s actually what this is all about.

I’ve seen Tiny a dozen times in the last three years, and each time I’d give him a hard time about the ’59 truck. Finally, last week, he called me out of the blue and said he’s ready to sell it to me. We hammered out an equitable deal for both of us, and yesterday I drove over there to see if we could get it started so I could drive it home.

Tiny was having some irrigation problems on his back 60 acres, so I jumped in to help. For two hours we rode his two 4-wheelers back and forth between the pump at the feeder pond and the huge pivot which waters his crops. He would start the pump, then ride up to the pivot to make sure it was pumping out the dirty water… he was starting it up for the first time this year… and there were problems. He’d get the dirty water out, then back down to turn off the pump, 1900 feet away (more on that later) then back up to the pivot to cap it and check all the sprayers.

After he got the water-part of the system working right, we tried to fire up the electric motor, which runs the whole rig slowly around in a circle while it waters the crop. It’s a 60-acre field, and takes the pivot 52 hours to make the 360-degree trip. It leaves an inch of water on the ground on that entire field. When it makes 5 or 6 cycles, the alfalfa is ready to mow.

The motor fired up, and hydraulic fluid flew everywhere. He shut it down and found a hole in a hose. We worked for another two hours out there, trying to wrench those fittings at both ends of the broken hose loose… no go. So we broke for a late lunch, then put a battery in the ’59 to start ‘er up… again, no go. The starter, or the solenoid, was frozen and would not turn the engine over. So we drove into Ennis and ordered a new starter & solenoid for the ’59.
From Tiny’s ranch, looking East                              From Tiny’s ranch, looking South

Over lunch Tiny told me that he usually gets one cutting per summer, that he makes a bit on it, and that it’s a pain in the ass and a lot of work… I saw some of it yesterday. He was happy this year… the late snows, the frequent recent rains and cool weather have saved him paying the power company 22 days of electricity to run the water pump and the pivot at $80 per day. Figures he just saved $1760 in watering expenses this year. He said the pivot  is 1900 feet from his water supply and pump.

The electric pump pumps one foot of water per second through a six-inch pipe. It takes about a half hour to fill the system and get it watering at full bore. Once it starts, it runs continuously all summer, without stopping, until the harvest. He said the pond pump has had to be overhauled only once in 15 years. He explained that the holding pond is only a backup, that the pump is grabbing water from an irrigation ditch. If the ditch were to dry up or even get low for some reason, the holding pond would begin draining into the pump, so as to not burn the pump motor up.

As I write this, Tiny’s pivot has been circling slowly, flawlessly, for two weeks, and his field is ready to harvest. He says it’ll take him two days to cut it, two days to bale it and several days to haul it and stack it. A week’s work, hot, long days. And he does it all himself. This picture of his mower… no air conditioning, just a little fan inside the cab. Tiny thinks he might get a second cutting this year. At the end, another full week of cutting, baling, hauling and stacking,  And that’s a good summer for my good friend, Tiny.


Steve Hulse

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