Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Cherry Shaker

The Cherry Shaker
Albert and June had taken over the farm operations prior to Grandpa Bill's passing (12-27-1969).  June continued to teach and was very involved in the summer harvest.  Albert still "drove truck" (as Albert would say) for Pullman Industries but tried to reduce his runs to Detroit during the summer months.  Every fruit item was hand-picked and finding workers when needed was always a challenge.  Sometimes there would be close to 100 people picking sour cherries.  This crew was a mix of migrant families, area residents and relatives.

While brother Chuck and I were in Jr and Senior High School in the 50s we were the "Orchard Bosses".  This involved assigning rows, distributing ladders and buckets, spreading empty lugs, picking up the full lugs, keeping a record of lugs picked, getting teased by the adult pickers, and loading lugs on the truck so they could be taken to the Michigan Fruit Canners in South Haven.  We did not know it at the time, but we were learning leadership skills by immersion, trial and error.

In the late 60s Albert had wanted to buy a shaker system to harvest sour cherries.  June was opposed to borrowing the money to purchase the equipment.  She was well aware of how often the farm had ended the year with a loss.  Their two non-farm jobs kept the bills paid for the "hobby farm".

In the summer of 1969 June was the "Orchard Boss" when Albert had to make truck runs for Pullman Industries.  She did not enjoy that experience.  She learned that elementary students were easier to supervise than adult cherry pickers.  After that summer June agreed to the shaker purchase.  It was used equipment and cost over $4,000.  You could buy a new Chevrolet Pickup Truck for $2,000 and gas cost only 36 cents a gallon.  A few years later they upgraded from a limb shaker to a trunk shaker.  High pressure salesman, Art Hamlin, walked in and sold it to Albert while he was taking a bath.  Now some 40+ years later Allan is still using the same catching frame and conveyor system for sour cherries and plums.  It has, however, been rebuilt twice.  A crew of 7 to 8 people now harvest the sour cherries in mid July.

At The Farm April 1, 2012
Mother Nature, as always, is playing a big role in the fruit development this year.  The warmer temperatures have caused the blossoms and buds to pop sooner than normal.  Can the little fruits make it through the spring without getting damaged by Mr. Frost?  Time will tell.

There were freezing temps in the area March 26 and 27 but the warmer lake breezes kept the farm just above freezing.  Cherry and peach blossoms are now buds and the apple blossoms will finish blooming the second week in April.  So there is still time to see some blooms.  Allan and his assistant Lester will be doing the spring spraying as soon as the bees are finished.