Georgia is a friend of Melitas and she loves her stories and after reading one of her blogs she emailed her memories to Melitas and we decided we wanted to share them with you. I asked her to tell me a little about herself and this is what she says:
Born and raised in Ontario, Canada. As a young nurse I came to California in 1965 for one year to see movie stars and escape the snow. Met my husband and stayed. Worked as a nurse for 37 years before retiring to play golf and travel. Brothers still live near our hometown so I’m ‘home’ often. On the last visit we went to see our old farm and one of those big tobacco kilns is still standing. Hard to find a tobacco farm anywhere though.
Your stories often remind me of similar times in my life.
This one reminded me of my first paying job back in the 50’s.
We had moved to a tobacco farm in southern Ontario in 1952. Most in California are surprised when I tell them that we grew tobacco up in Canada because the great majority of Californians have no idea about actual climate up there and don’t know that summers where I’m from were and are very hot and very humid – perfect for flue cured tobacco.
No fancy harvesting mechanisms then. A 6′ long boat on two runners like skis was pulled down each row by a horse. The metal boat was a row’s width wide and about 4′ deep. Six men called primers walked behind the boat picking the leaves off the 5′ – 6′ tall tobacco plants -stuck them under their arms until they had a big bunch and then they’d put them in the boat. When the boat was full it was taken up to the table gang of women at a long table outside the kiln. There, the boat unloader would unload the boat and spread the leaves out on the long table, ready to be picked up. This was my job. I was tall and could easily reach all the way down into the boat.
Two women were tying the leaves on a 3′ slat (just like a yard stick) and each tier (pronounced tire of course) had two handlers handing the leaves to them. These tiers were so fast you watched them in awe. Tying each bunch of 3-4 leaves handed to them with string and flipping them back and forth over the slat. Then the full slats – pretty heavy by now – were removed – put in a pile near the kiln and another slat placed on the holder ready for more leaves. If the tier was really fast – had fast handlers – and there were fast primers out in the field – they could fill the kiln by mid afternoon and still make a full day’s pay…..and that farm’s reputation would enjoy area-wide envy.
At the end of the day the primers would climb up into the huge kiln to hang all of the fresh tobacco leaves for curing. Managing the curing process was handled by the ‘cure man’. He was adjusting the oil fueled burners on the floor of the kiln. My favorite was a man from North Carolina who came up every year. His name was Early Dickens and he would let me drive his ’52 Chevy convertible even though I was only 15 at the time. He was the cureman at 6 farms and was often up all night adjusting heat etc. so he liked to sleep while I drove him from farm to farm in the evening.
That first season working in tobacco I made $10 per day!! Cash!! I was rich! Handlers made $15 and primers and tiers made $25………a day!! (Though my brother thinks it was less). There were so many tobacco farms and so many acres of tobacco being grown that it was a huge operation all over Southern Ontario. Young good-lookin’ Frenchmen from Quebec would drive down every year to prime. Lived in the bunkhouse out by the barn. I have a picture of one of my favorites asleep with his head leaning on the kiln and his hat over his face and his shirt off. Didn’t want him to know I had a crush on him. Can’t remember what he looked like now. Great bod though!
Great memories of hard work that was fun.