The Slow Moving Vehicle Sign
This story takes us back up in the hills, (The Turtle Mountains’ of North Dakota) winter time, cold, wind blowing, freezing cold, snow, bone chilling cold.A typical North Dakota winter!Doesn’t this make all you folks who moved away home sick?We accepted the winters without question when we were young; in fact most of us looked forward to them, and found a way to enjoy them, and I think most of us thought at the time that this is normal, and that the rest of the world was pretty much in the same shape.Then we grew up, listened to relatives and friends, studied a little Geography and well you know the rest of the story.I remember going to Phoenix one winter and was telling this fellow, “the day I left North Dakota that it was 20 degrees below zero, and that was without the wind chill”.All He said was damn, “that’s colder then it is, inside my freezer”.I said, “Awe that’s nothing”.
This is a hay of a story taking place in the dead of winter; it begins with my Uncle Gus getting ready to go get a load of hay with a hayrack mounted on a sleigh with a team of horses.If anyone remembers and I suppose most do, that are still kicking, and that lived in the same area as Uncle Gus, that in order to escape the traffic on old Highway #43 he would go get that load of hay when all traffic had ceased, and that was after midnight, after the bars had closed and when he was fairly positive that everyone else was home and that there would be no cars on the road.He didn’t want anyone or anything scaring his horses.
Uncle Gus would start by getting ready about midnight.He would have to dress to stay warm because at night in the dead of winter in the hills of North Dakota, it is damn cold.Everything, is like it is frozen in time.It is still and strangely quiet.The moon light reflecting off the snow makes it almost daylight.Everything is in black and white.The only sound is the horses all harnessed up and hooked to the sleigh, blowing steam from their nostrils’, pawing at the ground with their huge hoofs, anxious to get started, because they knew what they were going to do, and wanted to get it over with.They knew because they had to make this trip at least once, sometimes twice a week all winter long.
Uncle Gus came out of the house all bundled up in a huge bundle of clothing.All you could see was his eyes under the bill of his cap.Yes, you had to dress warm, under layer upon layer of clothing.He would begin by getting preparing from his feet on up.He would sit down and take off his shoes beside the old wood burning cast iron heater that was located in the center of the room.It was burning so hot that it was giving off a orange glow.He rolled down the top of his cotton socks.Remember those white socks with the little blue streaks in them.He would then pull down the legs of his long johns* (union suit) from under his two pair of bib overalls and blue long-sleeved cotton shirt that he already had on.He would neatly fold the ankle cuffs of them long underwear around his ankles and then pull up his socks, over the folded underwear cuffs to hold them firmly in place.Slip a pair of long wool socks over the cotton socks that he would pull up to just below his knee.Then he would get up and go into the back room and come back out with this square shoe box.From the box he would take out a pair of knee high lace up felt boots that looked like they were new.The leather parts were as shinney as they could be.You could tell that Uncle Gus was very proud to have and to be able to wear a pair of boots like these.He treated them like they were special and commented that these boots were what kept his feet from freezing.He said, you couldn’t allow them to get wet, as he carefully laced them up.He pulled his 4 buckle rubber overshoes on over top of the felt boots.He then folded the legs of his bib overalls and tucked them inside the rubber overshoes before buckling them up.He then put on a wool lined sheepskin jacket, over his shirt and bib overalls.That he buttoned up from his waist up to his chin.Over the jacket he put on a floor length overcoat that was thick and looked like it weighed a ton.He buttoned the overcoat from top to bottom and then pulled the belt tight around his midsection, and buckled it securely. The last thing he did before going out the door was say goodbye and put on his wool lined cap, with ear laps that folded down from the top over his ears and his cheeks that he tied together securely under his chin.He slipped huge leather mittens with wool liners over his hands as he shut the door behind him.Gus always said gloves are no good in cold weather, but were better than nothing.Gus said the four fingers together in one mitten kept each other warm and if the thumb got cold, you could sneak the thumb over with the fingers, and they would all keep each other warm.You can’t do that with gloves.
Uncle Gus with a slam of the door was out to his team of horses that were waiting patiently for him.He had harnessed the team and had pulled the sleigh up into the yard in front of the house earlier in the evening, before getting dressed for the trip to the hayfield.Uncle Gus had explained that he would harness the horses and hook up the sleigh prior to putting on all his heavy winter clothing because you have to be able to move and sometimes move quickly and you have to do a lot of bending and stretching in order to get the horses properly harnessed.All the clothing would make it more difficult to move and would require a lot more of his energy.
Uncle Gus walked around the horses and checked the harnesses.Checking every connection and strap to make sure every strap was tightly buckled and every connection was secure. He talked to the horses as he moved about them to let them know who he was and to comfort them.The horses patiently waited as Gus rechecked the harness connections that were made to the sleigh with the hay rack.The last thing Uncle Gus checked was to make sure his hay fork and scoop shovel were secure on the floor of the hay rack as it would be a wasted trip to get to hayfield where he was heading, and not be able to get to the hay or not be able to load the hay into the rack.Uncle Gus had been doing this most all his life and he knew any mistakes or equipment malfunctions, when it was this cold, and in the middle of the night would be miserable and could be life threatening.
Uncle Gus crawled onto sleigh.The clothes made it difficult to move but once inside the hayrack he got to his feet, moved to the front of the rack, and untied the reins from the A frame. The A frame is a couple of poles mounted at the center, front of the rack and also at the rear of the rack, and are about twice as high from the floor, as the rest of the rack.They are called a, A-frame because they form the shape of an A.Sometimes these two standards don’t touch at the top and then they look more like an H.I think they still called the structure an A-frame though.Go figure!Anyway, Gus untied the reins and gave them a tug, to make sure they were free and not hung up somewhere.He then shouted Giddy-up and popped the reins so that they snapped the rear ends of the horses.They came alive with a jerk, and they were off, out of the yard, heading west, down highway #43, with two horses for head lights and three or four dogs following behind, for tail lights.The horses wanted to trot, but Uncle Gus kept them at a walk as he didn’t want them to get hot and start sweating in these cold temperatures.Uncle Gus turned his back to the cold breeze into his face, caused by their forward movement.The horses knew the road and where they were going.They had made this trip many times over the years.The only sound being heard was the muffled clip-clop of the horse’s feet in the snow on the road and the squeak of the sleigh runners as they cut through the fluffy snow to the frozen packed snow that covered the surface of the road.It seems that the colder it is, the louder the squeal made by the steel runners as they pass over the frozen snow beneath them.It makes you wander is it the steel runners protesting or the snow complaining, because it is being disturbed and packed into a solid mass below the runners?
Uncle Gus arrived at the hay field which is two miles west from his farm and so you know where it is located, it is northwest of the Highway #3 & #281 and highway #43 intersection, where you turn west to go to Lake Metigoshe, two miles south of International Peace Gardens, that sits on the U.S. and Canadian border, or about a mile north of the Kelvin Klinic, (Bar & Store).Yes, in the dead of winter it is a cold lonely place, with only the stars and moon as your friends.Gus navigated his team around the rolling hills and patches of trees in the hayfield in order to miss the areas where the snow had accumulated in banks.Gus did not want to shovel unless he had to and the horses seemed to know instinctively where the points of least resistance were as they made their way to the stack.At the hay stack Gus pulls the team of horses to a halt, climbs down from the rack with his scoop shovel in hand.Some snow had accumulated on the downwind side of the haystack where Gus wants to load from.Gus makes short work of removing this snow by removing the snow from beneath the accumulation and it falls down the side of the stack to the ground.Gus then shovels a path along the stack wide enough for the sleigh and rack.He leads the team of horses ahead to position the rack next to the stack.Gus climbs into the rack and removes his big overcoat and hangs it on the A frame located at the front and center of the rack.He then grabs his hay fork and starts digging into the stack and placing the hay in the rack and standing on it, he able to move from the rack to the stack, simply by stepping from the edge of the rack into the hole he created in the stack. Eventually by walking onto the hay he has placed into the rack, he gets into the stack and finishes loading by standing in the hole in the stack.He completes loading the rack from this position.Occasionally getting into the rack to pack the hay and distribute it to the corners of the rack.The load is finished off with a nice rounded top.Gus grabs his scoop shovel that he hung on the side of the rack and his fork and places them in a secure location on top the load of hay.He moves to the front of the rack just behind the A frame.He makes himself a nice little nest in the hay, puts on his overcoat, sits down in the nest he made for himself unties the reins from the A frame in the front of the rack,gives the reins a tug and then pops them on the horses rumps and shouts giddy-up.The horses leaped forward, anxious to get back to the farm.The sleigh moves easily on the trail that was made coming into the field.Uncle Gus is comfortable and warm in his snugly little nest in the hay.When he is safely out of the hayfield and back on #43 and headed east, he knows he is going to take a little nap.The horses with the dogs following behind will take him the rest of the way home.They have done this hundreds of times.
Uncle Gus all snuggled up in the hay and had just closed his eyes. The horses were moving along at a fast walk pulling the load of hay on the sleigh through the shimmering moon lit snow.The dogs were following behind at a trot.All of a sudden there arose such a clatter. Uncle Gus awoke to see what the hell was the matter, as he went flying from his cozy little nest, into the hay piled high in the center of the rack.Gus struggled to get his bearings and finally looked over the pile of hay.He first saw a red glow and it wasn’t Rudolph or any of his reindeer buddies.It was the glow of brake lights.Some damn fool out driving in the middle of the night had run smack dab into the back of the hayrack with his automobile, and was sitting was still sitting in his car braking hard.Gus’s next thought was about the horses, and he basically rolled off the hay, and over the side of the rack and let himself fall to the ground as he knew he had to get to that team before they figured out what happened and decided to start running.He didn’t need a runaway team.He grabbed their bridles and started talking to the horses to calm them down and to let them know that he was still in control.The horses had been knocked to their bellies.Rather than horses, for a little while they looked more like seals pulling that load of hay down the road.The horses had found their way back up on their feet and Gus got them calmed down and the reins secured to the rack.Uncle Gus then went to check things out in the back of the rack and with the car.The front of the car was pretty messed up.The driver was still sitting in his car, his foot still on the brake, and the brake lights shining brightly into the early morning sky. The dogs were gone.Uncle Gus opened the door and asked the driver if he was alright.The man just complained that he did not see the rack soon enough.He hit the brakes as soon as he could but the car would not stop and slide right into back of the rack, knocking out both headlights and wrinkling the hood.The man complained that there were no tail lights or reflectors on the rack. Apparently the dogs following behind were running with their tails down.Maybe, because of that cold northwest breeze that was blowing up their backside.Anyway the fellow and Uncle Gus decided to go on their way and that the fellow would contact the Highway Patrol in the morning.The fellow decided he could get home with just the park lights and without headlights.Uncle Gus said could see good and couldn’t understand why that fellow couldn’t.
The next day the Highway Patrolman arrived at Uncle Gus’s place to check out the hayrack.Gus explained to the officer that he could easily fix what was broken on the hayrack.The Officer explained that, that was not the problem.That the problem was that my Uncle was operating equipment on the roadway at night without lights.Uncle Gus explained why he hauls at night and that he has been doing this for years and had never had an accident before, and that he could see just fine.The Officer explained that if you operate equipment at night on public roadways that you must have headlights and tail lights and that the driving public expects to see lights.Gus argued that he could see just fine without lights, and had never had a problem before.The Highway Patrolman finally compromised with Uncle Gus saying that at a minimum he wanted him to install a slow moving vehicle sign on the back of the rack.That way he would be protecting himself and anyone approaching from the rear ought to be able to see that reflective sign and know that they are to slow down.Uncle Gus said he would pull over to side of the road if he saw someone coming from the front.
Uncle Gus got a sign and fastened it to the back of the hayrack.He said he wandered at the same time that if that fellow couldn’t see a hayrack with a full load of hay, how he was going to see this little, itty bitty sign.Another thought that passed through his head was that he should of asked that Patrolman, if he would have required him to put headlight on them horses; where was he suppose to stick the batteries?On second thought, he thought, that would not have been a good question to ask.That Patrolman might have told him exactly where to stick them batteries.Uncle Gus knew that if had to stick them there, that, that would get awfully uncomfortable for them horses.He loved his horses to much to do anything like the to them.He was satisfied with installing the orange reflective triangular shaped,“slowmoving vehicle sign”on the back of the rack.
*Long Johns (union suit) were common back in the day. They were one piece long underwear that covered the body from the neck down to the ankles and out to the wrists.They had a button front from neck to your waste with a flap covered opening in the front and back.A button was installed on the back to hold the back flap closed.I guess this solved the problem of showing someone a full moon when bending over.Now I was told by a fellow that this button did cause some irritation when sitting and that the ladies of the house soon discovered this and used it to the benefit of the family.If the husband started spending a little too much time at the kitchen table in the morning drinking coffee, and not going out to get his work done, then out would come the karo syrup can and the husband would find another button on the back of his long johns.Every household, back in the day, had a karo syrup tin filled with buttons.Before any article of clothing was thrown away, every part that could be reused, such as buttons was salvaged, and saved.The buttons were but into an emptied out karo syrup tin.No Tupperware back in them days to burp.Everything was saved and used over and over again until it was pretty much useless.Remember back in the day whenever the folks bought something at the grocery store it was usually wrapped in paper and then tied shut with a string (no plastic bags).Well guess what, everyone saved the paper, and the string.The paper was folded nicely and put into the bottom of the cupboard, and the string was added to the ball in the knife and fork drawer.Well when that karo syrup tin would be broughtout with all those buttons, it was time for some fun.While the girls were sorting through them and arranging them by color and size, we boys were looking for large overcoat type buttons. The larger the better.We would take that large button usually around an 1-1/4” in diameter, run a length of string (about 2 ft. long) through two of the four holes in the center of the button, and tie the ends of the string together.We would then hang the loops at the ends of the string over our thumbs.We would then move our hands in a circular motion to cause the button to twirl around and around until the string was all twisted up from your thumbs to the button on each side, which was located near the center.We would then pull the strings looped over our thumbs, by moving our arms apart.This caused the button to spin one way then; we would relax, moving our arms together and the button would rewind the string and then we would spread our arms again, stretching the string, causing the button to spin the other way.You could keep this going, until the string would fray and break.Mom would say to keep that whirring, spinning, contraption away from the girl’s hair.I often wondered if that was invitation or what?
Anyway, back to the long John story.Some of the husbands eventually ended up with a pretty impressive row of buttons on their back flap.The wives found that more work was getting done faster. They said some of their husbands were so anxious to get out of the house in the mornings, and to work that they would drink their coffee standing at the kitchen door.Maybe, that is why, my three Hackman uncles never married. What do you think?Maybe some of you that are still in contact with the older generation and will ask them if they remember this practice or maybe they were an active participant.
Let us know what you find out.
Remember to laugh today,