The Hopyard Hobo - Part 4 (Written by my late father)
In Part 1 of my father's short journal he told about the depression and his experiences in California. Part 2 told of a satisfying 5 weeks living off the fat of the land on a self sufficient farm in Southern Oregon. In Part 3, he was befriended by a Hop grower and hired , and then offered a job in the hop fields. Part 4 begins with their arrival in Portland, Oregon. Keep in mind that Prohibition had just been repealed.
After listening to Mr. Putnam and Mr. Wiseman talk breweries, beer, and hops for 275 miles I had become fascinated with hop growing, I thought how lucky I was to fall in with my new employer, for it looked as if I had a job for the spring and summer. It as also a chance to gain some valuable experience.
The next morning Mr. Putman again gave me a dollar for my breakfast and dinner and told me to do as I pleased until noon. At that time he would go to Independence, near his home. I don't suppose he knew or guessed how far a bubble chaser could stretch a dollar during the depression. Anyway, he put a lot of faith in a perfect stranger. I wasn't broke. I had enough money to last me a lifetime, provided I didn't live too long.
Mr. Putman didn't wait until afternoon to be on his way. At 10:30 a.m. he found me loafing in the lobby of the hotel. I, a hitch-hiker and drifter, must have looked out of place at ease in a good hotel.
He said, "Go to the garage and get the car. Drive around to the hotel and we will be on our way."
Hops were going up fast and he had to get out and contract with the growers as much of the 1933 crop as possible. Leaving the hotel we travelled west from Portland to Forest Grove, then south to Dallas, then east to U.S. Highway 99.
We stopped at several hop yards, but most of the growers had either already contracted them or were holding out for higher prices. Mr. Putman contracted one crop at 20 cents per pound. The price had been only 12 to 15 cents before the beer bill passed. It went to 75 cents during the month of May. The return of beer was a life saver for the hop growers.
We followed Highway 99 to Mr. Putnam's home. It was located on the Luckimute River six miles south of Independence, which is located on the banks of the Willamette River. Independence is a sort of center for the hop grower and hop worker. The community round about the city is known as one of the greatest hop producing centers in the world.
Mr. Putman had already told me that he was a family man. His wife and four children lived on his farm while he spent most of the time traveling. Two of his children, the oldest boy and the girl, were college students. The two younger ones were still in the grade schools. I had already formed a good opinion of Mr. Putnam and had taken quite a liking to him. So, I hoped also to become a friend of the family. At his home I met his wife and the younger daughter and son. His wife was a typical friendly farm woman. The daughter was a comely red-headed girl of thirteen. The boy, red-headed and freckle faced, was two or three years younger. I met the elder two later.
Soon after we arrived at the farm, Putman and I drove around the hop yard, which consists of seventy acres of Luckimute bottom land. We met his Russian foreman, John Karideff by name, and he seemed to be a likable fellow. About meal time we climbed into the car again and were off to Portland, 76 miles away.
Mr. Putman had me drive for him again the next day. He visited many hop growers, trying to buy their 1933 crop which was yet to be grown. He decided to put me to work in his hop yard so we went back to his home. When we returned I met his two older children, a girl of twenty and a boy of twenty-one. I also met three laborers, Fritz, Clarence and Micky Launer. Fritz was a caterpillar driver, commonly known as a cat skinner. The other two were common laborers, the same as I was to be, at twenty cents an hour. We had to pay seventy-five cents a day for board and lodging.
It was on April the twenty-eighth that I was initiated into my first work in a hop yard. The crew consisted of two teamsters, the foreman, two young Russian women who were sisters of the foreman, the Launers boys, and myself. Our first work was planting nursery hops, a backbreaking job done mostly by hand labor. I found later that hop yards require an enormous amount of such labor and was not as enthusiastic about it as I had been before.
I fell victim to a lot of rough kidding from the whole crew. The girls stepped rough shod on me the same as the men. They called me the "Shofer" and inquired how it felt to be demoted from driving a V-8 to planting baby hops. The hop yard develops a slang of its own the same as any other enterprise.
Well, apparently I made good with the crew. They soon stopped joking me so rough and began calling me Happy-Go-Lucky Al, which stayed with me all season. All of them were friendly and the two comely Russian girls gazed at me with smouldering black eyes which seemed to say, "Here's another victim for us." The older one was about twenty-three and the younger seventeen or eighteen.