Sunday, December 21, 2008

Henry Pratt's Memories X

"Farming required a great deal of hand labor and this was especially true on the diversified farms of Berrien County".
The Pratts grew strawberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches and apples. This wide variety of crops resulted in a picking season which began in the middle of June and lasted through the late apples in the fall. The most satifactory pickers were hobos.
"These were men in their late 30's to 60's who would start with strawberries in Louisiana and work north as the season advanced".
Hobos' mode of transportation was simply railroad boxcars. These men had an informal headquarters at Riverside just northeast of Benton Harbor. They would work in the area around Riverside and stay at the farms all season never going to town, but wouldn't go too far away to work.  When the Pratts moved to Watervliet about 15 miles away they refused to stay at a job that was that far from "home". The hobos had their own bunkhouse, the hobo house, and did their own cooking. W.M.Pratt would do their grocery shopping for them and deduct the money from their wages. They didn't ask for their wages until they were ready to leave at the end of the season.
"Some would have money when they came, and occasionally one would ask my father to keep it for them. One man, on arrival, gave him over $300 to keep, remarking that, 'Jim', one of the other men, 'is going to kill me'. Father took the money, but assumed there was little likelihood of a killing or the prospective victim would hardly have chosen to work on the same farm. There was no trouble though Father noticed that the two of them seemed never to sleep."
Wikipedia definitions: "Hobos differentiate themselves as travelers who are homeless and willing to work, whereas a tramp travels but will not work. while a bum does neither"..
My note: When my Dad was in the fruit business in the 30's the pickers around Watervliet were mostly what were called "Arkies", that is migratory worker families from Arkansas (and probably other states), who would go back home when the picking season was over. This is in contrast to the "Okies" of the same Depression era who migrated to California permanently. Their story was told by John Steinbeck in his "Grapes of Wrath" (which I read as a sophomore in high school. I still remember doing an oral book report in Miss Heldt's English Class). (emailed July 12)

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