1951 photo sparks memories
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 4:29 AM
There may be a few old timers who remember the event pictured here - a sturdy crew working at a pea viner in a field near Spring Valley. This was taken in 1951 at the DuMez viner located one mile northeast of town. Standing from left are Clark Engler, Bill Hamre, Don Van Pruien, Vince Paul, Don Oss, Joe Hamre; kneeling: Larry Moon. Last week's column told the story of Reid Murdoch's successful mule farming, a very scientific and productive venture that gave sustenance to countless families where men, women and young people could work for the company.
DuMez pea viner crew about 1951. PHOTO AND IDS FROM JOE HAMRE
A 1948 graduate of Spring Valley High School, Don Oss began working for Reid Murdoch when he was only 14 years old. One was supposed to be 15, and he indeed hit 15 later that fall. He shared many of the stories that follow. In the photo we see the pea viner itself with a ramp that fed the pea vines into the viner. Through an efficient process, the peas were shucked and rolled into metal boxes which were hauled by truck to the Rochester cannery. The pea vine waste was then carried by another conveyor out the other side where it was "stacked" by experts who carefully built the stack in large squares. One can see the tall ladder where men climbed up and down the stack. It took about a week for the stacks to gain their very pungent odor, and the stacks were fed to imported cattle throughout the winter.
There were at least five viners in the area: farms of Dodd, Pattridge, Watson, Wilson and DuMez. Some of the names that come to mind: Max Reiland's crew of Dick Patten, Don Oss, Al Dotzenrod, Charlie Miller. Other supervisors included Windy Ramaker, Irv Swenson, Earl Miller, Speck Kellogg, Edward Seabright, with George Maxon as the big boss. Ken Moon was the office manager. In the spring, Ken Moon also kept track of water damaged areas in the corn fields, which were deducted from the total corn-planted acreage to determine outcomes. In later years, Moon continued his work as "weather man," reporting to the area weather bureau, and his rain gauge was located on Warren Avenue, as I recall. (Still is!)
During harvesting, the peas were cut by mowers, raked into windrows, and loaded on wagons pulled by mules using a hay loader, then pulled to the viners. That was on wet days. On dry days, trucks could carry the pea vines to the viners. The peas were dumped on the ground and one of the hardest jobs for the young men was "pitching peas" onto the conveyor seen here. The guys were paid 60 cents an hour, but at the end of the summer one year, word came they had received a raise of five cents an hour, retroactive to early in the summer - a nice bonus. While studying at Luther College after graduation, Oss did office work under Ken Moon. The new company, Libby, decided to use the "incentive plan" (fewer workers, harder work?) and Oss calculated incentive pay. How did the company determine this? They hired engineers to do time and motion studies, calculating time adjustments.
Other science-based activities? One regarding corn - the Bug Crews. Their work consisted of checking for corn borers by counting egg masses on the bottom of the leaves. If there were so many per hills of corn, it was time to do spraying of 5 percent DDT. The bosses alerted the Aerial Blight Control Company in West Bend, Wis., who used Stearman planes with ex-Navy pilots. Spraying was done early AM or late PM when the wind was the least. The crews did "flagging" for the airmen, working into the wind every 13 rows, so spray would not get on them. Some planes used spray, some used dust. Other guys on the bug crew? Charlie Reps (Spring Valley coach who worked for Libby in the summer), Ron Kellogg, with supervisor Lawrence "Nick" McNeir.
Other ways to determine corn borers? Lights were set up to trap the corn borer moths which helped keep track of infestations. On the pea crops, the crew sometimes checked the aphid population by swinging nets over the peas so many times, counting the aphids. Another method - checking five areas of a field for borers or aphids. They also checked the "corn stands," counting two, three, four or five stalks per hill, then could average out to determine what the crop would yield. Types of peas? "Early June" and then "Cascades" later June. Corn was labeled "Victory Golden" and "Golden Glory." Corn picking crews may have included Harlan Marchant, Bob Finneseth, Roger Carson. They picked corn by hand, threw it into wagons with "bang boards" pulled by mules who knew what they were doing. Pickers were paid $3 a ton, but picked early AM when the corn was wet with dew and weighed more! Harlan tells me he worked at the Pattridge viner in 1946-47. You can ask him about details.
There must be umpteen stories regarding the Reid Murdoch/Libby era - from mule farming to tractor and "modern" harvesters. You may call me with more stories and we do thank you.
Postscript: We indeed had a call from Jerry Simon who worked for the company in question. He told about the "end of the era" when it came to the business being headquartered in Spring Valley. He reported that from Reid Murdoch, the company was purchased by Libby; then sold to Seneca Foods in 1980, which it still is today. The operation was closed here in 1983, and the seed house on Pleasant Avenue sold to Dave Horsman. The shop across the street, on the east side of Pleasant, was sold to R.E.A. Jerry also stated the company still contracts with farmers in the area to raise corn and peas, and of course we recognize that distinct Ear of Corn water tower at the canning factory as we head into downtown Rochester. We are guessing it was built about 1932, and still doing its efficient thing.