I must remind you of this. My columns are really not about me. They are about the many wonderful, colorful characters that I have come across during my walk through life. This has never been more applicable than my experience working for and with the Coaches’ Hay Crew. Sit back, take a load off and let me explain. I bet you know a lot of these folks.
Ever since I threw that first bale of hay onto the wagon at Prentis Walker’s farm, I was hooked. There was just something about hauling hay that fascinated me. I actually loved everything about it. I went on to help a few other farmers as I went through high school such as Furman and Rex Cook and then cousin Craig Perry. It wasn’t until after I began teaching at Trigg County however that my hay hauling career really took off. I immediately became close friends with all the TCHS coaches. Then before you knew it, we had formed what was known as the Coaches Hay Crew. Other coaches across the Commonwealth were running swimming pools, baseball complexes, teaching summer school and the like. Meanwhile, day after day our crew was loading into a pick-up and heading to a farm somewhere in or around Trigg County.
Oh what a crew we had. I hope I don’t leave someone out. Our Coaches’ Hay Crew consisted of regulars Dixie Jones, Neal Cummins, Matt Ladd, George Radford, Ralph Stevens, Glenn Ringstaff, Larry Shemwell, and myself. There were part timers and guests such as Robert Stinson, Jamus Redd, Ricky McGee, Scotty Williams, Bruce Perkins, David Blackburn, Gary Mitchell and even ole Todd King.
Dixie bestowed the title of straw boss upon me. That meant that I would take the calls form the farmers and line up the jobs. Then I would also have to call the crew and line up the workers. Lastly, I would get the pay and divvy up the money. None of the guys minded the work. They just didn’t want to deal with the phone calls. So that is how I became sort of the leader of the Coaches’ Hay Crew. I received the appointment from the Hay King himself, Dixie Jones.
Speaking of our crew. I have to say that in my humble opinion we had one of the best hay crews to ever haul in the state of Kentucky. As a matter of fact we eventually donned shirts that on the front read COACHES’ HAY CREW across the top with a bale of hay underneath and the words KENTUCKY’S BEST under the bale. The back of the shirts featured the words REAL MEN SQUARE BALE.
What made our crew stand out was simple. The ages of the crew were usually between 25 and 50. Therefore you had some maturity on the crew. We were dependable. If we told you we would be there, we would. We would also stay until the job was done.....no matter what. We pretty much knew what we were doing as most of the crew grew up working on farms. A farmer might tell us the following, “Guys, there are around 1,500 bales over on the Hopson Place. The tractor and wagons are there. Just load it and put it in the red horse barn.” They could then go on to planting their beans, working in their tobacco or whatever. They didn’t have to worry about us. I have seen guys on our crew such as Gary Mitchell fix a farmer’s baler. Likewise it was very little trouble for Dixie Jones to repair an elevator that was sending the hay to the loft. There was one thing that none of us did well however. That was to back a four wheel wagon loaded with hay. Not that we didn’t try. Farmers just have a sixth sense that allows them to do that so well.
Speaking of farmers. Man on man did we meet some of the finest and most interesting people ever though working on our hay crew. They were all a little bit different. Please allow me to expound on a few.
I would have to start with Harold Mize. We were regular employees of Harold’s. Harold had a farm off of Robert Green road just a couple of miles from town. Each year Mr. Harold would give us a raise of a nickel a bale. We never requested it. He just insisted on it. He would also tell us that he expected us to get the same pay from everyone else that we helped. There was a shed attached to the side of the barn where we put Mr. Harold’s hay. No matter how sweltering hot the day was, there was always a cool breeze blowing through that shed which was open on both ends. Harold would always have some cold water, soft drinks and candy bars in the fridge in that shed. We usually would have a driver at Harold’s also. That driver would be one of Harold’s sons, either Denny or Jimmy Mize. I will never forget the day that I booked us three jobs. Harold’s was the third in line. We finished putting the last bale in his barn at around 3:00 am. Mr. Harold just took it all in stride. You know, we started at around 15 cents a bale for him and went all the way up to around 45 cents a bale before he passed. I guess if he was still alive today and we were still hauling we would be up to a dollar a bale knowing Harold. I visited Harold in a Nashville hospital shortly before he passed away. He bestowed one of the greatest honors upon me that I ever received. He asked me to be a pall bearer in his funeral. I still miss him to this day.
Cousin William Mize
No, William wasn’t my cousin, he was Harold’s cousin. Mr. William hired us regularly as well. The thing that amazed me about William is that even though he was rather up there in age when we began working for him, he was as spry as a spring chicken. Even when he got up in his 80’s he would hop up and down from his tractor and handle a few bales. Mr. William tells me every time I see him that the best load of hay he has ever seen was the time I stacked 167 bales on a short wagon and we took it from his farm just off highway 68 here in town all the way to his son Bill’s farm off Bethel Church Road. We didn’t even tie it down with a rope. The tractor driver for that load was the late Rudy Rudd. If I had a nickel for every bale of hay that Mr. William has baled in is life I would make Donald Trump look poor.
Bill and Cindy Mize
I guess we had a monopoly on the Mize family’s hay. Our crew spent many a day at the end of Bethel Church Road on Bill and Cindy’s farm. You see, Cindy had to have the hay for her champion show horses. Bill and Cindy always treated us well. Cindy was famous to us for her bottomless pitcher of lemonade. It seemed like she had a secret recipe. She said it was just that we were thirsty.
Next week we will head to Cerulean and the Davis brothers farms. We spent a great deal of time with Sonny and Jackie so you know there was a lot of wisdom attained there. We might even head down the South Road to the David Kyler farm for a memory or two. See you next week.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the former head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.