Back in the spring of about, I think 1966, we were feeding cattle. By we, I mean my Dad was feeding cattle and I was helping when I could. It was a wet spring. Very wet. The snow had melted, the frost went out, and the cattle were up to their bellies in mud. The mud was even deep outside of the feedlot. We always piled a long line of small square bales along the North fenceline. We piled it there in the fall and would use that hay for a wind break, in the winter, and of course we would throw hay to cattle from that pile all winter. By spring of that year the hay was gone, and we had to pull a hayrack full of bales, to deliver hay to the cattle. We would do this every few days until it got too muddy, even on the outside of the pen, away from the cattle.
The mud on the cattle side of the fence was much deeper but it had the consistency of watery oatmeal. The problem on the outside was that the mud was trying to dry up and thus it became like thick peanut butter and the tractors couldn't handle that.
To get hay to the cattle we came up with the idea of loading a Johnson wagon (our name for the rectangular, square sided wagon that bore the name of the Johnson Company on the side) full of hay, and to pull it with the biggest tractor we had at that time, the John Deere 4020. We would drive thru the mud on the inside of the pen, and throw the hay over the fence to the outside, where the cattle could reach it, thru the wooden fence disigned for that purpose.
My Dad drove the tractor in the pen although the mud was over the top of the front tires of the tractor. The rear end of the tractor plus the wagon tongue were both under the mud.
I call this mud but the truth is it was a mixture of hay, mud, hay that had already been run thru the steers, and water. It was kind of, well, alive. It bubbled. On it's own.
As Dad drove along, I threw the top bales off of the wagon and then got to the ones that were crammed down in the box. I had a bale hook and began trying to pull a bale out of the middle. Kind of like taking a brownie out of the middle of the pan first. I knew that if I could possibly get one of the bales to budge, the rest would come out easily. On my fifth attempt at pulling on the bale, it broke free, almost like it was pushed up by someone underneath. I had the hook caught in the bale in my right hand, my left hand was holding the twine, and the bale hit me in the chest and over the side of the wagon I went. The bale held tightly to my chest. I expected to have the ground rise up and pound my back, like a good pulling guard would in a football game. I remember this event almost like it was in slow motion. I was prepared to have the wind knocked out of me. But I did not feel the landing. It was even softer landing than in water.
I lay in the mud, only my toes, and my face were above, well,...manure. I had a bale on top of me and a circle of about 8 curious, hereford cross steers, reaching with their tongues, to get taste of the bale without coming in contact with whatever that was underneath it.
I had survived the fall and then thought, somehow I need to let my Dad know that I'm alright. I knew that having a Son fall from eight feet up, and then land, on his back, in a mixture that was deep enough to drown him, would have him worried sick.
I pushed the bale off of me, waved the cattle away, and could finally see my Dad. Not his face. I could only see his body. It was shaking violently. I thought the excitement was too much for the old guy. He had his head buried in his left arm, which was resting on the fender. He raised his head to look down at me. Well to look down at my face, everything else was still submerged, and then I could see that he had become quite emotional over this accident. He was laughing. Not politely trying to conceal it. This was the kind of laugh that comes out of you that can't be controlled or stopped. I struggled to my feet, thanked him for his concern. And headed to the house. He said wait a minute. I hesitated and waited for the apology. He said, "well you might as well finish, you're probably not going to get any muddier".
In the years between then and when Dad passed away, he never could get that story out. He would look at me, say "you tell it", bury his head and start laughing.