Hay squeezes load trucks in minutes

Marty Martinez can load 392 bales onto a flatbed trailer in 10 minutes, and has done it in as little as 31/2 minutes.

Bob Lay says he once loaded five flatbeds with 136 big square bales in 371/2 minutes.

Like most custom bale loaders in the West, Martinez and Lay are proud of the speed at which they do their work. Both operate bale squeezes - vehicles built for loading and unloading bales.

A squeeze, also called a road runner, can pick up a bale wagon load of bales at a time - 56 small ones or four one-ton bales. A skilled operator can quickly load a truck, then drive the squeeze 60 mph down the highway to the next job.

For Martinez, loading bales for hire is a small part of a diversified hay operation headquartered at Hanford in California's central valley. But Lay, of Christmas Valley, OR, stacks and loads bales for a living - and he's busy almost year-round.

Martinez started hauling hay 25 years ago at age 12. Today he does custom hay stacking, loading, hauling and storage, plus he harvests several thousand acres of hay to sell. "We do everything that has anything to do with hay," he says.

He owns three squeezes, including a new one that cost $124,000. He and his employees custom load and haul about 2,000 truckloads a year. Custom loading-only accounts for another 500 loads annually. Most of his customers are dairies, which typically own hay ground or buy standing hay, but don't own any harvesting or hauling equipment.

"They call me because I've been doing it longer than anyone else in the valley," says Martinez.

In Oregon, Lay has just one squeeze - a homemade unit made from a 1968-model semi tractor. He paid $54,000 for it several years ago, and has since replaced most of the components. "It might look like heck, but it does the job extremely well," says Lay.

He loads up to 1,000 loads a year, mostly for out-of-state dairy producers who buy hay from local growers. He travels up to 50 miles to load trucks, and is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"It's like owning a milk cow; I have to be here all the time," he says.

In summer, he works up to 15 hours a day, and wintertime work often is done in cold, snowy weather. But he wouldn't trade bale loading for any other profession.

"I love doing it," he says. "It's in my blood and I can't get it out." N Custom bale loading is common in the West, especially in central and Southern California, Arizona, Washington and Oregon.

That's according to Ed Majors of Sunny "D" Mfg. Inc., Klamath Falls, OR. He says 60-70% of new bale squeezes are bought by custom loaders.

Majors' company and two others sell a total of 50-60 new squeezes per year. They also sell a bigger number of forklifts with squeeze attachments, and squeeze assembly kits for forklifts.

New squeezes are priced between roughly $85,000 and $125,000, depending on the manufacturer, options and other factors. Many are equipped with Accuload scales. Weighing each squeeze load permits the operator to load each truck almost to capacity without going over the weight limit, says Accuload's Bob Bushong.

The squeeze manufacturers are: Sunny "D" Mfg. Inc. (541-884-2361); Roadrunner, Inc., Manteca, CA (209-823-5261); and Calaveras Manufacturing, Oakdale, CA (209-847-8044).