The Hopyard Hobo - Part 5 (Written by my late father)
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 chauffer 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. So, on to a part 5, where he describes a Hop Yard in the 1930's with boring detail. Unless, of course, you want to know how to grow hops for your own micro-brewery.
A brief description will give one an idea of the appearance and operation of a hop yard.
Hops are perennial plants which grow a new vine every season. The leaves are shaped something like grape leaves. The growth is rapid and luxurious. The vines and stems are covered with a rough, hairy growth. This helps them to cling to the strings and trellis work. It also helps them to scratch unmercifully. The hops are checked or squared in hills about seven and half or eight feet apart. In every third or fourth row heavy poles, twelve or sixteen feet high, were set in with Double-Q wire fastened to them at their tops. The wire is stretched tightly and the poles are anchored securely. These are known as line wires. In the opposite direction, heavy “string” wires are placed over every row of hops and fastened with removable hooks to every line wire. The string wires are also securely anchored to posts and the ground at each end. This trelliswork is maintained permanently.
At every hill a wooden peg is driven, to which is tied one end of a cotton or a composition cord. The other end is tied to the string wire above. The growing hops climb these cords to the trellis above. While they are growing they have to be cultivated, “grubbed”, treated for disease, and have their crowns pruned. Then follows training, re-training, turning down, stripping, and spraying. There is plenty to do and most of it is hard labor.
Came the middle of May. Baby hops were all planted, about 110,000 of them. The crew had been greatly enlarged for the training of the young vines which were sprouting from the old bearing crowns. This was a tedious kind of work at which the women seemed to excel. In fact, women do most of the work except cultivation with teams and tractors. In training, one squats to his toes or kneels down on the ground. The choice of position varies with the worker. The trainers cut or pull out all but four good vines in every hill. The vines are then twisted around the twine which has been attached to the wooden peg and the trellis wire above. A peculiar thing about hops is that they twist counter-clockwise around the twine, instead of clockwise, as most beans and other climbing vines do,
Most hope yard crews consist mainly of young men and women, although every age is represented from adolescent to grandma and grandpa. Consequently, romance was always with us, either mildly flirtatious or deeply serious. The love-making was rough and ready, open and above board, with no such prudery as I had seen in my own Middle Western State. But morals were as good or better than existed in my native community. Young people in a hop yard seem to have a frank and mutual understanding of one another.
June rolled around. I must have liked my job for the time hurried along with unbelievable speed. First and second training was over. The young and vigorous vines were ten to fourteen feet long and were above the string wires, ready for turning down. This job was done from a training sled about eight feet high, drawn by one horse. The worker took the ends of the vines and twisted them around the strins (sic) wires, causing them to grow horizontally, instead of the natural vertical way. Only five or six worked at this job. The rest picked off diseased plants called snake heads and downy mildew.
Spraying was also started at this time. Putman’s son came home from college and took command as general foreman. I was put on the spraying crew as a nozzle man and was also made responsible for the engine and pumps. This gave me a raise in pay.