CHAPTER 10

Oregon Work Days

As we started out of town after spending the morning at the Twin Falls library, a car pulled up beside us. "What will you give me for a 150 mile ride to Boise?" the driver asked.   
"Our most hearty thanks and a pair of shoestrings," came my courteous reply. Evidently expecting more, he drove off alone. But fortune was good to us; we had received a good ride and by supper-time were eating at the roadside west of Mountain Home. Win had taken the wheel of the Winton in which we had ridden during the afternoon. The rich sheep rancher, our host, preferred to have his mind free to talk about scenes back in Michigan. It seemed almost unbelievable to us, but he had once lived in Howell, our hometown.   
No sooner was supper over than a car slackened speed. A voice which sounded familiar shouted out, "How the devil did you get here?" along with an invitation to ride to Boise. It was the man who had requested pay for such a ride earlier in the afternoon.   
The Idaho capital was the occasion for a day's layover, to see the sights of an interesting city and to do some extensive writing. This latter task required hunting up a stationer's shop and renting a typewriter. We used the machine for the entire afternoon; the rental price had been set at a dollar. When settling-up time came, the store owner refused the fee. Already he had supplied us with paper, carbon, envelopes and stamps. That did not seem to be enough so he whispered to the office boy who was dispatched on an errand, soon to return with a couple of delicious Idaho cantaloupes.   
"Just a sample of our melons," said our benefactor as he handed them to us. It was more. It was a sample of real kindness.   
We don't know why people treated us as nicely as they did throughout all of our journeyings. We do know we were thankful and tried to express our thanks in actions as well as in words. Being nearly always independent, with blankets for sleeping, equipment for cooking, and money with which to pay our way, we tried never to impose on folks and were usually more reluctant than eager in making ourselves the recipients of acts of hospitality. The only exception was in the matter of rides, on which our major travel depended. Even here, we tried never to force ourselves upon folks. If we seemed to be inconveniencing those who picked us up it was not long before some excuse made it possible for us to leave. Throughout the entire trip, in no matter what state, North, South, East or West, people treated us with a kindness which will make us the debtors of humanity forever.
It was just as well that the typewriter rental was "on the house. " After buying groceries next morning, there was just thirty cents left in our pockets. It seemed advisable to transfer some of our shoestring stock into running capital—or walking capital—and in a couple of hours sufficient money was procured to fill our needs.
Since my episode with the Dakota judge we relied on shoestring sales only in emergencies. Regular work was more to our liking, so we began canvassing the labor market. At dusk, having just crossed the Snake River into Oregon, our 14th state, a job opened up weeding and thinning lettuce. I was expert. My first job in Howell was hoeing lettuce at ten cents an hour.
Our six days with the John Crewse family on their Payette Valley lettuce ranch provided us not only with work, but with nearly a week of hearty meals and a free Sunday for relaxation. The pay was $2.50 a day each, plus all those wonderful meals. A bedroom in the Crewse home came with the job, but we preferred the top of a haystack outside. It provided a better view of the night sky.
We had never thought of lettuce being grown on a "ranch" but this was a big industry here. Eastern Oregon lettuce matured just at a time when all available markets—far and near—wanted it most. Grown in well-irrigated fields, the yield per acre was bountiful. Toe) bountiful, in fact, it seemed to us. Our job was not only to hoe out the weeds but also to hoe out much of the lettuce itself, so the remaining crop would head properly. What a shame to dig up all those tender young lettuce plants. But that was what we were getting paid to do; John Crewse knew more about this business than we did.
Our field work was just a small part of what we experienced with the Crewse family. Every afternoon one of the sons would bring a melon for us to eat. One day it would be a watermelon, the next day a cantaloupe. Those "melon breaks" were lifesavers, especially on the day when the thermometer reached 113 degrees. That evening, Mrs. Crewse added a huge strawberry shortcake to the supper menu. Her dessert made us feel so good we went out and helped split wood for an hour before retiring to our haystack.
Sunday was the climax of this lettuce work. Win helped with the milking at 5:30 A. M. , and I helped with barnyard chores. Then the Crewses extended an invitation to join them for services at their Brethren Church over in Payette, across the Snake River, back in Idaho.
Next came a huge chicken dinner. The afternoon was divided between playing horseshoes and eating watermelons, all with various members of the family. In the evening, back to Payette, Idaho for evening services at the Brethren Church. Then a snack around the kitchen table back "home." It was after 10:00 P.M. when we "hit the hay. "
After six days, with a neat little sum in wages tucked away, our journey continued across northeastern Oregon. At the first opportunity we sent most of the lettuce money home, preferring, as usual, to travel with little and take chances on earning more along the way.
It was with Ed Pickier that we again searched for labor. In his old Oakland car Ed came upon us in a semi-desert stretch outside of Huntington, Oregon. He was returning to Portland from an 8,000 mile trip through Nevada and the southern deserts where he'd been prospecting for mine locations. There were funds awaiting him in Portland but now he was nearly broke. There was no money for gas. Our cash, too, was almost depleted. So all three of us became job hunters.
Efforts to attach ourselves to construction gangs on the roads were fruitless; nor were we successful in getting work in the hayfields. We stopped at every town, inquiring for work. Jobs were not to be had and our money was low.
At Baker Ed drove into a tourist camp, only to discover that they charged fifty cents. So he backed out again and drove to the side of a country road for the night, to return to the city next morning. While Win and I disposed of some laces to meet breakfast needs, Ed Pickier pawned some surveying instruments and we continued on toward Portland, looking for work in every town.
At North Powder, Oregon, reports had it that construction laborers were being hired for work on a government dam.
"Sure, and you can be getting work on the dam. But it's ninety miles from here," said the old Irishman to whom we put our queries. "But you'll be doing better to just go over to the railroad ice houses. They're needing some men there this very day. And you'll be drawing better pay."
The ice houses were owned by the Pacific Fruit Express. Their refrigerator cars were packed here as they went through on the Union Pacific lines.
When we three travelers walked up to the front entrance a man dressed in overalls greeted us with the pleasant remark, "What can I do for you?"
He proved to be Mr. White, the boss. Ed Pickier spoke for the
three of us. "We hear you need some help. We'd like to get jobs."
"You're hired," announced White. Never had a job request been filled so fast.
When we began to look around for a place to camp Mr. White anticipated our need. "Now, boys," he said. "I think we can find a place for you down in the big barn here. There's hay to sleep on, and lots of wood for fuel."
Our camping grounds were soon located. Few people would have suspected travelers of our type of being without an ax, for Ed had a car full of equipment. But the boss found out the fact before we even realized the necessity for such a tool. It was immediately supplied. He was ready every minute to do something for us.
Our new work place consisted principally of an ice house, with a capacity of 15,000 tons. We had two occupations: icing the refrigerator hatches of the fruit trains, and loading boxcars with ice to be shipped to other stations. This latter work formed our principal occupation during the eleven-hour working day; most of the fruit cars came through in the night.
Win and a fellow called "Big Red" pushed the ice blocks onto an inclined elevator belt which took the huge cakes to a platform where I transferred them to a moving endless chain on a long raised platform paralleling the tracks. Ed worked in the house, "slushing"—shoveling out the small pieces of ice and slush as they accumulated.
Until I became used to my job and brought a new set of muscles into play, the work was intensely hard. Three hundred tons a day (over half a million pounds) were loaded to be shipped, and I was the only one of the force who handled every piece. Grappling with the huge blocks, shoving each cake from the inclined elevator chain to the other endless chain, trying to keep up with the machinery, and sometimes failing to do so—which meant a jam-up and a pyramiding of the heavy cakes—I was so tired the first day I could not even adjust my muscles to the task of cutting bread for the evening meal. As I grew used to the work, however, it settled into steady, muscle-building, and rewarding labor.
At 1:00 A.M. that first night the watchman stuck his head in the door of the barn where we were sleeping on piles of hay. "All out, boys," he yelled. "There's a fruit train waiting here." Hustling into our shoes and socks—still wet from our day shift—we stumbled out into the darkness to perform the duties of our first night call. There, alongside the platform, sixteen Pacific Fruit Express cars were drawn up. In spite of the sleep which they cost us, how we grew to love those bright yellow cars, the rolling stock of the Pacific Fruit Express. Every night except two we were called out, sometimes for three hours at a stretch. Several times we worked sixteen hours out of the twenty-four.
During the evenings there was time to talk with our campmate, Ed Pickier. Beginning as a mucker in a mine at fourteen, taking a college course in mining engineering, and rounding out his geological and mining training by practical work as a prospector and consulting engineer, Ed was an expert in his line. His whole life was characterized by a bit of advice which he gave us. "Boys," he cautioned, "if you don't want to be prospectors all your lives, never start in the game. I started and the lure of it never let me go."
As a campmate he was unexcelled. An educated man of thirty-five, genial and used to roughing it, an expert camp cook, with a vast store of experiences to relate, he made an ideal companion.
There was only an hour for dinner at noon. At this time nearly every day, Win made a trip to North Powder for supplies while, under Ed's direction, he and I prepared the meal. In that hour we would build the fire; pare and boil a kettle of potatoes; fry, scramble, poach, or boil eggs; and prepare the rest of a complete meal, with variety every day. We would eat, clean the dishes and put our things away and still have fifteen minutes to rest before the afternoon's work.
Ed could start a fire in less than a minute, he could pare potatoes with as much ease and speed as an ordinary person peels a banana. He could take a few simple foods and create everlasting varieties of delectable dishes. Because our supplies were somewhat hard to procure and carry from town, a half mile away, and because the boss had eggs to sell, we used a great many of these. In our ten days in camp the three of us consumed twelve dozen. Each day we had eggs prepared in a different manner. They would go to make up dishes we had never heard of before, but which were delightful and tasty. Ed was a master cook as well as a mining engineer.
Quite often the boss would drop into our "camp" to bring us eggs, or just to visit, so we got to know him well.
On night calls he was there with the rest of us, working as hard as any. He had risen to his present position through the channels of hard work and knew the men's situation better than they themselves. The company's bookkeeping did not permit paying wages before pay day. But one only needed to look as if he wanted money and the boss would reach into his own pocket and remark, "Do you night call. There, alongside the platform, sixteen Pacific Fruit Express cars were drawn up. In spite of the sleep which they cost us, how we grew to love those bright yellow cars, the rolling stock of the Pacific Fruit Express. Every night except two we were called out, sometimes for three hours at a stretch. Several times we worked sixteen hours out of the twenty-four.
During the evenings there was time to talk with our campmate, Ed Pickier. Beginning as a mucker in a mine at fourteen, taking a college course in mining engineering, and rounding out his geological and mining training by practical work as a prospector and consulting engineer, Ed was an expert in his line. His whole life was characterized by a bit of advice which he gave us. "Boys," he cautioned, "if you don't want to be prospectors all your lives, never start in the game. I started and the lure of it never let me go."
As a campmate he was unexcelled. An educated man of thirty-five, genial and used to roughing it, an expert camp cook, with a vast store of experiences to relate, he made an ideal companion.
There was only an hour for dinner at noon. At this time nearly every day, Win made a trip to North Powder for supplies while, under Ed's direction, he and I prepared the meal. In that hour we would build the fire; pare and boil a kettle of potatoes; fry, scramble, poach, or boil eggs; and prepare the rest of a complete meal, with variety every day. We would eat, clean the dishes and put our things away and still have fifteen minutes to rest before the afternoon's work.
Ed could start a fire in less than a minute, he could pare potatoes with as much ease and speed as an ordinary person peels a banana. He could take a few simple foods and create everlasting varieties of delectable dishes. Because our supplies were somewhat hard to procure and carry from town, a half mile away, and because the boss had eggs to sell, we used a great many of these. In our ten days in camp the three of us consumed twelve dozen. Each day we had eggs prepared in a different manner. They would go to make up dishes we had never heard of before, but which were delightful and tasty. Ed was a master cook as well as a mining engineer.
Quite often the boss would drop into our "camp" to bring us eggs, or just to visit, so we got to know him well.
On night calls he was there with the rest of us, working as hard as any. He had risen to his present position through the channels of hard work and knew the men's situation better than they themselves. The company's bookkeeping did not permit paying wages before pay day. But one only needed to look as if he wanted money and the boss would reach into his own pocket and remark, "Do you night call. There, alongside the platform, sixteen Pacific Fruit Express cars were drawn up. In spite of the sleep which they cost us, how we grew to love those bright yellow cars, the rolling stock of the Pacific Fruit Express. Every night except two we were called out, sometimes for three hours at a stretch. Several times we worked sixteen hours out of the twenty-four.
During the evenings there was time to talk with our campmate, Ed Pickier. Beginning as a mucker in a mine at fourteen, taking a college course in mining engineering, and rounding out his geological and mining training by practical work as a prospector and consulting engineer, Ed was an expert in his line. His whole life was characterized by a bit of advice which he gave us. "Boys," he cautioned, "if you don't want to be prospectors all your lives, never start in the game. I started and the lure of it never let me go."
As a campmate he was unexcelled. An educated man of thirty-five, genial and used to roughing it, an expert camp cook, with a vast store of experiences to relate, he made an ideal companion.
There was only an hour for dinner at noon. At this time nearly every day, Win made a trip to North Powder for supplies while, under Ed's direction, he and I prepared the meal. In that hour we would build the fire; pare and boil a kettle of potatoes; fry, scramble, poach, or boil eggs; and prepare the rest of a complete meal, with variety every day. We would eat, clean the dishes and put our things away and still have fifteen minutes to rest before the afternoon's work.
Ed could start a fire in less than a minute, he could pare potatoes with as much ease and speed as an ordinary person peels a banana. He could take a few simple foods and create everlasting varieties of delectable dishes. Because our supplies were somewhat hard to procure and carry from town, a half mile away, and because the boss had eggs to sell, we used a great many of these. In our ten days in camp the three of us consumed twelve dozen. Each day we had eggs prepared in a different manner. They would go to make up dishes we had never heard of before, but which were delightful and tasty. Ed was a master cook as well as a mining engineer.
Quite often the boss would drop into our "camp" to bring us eggs, or just to visit, so we got to know him well.
On night calls he was there with the rest of us, working as hard as any. He had risen to his present position through the channels of hard work and knew the men's situation better than they themselves. The company's bookkeeping did not permit paying wages before pay day. But one only needed to look as if he wanted money and the boss would reach into his own pocket and remark, "Do you night call. There, alongside the platform, sixteen Pacific Fruit Express cars were drawn up. In spite of the sleep which they cost us, how we grew to love those bright yellow cars, the rolling stock of the Pacific Fruit Express. Every night except two we were called out, sometimes for three hours at a stretch. Several times we worked sixteen hours out of the twenty-four.
During the evenings there was time to talk with our campmate, Ed Pickier. Beginning as a mucker in a mine at fourteen, taking a college course in mining engineering, and rounding out his geological and mining training by practical work as a prospector and consulting engineer, Ed was an expert in his line. His whole life was characterized by a bit of advice which he gave us. "Boys," he cautioned, "if you don't want to be prospectors all your lives, never start in the game. I started and the lure of it never let me go."
As a campmate he was unexcelled. An educated man of thirty-five, genial and used to roughing it, an expert camp cook, with a vast store of experiences to relate, he made an ideal companion.
There was only an hour for dinner at noon. At this time nearly every day, Win made a trip to North Powder for supplies while, under Ed's direction, he and I prepared the meal. In that hour we would build the fire; pare and boil a kettle of potatoes; fry, scramble, poach, or boil eggs; and prepare the rest of a complete meal, with variety every day. We would eat, clean the dishes and put our things away and still have fifteen minutes to rest before the afternoon's work.
Ed could start a fire in less than a minute, he could pare potatoes with as much ease and speed as an ordinary person peels a banana. He could take a few simple foods and create everlasting varieties of delectable dishes. Because our supplies were somewhat hard to procure and carry from town, a half mile away, and because the boss had eggs to sell, we used a great many of these. In our ten days in camp the three of us consumed twelve dozen. Each day we had eggs prepared in a different manner. They would go to make up dishes we had never heard of before, but which were delightful and tasty. Ed was a master cook as well as a mining engineer.
Quite often the boss would drop into our "camp" to bring us eggs, or just to visit, so we got to know him well.
On night calls he was there with the rest of us, working as hard as any. He had risen to his present position through the channels of hard work and knew the men's situation better than they themselves. The company's bookkeeping did not permit paying wages before pay day. But one only needed to look as if he wanted money and the boss would reach into his own pocket and remark, "Do you think five dollars will help you out?" In a dozen ways such as this he showed his interest in the workers.
Most of our icemates were young fellows—between twenty and twenty-five—who spent nearly all their spare time gambling. Two of them lost their week's wages in one night, and had to borrow money for food.
A strange, unusual, and absorbingly interesting individual was the night watchman. He took a liking to us and dropped in for a visit about 7:30 every night we were there.
His line of stories and yarns, with touches of autobiography, accomplished more in digesting our food than did the organs of our bodies. He had been a miner from childhood, and his plans for the future were to go out to the hills west of North Powder and search for wealth. "Every once in awhile," he said, "I have a dream. There is a place away up there in the mountains where I camped one night. There was a spring coming from the side of the rock.
"I looked there for signs of gold but found nothing. But now, nearly every month, at some time or other, in my dreams, I can see myself kneeling above that spring and finding gold. I'm not superstitious, but some day I'm going to investigate that place."
He had another tale which was particularly attractive. "Do you know," he said, "I believe there is vast wealth in those hills," and he waved his hand toward the low fringe of mountains which were veiling the setting sun. "There was once an old hermit who lived up there, and 'twas seldom he came out into civilization. But when he did venture out, it was at night, and he always came alone. One day when he came out he was sick and headed for a hospital. Hunting up one of his few friends he told his plans and added, `Should anything ever happen that I should find myself dying I will summon you and reveal to you the location of vast treasure.' The old man never recovered from the ether which was given him Lots of people have searched for that treasure. They have located a path leading back from his cabin to the bed of an old stream. But they can find nothing. Still, it must be there." Here the night watchman stopped, and with the look which typified him as a "prospector" he would gaze off toward those western hills. This tale which he told was verified by the boss.
Our nightly visitor told us other stories, too, which were also verified by the boss: about a "hobo" dog which made frequent trips as a bum from a point in Nevada to Salt Lake City, about a bluebird which had her nest on a steam locomotive and raised a brood of young while the engine was in daily use, and about a number of girl bums.
One evening after the night watchman's regular visit, we detailed to Ed our plans for the next few months, telling him our expectations of getting work in the fruit valleys of Washington and our hopes of landing a job in the lumber camps. He listened silently, then made what at the time seemed like a casual remark. "You might like to try mining," he said. "Winter's coming on. The temperature's always the same underground. The pay is good."
A casual remark by the Lee Brothers concerning shoelaces earlier in the trip had changed our life-styles and now these words of Ed Pickler were destined to do the same. Before the year was out they led us into one of the great experiences of our lives.
Ten days—hard yet wonderful days—went rapidly. The rush work at the ice house was over and we were ready to move on again. Winfield and I received $106.00 between us for our ten days of labor and that night went to the post office to send most of it home as usual.
The Pacific Fruit Express was a division of the Union Pacific system and the boss had railroad passes to Portland which he offered free. It was hard to turn down such a ride of several hundred miles by rail. But we did so. Our resolve not to ride on a train might not have stood in the way, but Ed was going to Portland by car over the famous Columbia River Highway, and wanted our company. We made ready for an early start.
Our sleep was interrupted as usual by the nightwatch's familiar shout, "All out, boys, there's a fruit train waiting." Joyously we mocked his call and rolled over to sleep again.
Departure was a lengthy affair and by the time we had eaten breakfast, cleaned up, and said good-bye to the boss, it was ten o'clock.