No. 127, January, 2010
Cash Cropping 1940 Style
By Russell Miller
Besides milking cows by hand during the 1940s, my parents did 'cash cropping'. Half acre of strawberries, in June we picked and peddled in Clintonville for seven cents a quart. Five acres of potatoes covered with blight and bugs. And we had to spray with Paris Green Arsenic with little puff spray cans.
White powder mixed with water in milk cans. Carried to the fields, oh how noxious and deadly, but we suffered no ill effects. Every week those bugs multiplied and ate all the green leaves. Early red and cobbler potatoes. Most of these we hawked in neighboring towns, Shawano 50 miles away, and Clintonville about 20.. Later Paris Green was outlawed to be replaced by DDT, which was almost as potent and poisonous. This was labor intensive, daylight to dusk working the fields.
Three acres of cucumbers. Starting the first of August every day, rain or shine we picked pickles. Pa hauled them to Big Falls to Otto Faehling. In those days wooden stave barrels held brine and the cucumbers fermented until hauled to the factory.
Long rows of onions and carrots. All needed hoeing and weeding. Cultivating with a horse, which liked to step on our toes. Late August we pulled, bunched and sold door to door for a nickel. We learned early to be enterprising peddlers or businessmen or entrepreneurs. No exotic vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, peppers.
Mid summer some of us got to go along with our parents to Conover, 200 miles away in northern Forest County to pick blueberries in the lowlands. Lots of bending over with the bees and mosquitoes. And snakes frightened and plagued us, but were harmless. Killed some with pitchfork. Stayed in tourist cabins. Pa drove the 1932 Essex, pulling a trailer, and we came back with hundreds of quarts of blueberries. Sold for 35 cents a quart door to door with a slick sales pitch. 35 MPH Pa drove, took us seven hours to get there.
Each spring, we ordered a thousand day old baby chicks, the mail man delivered them from Missouri. The roosters we butchered at ten weeks of age, sold them door to door. We wore out a lot of shoe leather. Hens were kept for laying, Louie Pietz came each week to pick up the eggs to sell in northern Wisconsin. When the hens were a year old, we butchered and sold them to city folk.
Besides all this hand work in the gardens, we still had to make hay, stack in shocks for winter cattle feed. Oats ripened the end of August, bindered with horses and we shocked, and waited for Paul Much to come with his threshing machine. One summer activity was to pull the wild yellow mustard plants in the oats fields.
Corn had to be picked by hand, the stalks chopped and chopped into the silo. These too had to be weeded and cultivated each summer.
The highlight of each summer evening was the free shows held outdoors in Big Falls, Little Falls, Sand Burr Inn and John Rawlings Tavern. Such good movies, starring Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and others. Baby Ruth or O'Henry candy bars for a nickel. We shared pints of Verifine Ice Cream. And sometimes a hamburger with fried onions and a root beer soda. Little Falls was the best on Sunday nights, with a bed sheet hoisted on poles in the ball diamond. And their converted street car which sold concessions by the Radies family.
Pulp wood we made in the winter, to be hauled to the paper mills. We earned enough money to buy clothes and school supplies. We worked hard in those olden times, cash cropping. These days my garden measures 10x15 feet and then I have enough to give to neighbors and friends, lost my will to be a peddler. No longer an entrepreneur, I am too old.
copyright 2010, Russell and Delores Miller