Every May, Ag History holds its best attended event, Day on the Farm, complete with demonstrations and hands-on activities from farm and ranch life in the past.
From the Agricultural History Project Archives, here are some local recollections of life on the farm.
John N. Lucich (1917 – 2004): During apple harvest my job after school was to pick up
windfalls at the rate of 1¢ per Bx which my father paid me. Sometimes before it
got too dark I might pick up 20 Bxs. Also as a teenager I made apple boxes. The rate
of pay was 50¢ per 100 Bxs. Each box required 28 nails. You had to stock your bench
with shook, fill your stripper with nails and bundle your Bxs 3 to a bundle. The experienced nailer could make 500 Bxs in 8 hours. I have pruned apple trees, thinned, sprayed, picked apples @ 4¢ per Bx. I at around age 10 would assist in the packing shed labeling Bxs for
shipment to England….As kids there was no time to play….1
Frank R. Oliver (deceased): Green Valley Growing-Up
In 1935 when I was 10 my folks bought their ranch on Green Valley Road. The bulk of
the top eight acres was an older pear orchard with boysenberries planted in between…
Pop proceeded to remove it all to raise row crops like tomatoes, sugar beets, strawberries
and the like….
With 1935 ingenuity, he or someone provided an old 1924 or 25 black sedan, anchored
it near the yellow house, took off one rear tire, strung the rear wheel with a 3 to
4 inch belt, which was attached to a 24 inch circular saw. The car was anchored in
position, put into gear, like second or third to propel the saw blade. The table was
butted up to the new saw, which when a log was placed could be pushed into the whirling
blade. I vividly recall a crew of three to four men spending about a month sawing wood
for the fireplace to use at our home. All this wood was hauled to the backyard, and
for the next three months every day after school I would neatly stack it in one tier sections
6 foot long 4 foot high and separated by small and large pieces. It also occupied my
Saturdays and boy did I look forward to Sundays….I was never so glad to see that old car
power plant leave the ranch.
The clearing [of] the land for row crops brought new chores. Pop wanted to raise tomatoes
for a cannery. So with the remainder of the backyard, I built what we called tomato
plant beds. They were about 6 feet wide and about 30 feet long. The plants for the big
field were raised from seed to individual plants for transplanting. The beds had to be
weeded, watered, covered from the sun and frost and subsequently harvested for
replanting in the ex-pear orchard.
Needless to say the work didn’t hurt me, and no doubt kept me healthy.2
Foster Hutchings (1912 – 1984): Foster’s Remembrances:
When he was about 5 yrs. old, he had to lead the work horses out of the barn to water,
and they would rare up and he would have to hand onto the rope (or they would get
away and he would be in trouble), and they would fling him around in the air when they
He went barefooted and in cold mornings, he would warm his feet in the spots where
the cows had bedded down.3
Lawrence Marshall (1890 – 1988):
When Lawrence Marshall took charge of running the family ranch on Mount Madonna
Road [in 1910], he was up before dawn to till the fields with a horse and plow. And
when the day was done, he returned to a home where cooking was done on a wood stove
and lighting was by kerosene lamp.
If Marshall wanted to travel the seven miles into Watsonville, it took two hours with a
team of horses….
‘There was no way of getting to high school. It was too far, and we didn’t have any bicycles,’ said Lawrence.
Lawrence’s eight sisters all managed to attend high school in Watsonville by boarding
with families in town during the week. The girls earned their keep by doing housework
for the families they stayed with….4
John Larkin (1918 – 2007):
…I was born and raised on a farm…[It] was a subsistence type farm where we had
about fourteen or fifteen good cows and we had a few brood sows and we did all
of our work with horses and we grew tomatoes and we grew young pigs. My father,
along with many of his trades, was a real good butcher also….[He] was a pretty good
blacksmith and he could repair shoes like you wouldn’t believe. And he used to be a
…I always like to say that we always had a little bit of money to spend because we
always grew our own stuff and we always had something to sell….There were ten kids….
We all miked cows and we all fed pigs and we all baled hay and stacked hay and did
everything else that a farm kid had to do. We worked in the orchard….It was Newtown
Pippins and White Winter Permains and Winter Banana apples….5
Burton Anderson (living):
…The ranch was 80 acres on Hunter Lane [off River Road outside Salinas] belonging to
my Swiss grandfather….One of my jobs, when I was old enough, was to clean the barn,
feed and water the horses, and finally to harness them for the day’s work….Like most
farm boys in the 1930s I joined the 4-H Club and raised lambs, pigs, squash, and
pumpkins. I also entered some of my Bartlett pears and pumpkins in the Monterey
County Fair and received 1st prize for several years. The highlight of our 4-H year
was the annual camp, sponsored by U.C. Agricultural Extension, at the dormitories at
Asilomar. It was great fun and we got to meet boys and girls from other parts of Monterey County.6
Floyd Silliman (1908 – 1979):
…[At] the old schoolhouse I recall how the teacher would let us out to view the
happenings of interest. A herd of cattle going by, a threshing outfit pulled by a big
iron-wheeled steam engine and followed by all the necessary wagons pulled by
horses, the six and eight-horse teams hauling sugar beets and, of course, the Gypsies
with all their dogs, kids and trading animals….
The cook house, bunk house and blacksmith shop were always good places for us kids.
The cooks, and we had all kinds from good ones to drunks, generally made hot apple
pie daily and, of course, hot biscuits….
The blacksmith shop was a good place for kids to visit. We would take turns pumping
the bellows that kept the forge going. There were many different smithies over the years…Generally they would help us kids with our projects. Just prior to planting
my father would bring in about fifty head of horses to be shod. Good and bad were
included in the bunch, but they all got homemade shoes nailed on—even though some
of them were lying on their backs all tied up….
Mom would invite town kids out at times….We would envy the Lindsey bunch because
they never wore shoes during summer, and they could run across clods and stubble. We
would generally go to the river where we had a good swimming hole. If the day was
foggy, we swam in a stagnant pool as it was warmer….7
Do these stories remind you of your own experiences, or of life as described to you by older family members, perhaps your parents or grandparents? We would like to hear the stories of your life in agriculture, and this blog will occasionally be updated with more memories.
Also, Ag History is proposing to create a permanent Living History Farm to provide ongoing experiences of past agricultural life. If you like this idea or you’d like to weigh in on this proposal, there’s still time to join a focus group at http://aghistoryproject.org/living-history-farm/. Or send your thoughts on this subject to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Excerpts from handwritten letter, John N. Lucich to Pat Johns of Agricultural History Project, 24 March 2004.
2 Excerpts from “Green Valley Growing-Up,” in Frank’s Stories, photocopy of undated typescript by Frank R. Oliver in Agricultural History Project collection.
3 Excerpts from “Foster’s Remembrances,” undated typescript by Ellen Hutchings, wife of Foster Hutchings. Foster Hutchings was the son of Moses Hutchings, first commercial lettuce grower in the Pajaro Valley.
4 Lane Wallace. “Marshalls celebrate a century…” Register Pajaronian, 18 June 1979, 11.
5 John Larkin, interview by Elizabeth Schilling at Freedom, California, 16 November 1988. Larkin Valley is stated to be named for a great uncle of John Larkin.
6 Burton Anderson, Chapter 17, “A Boy’s Life on a Salinas Valley Ranch in the 1930s,” in A Native Son’s History of the Central Coast (Salinas: Monterey County Historical Society, 2010), 77 – 81.
7 Floyd Silliman, The Life of Floyd Silliman and His Genealogy 1908 – 1978 (unknown: Floyd Silliman, 1978), 13, 16.
Written by: Sheila Prader, Ag History Archives