PAT NEAL: Fun on the farm

Every year along about this time, I think about the good old days.

That was back when the Olympic Peninsula lowlands were filled with farms.

Children were considered farm machinery.

There were many fine farm careers to choose from.

I couldn’t wait get started.

You could buck hay bales. There was a career that would put some meat on your bones.

You’d spend the day trotting alongside a flatbed truck, bucking bales up to the stacker, who piled the bales up to impossible heights that would sometimes fall right back in the field when the driver popped the clutch, scattering the bales back all over the ground where we had to load them back on the truck all over again.

Then you’d rest up on the trip to the barn, where you stacked the bales once more until you knew each one of them by name.

Or you could move irrigation pipe, where you packed lengths of aluminum pipe across endless fields of boot-sucking muck from one end to another, spending the rest of the day trying to get the water pump started.

Or you could pick strawberries.

That seemed like easy money at the time — to start out early on a summer morning, gorging down endless rows of perfectly ripe berries.

That was strawberry heaven.

Until your guts started gurgling like a living thing, which started the endless trips to the outhouse, where you spotted a sucker-punching buddy from school who nailed you in the head with a rotten berry.

You could get fired for berry fights. Which meant no dough for the things you needed for a happy childhood — fireworks.

You didn’t want to get caught throwing berries.

Revenge could wait.

There would be many trips to the outhouse those first couple of days of berry picking, until you were so sick of berries you’d just as soon chew on a dirt clod.

As luck would have it, the boss kept all the boys picking together where he could keep a close eye on them.

For some reason, the other guy’s row of berries always seemed to be a little riper, with more of the really big strawberries that could fill up your boxes faster.

You only got paid for the berries you picked.

There were 12 boxes to a flat, which was a wooden box you pushed along the rows of berries.

You got paid a dollar a flat, as I remember.

Big money in those days.

One day just for fun, I made up a special strawberry box, half full of rocks covered with a thin layer of berries that I exchanged with my friend while he was visiting the facilities.

It was a dirty trick, but Franz had it coming.

As the day in the berry field wore on, your back began to ache from the constant strain of bending.

Your knees were raw from crawling down the endless rows.

Sometimes the gastric distress kept you dashing for the outhouse.

That was the bad news.

The good news was it was the only shade in the field.

After what seemed like all day, it was quitting time.

That’s when everyone got paid — except for me and Franz.

The boss gave us a stern talking to instead.

It seems we both played the same rock trick on each other —proving crime does not pay.

I went on to pick many other crops after that, berries, beans and peas.

I made a small fortune, which was immediately invested in fireworks.

Now the farms, the farmers and Franz are gone, and I miss the heck out of them.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].

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