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Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Hopyard Hobo - the final chapter

Written by my late father (1900-1977)

Part 1 of my father's short journal told about the depression and his experiences in California. Part 2 narrated a satisfying 5 weeks living off the fat of the land on a self sufficient farm in Southern Oregon. Befriended by a Hop grower in Part 3, he was hired as a chauffeur and then offered a job in the hop fields. Dad described his first impression of life on in a Hop Yard in Part 4. His high hopes of continuing the easy chauffeur type duties were doused by a hard dose of manual labor. The teasing by his fellow crew members and the young Russian beauties are not mentioned again. I think this says much about his discretion; Dad didn't kiss and tell. Part 5 describes a Hop Yard in the 1930's with detail - just in case you wonder where your beer has its earthy beginnings. Dad became the nozzle man on the spraying crew and a raise in pay. Nora, the bosses daughter, eloped in Part 6. He didn't suggest it in any way, but I wondered if Nora was trying to force my dad to declare for her by asking him to help her. In any event, he vowed never to interfere in a love affair again.
(My brother told me recently that "Putnam" was not really their name - Dad apparently believed he should not reveal identities. I think I met a very old "Mr. Putman" once when I was a child.)
Part 7 disclosed the inner workings of a hop harvest- the people and the field mechanics. Here is the final chapter. I wish that he would have continued
to journal the rest of his life.


The field to be picked was marked into sections, sixty rows in each, with two or three pickers to the row. There was a weight boss, a check boss, and a helper for every two or three sections. A wire man lowered and raised the vines, and finally a vine cutter removed the picked vines from the wires. There were also sack bucks and haulers who took the hops away to the kilns to e dried and baled for shipping all over the world.



Putnam's son, Winston, was field foreman. He needed a field boss who was to walk over the yard and see that the pickers gathered only good hops and that they did not put more than nine percent leaves and vines in their baskets. I got a surprise when he gave this job to me. It was the first time I had ever seen hops picked. I had never bossed women and children, Later on it became embarrassing, especially when some pretty young woman tried to flirt with me. The yard was well supplied with all types of beauty. There were college girls from Corvallis, country girls from Eugene and Albany, and city girls from Salem and Portland.

My nickname of Happy-Go-Lucky Al seemed to suit them and I was soon known to everybody.

Fritz Launer, a vine cutter, and I became infatuated with a couple of nice blond college girls. We took them to shows and dances and enjoyed their company. But, it was only a passing fancy with me. I never missed the girl when hop picking was over.

The early hops lasted only four days with this army of pickers. When we started picking the late field, Winston let over 200 of the hands go. Many of the remaining ones quit later, so that the crew was not nearly so large when the season ended.

There seemed to be trouble brewing one morning. Winston seemed to think the field boss has been chiseling, so he fired him. This boss was a young Russian, a brother to the one who had been boss all during the training and cultivating season. All of the Russian men and women quit out of sympathy for the discharged boss, Leo. Winston stepped lively until all of the vacancies were filled. I was made check boss and held this job until the season was over.

September the fifteenth came and the last of the hops were picked. There had been delay on account of rain. This, however, was the usual occurrence in Western Oregon. The pickers drew their money and were on their way. Some went back to school, some went to Idaho and Washington for potato picking, some went home, while others started they know not where. They probably fell in a soup line before the winter was over.

I had to get mixed up with romance again. Young Putman had asked me to be a witness and also best man at his wedding. His was a hop yard romance. The girl he was to marry worked in the yard all season. He is a lucky boy, for she is a splendid girl. She was literally a darling, her maiden name being Vesta Mae Darling.

When picking was over I got a chance to learn how to bale dry hops. When dry, the hops have an aromatic, spicy, tangy odor. After inhaling this invigorating odor and wrestling with two hundred pound bales all day, one needs no coaxing to eat a hearty meal or a lullaby to put one to sleep.

When the baling was done we cleaned the camp ground and put it in order. This included burning the trash and stacking the tables and benches where high water would not sweep them away. Everything seemed deserted and forlorn. The yard was barren and brown. The wind sighed lonesomely through the fir trees and even the purling water of the Luckimute had a mournful sound.

It was October the second when I bade the Putnam family goodbye.

I had found Mr. Putman to be A-1 in every way, and one of the most versatile men I have ever known. He was a farmer, a salesman, a carpenter, an architect, a musician, an artist, and a poet. He was a man worth sticking to; but I wanted to go drifting. Perhaps I shall come back and find romance next season. Quien sabe.

23 comments:

Peter said...

Hi Pamela, like all the previous episodes that was interesting and well written, as you said, a pity he didn't keep a journal at other times.

Junebug said...

Very interesting, I will come back and read the other posts.

Robinella said...

ooo, this looks great. I haven't read any of the previous stuff. Kids are hanging on me now, so I'll have to come back later so I can properly savor it!

Heather said...

I love these stories.
And how special that your father took the time to write them and you're taking the time to preserve them for future generations.

~JJ! said...

What a history lesson!

Karmyn R said...

country girls from Eugene and Albany Does that make me a country Gal?

Beckie said...

I was thinking about this "series" the other day and wondering when we were going to hear more.

I love these - I am sorry this is the last one.

Debs said...

I love the stories too. Sad this is the last one, but so happy you shared them with us. :D

Willowtree said...

Too bad it's over. I loved the prose.

M@ said...

Pam,

Maybe someday Buttercup will write your history.

Susie said...

I'm sorry to have this story end. You are so fortunate to have had your Dad write this town. Truly a wonderful part of your family's history.
xo

Kila said...

Oh, I want to know what he did next! Sounds like quite a summer. I enjoyed reading this, thanks.

Connie said...

This is wonderful. I have often thought of doing that for my father. Just great.

Take care,
Cooni

Jeanette said...

Hi Pamela. What a lovely post. great reading. thank you for sharing.

Kathleen Marie said...

You really need to make this into a book! What a great read! Keep it up!

BarnGoddess said...

Thank you for sharing your Father's stories. I am sad this is the end :(

Do you know where he went that October after he left the Putmans?

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Amanda said...

I love my family history lessons. Quien sabe. G'pa knew spanish? I wish he'd kept a journal of hiw whole life.. makes me wish I'd kept a journal too. I suppose it's never too late to start.

Tammy said...

Pamela...I just now read the entire story- all 8 chapters in one setting!
Your dad was a great story teller...how wonderful that he journaled through this time in his life!

My 8 yr old daughter and I were just studying about the Great Depression just a bit, through one of the American Girl characters. And my own mom lived it as a child.

But how fascinating to hear first-hand about this time in your dad's life...when I imagine so many had to adapt to a drifter's lifestyle to survive!

Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

judypatooote said...

What a treasure you have....I read all the chapters this morning...for I haven't been blogging for a while...It sure would have been nice to have his whole life story.....he was a good writer....doesn't it give you a funny feeling to look into his life...he was a man, not just a dad....I know after mom died I found a love letter that my dad wrote to mom.....it gave me chills..for we know them as our dads, and to find a little bit of their life is a real treasure... thanks for sharing that with us Pamela......judy

Gattina said...

Unfortunately with my limited time I couldn't read everything. Have a lot of reading to do upon my return !

We are still in teenager age although we have the same age except Chantal who is a little younger. We had a nice Egyptian musical yesterday evening.

Shelby said...

Fantastic treasures indeed :)

Claudia said...

ooh, and he left us hanging too with a perhaps...