Tuesday, December 27, 2011


My dad was a farmer/rancher his whole life. He could grow anything, anywhere. He started his ranching career on little ranches near a small town in Arizona named Eloy. My first memory of my dad is his leaving or coming back from work in a white company truck, wearing his cowboy boots and straw cowboy hat. That was his work uniform.

Whenever he got together with my uncles I remember the conversation always revolved around what they were farming and how good the crops were this year, or how bad, just depending on the weather, plague, wind, freeze...all those variables that farmers had to deal with for each season.

When we were in Eloy, Arizona, my dad grew cotton. Beautiful, white, fluffy cotton. We moved around alot and my dad was always learning and growing in his knowledge of products to plant and grow. I remember him planting tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers and lettuce  They called him "King of the Row Crop". Anything that grew in rows my dad became an expert at growing.

When I was a junior in high school, my dad decided that he wanted my sister and me to work in the fields so we would get a taste for hard work, hoping that we would decide it didn't taste that good and we would instead study hard, get a good education and not work as hard as he and my mother had always done. He and my mother met while both picking cotton in Eloy, Arizona.

I remember the day before our first day of work, my dad sat us down and told us that once we were out there, we were representing him, we were reflections of the type of worker he was and that he expected us to work harder, longer and more diligently than anyone else out there. Out there in the fields we were expected to make him proud.

That next morning, we arose before the sun, we put on the clothes my mom had set aside for us as work clothes. Jeans, a t-shirt, a long sleeved cotton shirt to protect us from the sun, a bandanna around our neck and a big straw hat. My mom also went to work with us and she got up earlier than all of us and made burritos that we would eat in the field for breakfast, breaks and lunch. My dad fit us all into his truck and off we went into the fields to pick tomatoes.

In the field, the sun was just barely starting to rise and we went to the crew pusher and got two buckets each and a card that looked like a standard time card but instead had little numbered circles. We wrote our names at the top then headed out into the fields. Our job was to fill each of our two buckets with green tomatoes, we picked them before they ripened on the vine. Once our two buckets were filled we lifted them up, one bucket in each hand and walked out of the row we were in towards a waiting tractor where a man would grab our buckets, empty them into bins on a trailer being pulled by a tractor and then he would pull a little hole punch out of his pocket and punch out two of the holes...and back into the fields we went. This wasn't as easy as it sounds, the rows with the tomatoes were uneven and filled with dirt clods and the vines would trip you, plus it was hot and humid and dirt and flies were everywhere!

We found out right away that I was not good at picking tomatoes. I was too slow. My  mom and sister on the other hand were super fast. Luckily what I was good at was lifting those buckets and hauling them out of the fields to the guy on the tractor and coming back and hauling more buckets to the guy on the tractor, and c'mon...I was in high school, I was cute, I had a beautiful smile so the guys on the tractors would more often than not jump off the tractors and meet me halfway down the rows and carry the buckets for me...it didn't hurt that I was the bosses daughter either.

But in my mind I kept hearing my dads words, I was a reflection on him and I worked my buns off! My mom and my sister worked their buns off! We did this for most of the summer. It was hot, dirty, sweaty work. Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn't, but I made my dad proud!

When tomato picking season was over my dad asked me if I wanted to try working on the tomato harvesting machines. These machines ran at night and they harvested the ripened tomatoes. I would have to go to work without my mom and my sister, but my dad would be there all night supervising the whole operation. Of course I said yes, I wanted my dad to be proud of me and I found out early on that I really liked getting a paycheck!

Here's an excellent video showing the process, it even shows a lady on the machine which would have been me.

Now that doesn't look so bad in the daytime, but remember, I was working at night with big flood lights so I could see what I was doing. It was hot and humid, at times cold and wet. The machines felt like you were on a huge boat, they rocked back and forth in the uneven rows, some of the tomatoes were over ripe and squishy and rotten and smelly!

I can remember working until my stomach couldn't take anymore and then I would turn around and vomit into the field. Then I would go back to working and continue until I had to turn around and vomit again. I did this for two nights. On the third night someone told my dad that I shouldn't be there, that I was sick too much and I wasn't eating and that even though I was doing a good job he felt sorry for me. My dad came and rode on the machine with me for a while. I tried to suck it up and not get sick but finally I couldn't take it and I had to turn around and puke over the side of the rail. That was it, my dad said I had to quit, he couldn't allow me to continue. I begged and begged him, telling him I was ok, I could do it. He finally took me in his arms and said, "You proved that you're my daughter and that you work as hard as anyone, I don't want you to do this anymore, you can try again next year, go to my truck and go to sleep." So I did, but I made my dad proud and even better I was a good reflection of the hard-working man he was.

So to make a long story even longer, my purpose for this post is because throughout the years I have worked with people that have hired their kids to work for them. A few I have admired, they had the same work ethic as my dad and their kids were outside washing cars and cleaning gum off the sidewalks, just like everyone else.

But I've worked with the opposite as well. Those bosses that hire their kids and let them get away with murder but turn a blind eye to it. At times it seems to me that they can't even see that their kids are slacking and making their parent look bad. I wonder at times if that isn't part of what's wrong with kids today, their parents want to make everything easy for them, they don't want their kids to struggle or suffer. I wonder at times if those parents don't worry about what will happen if tomorrow they are hit by a bus and their child has to go out into the real world and work for a real boss who will expect real productivity and isn't just going to pat them on the back for doing nothing.

I'm glad that I had the parents that I had. I know that I was truly blessed in life to have them. They have made me who I am today. Anything that is bad in me cannot be blamed on them because they were excellent leaders. I always say "lead by example" and my favorite quote is "integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking". Am I always perfect? Oh gosh no...far, far, far from it! But all that is good in me is due to my parents who didn't worry about being my friends.

BOBBY MESSAGED ME THIS ON FACEBOOK "Perfect description of those early mornings....I still can smell the fragrance of tomatoes lol.....I drove one of those tractors....liked the article.."



  1. That machine was fascinating, but like you say, there would have to be a lot over ripened tomatoes. I imagine the stench to be horrific. What made you ill the motion of the machine in the dark or the stench, or a combination?

    My guess is that these tomatoes would be used for bulk tomato paste for sauces and ketchup. I used to ride past the Heinz plant in Pittsburgh when I was going to school. There was a rail siding with all these nasty looking tank cars that you would expect to contain some horrific chemical. They had written on the side Bulk Tomato Paste. "Nothing but the best choice vine ripened tomatoes." Yeah right!

    Your father was a wonderful man, it really must be painful to witness his illness now. What a valuable lesson he provide to you and your siblings.

    My introduction into the hellish world of various types of employment was a field trip to a foundry when I was in 9th grade. I marvel now that we were allowed in the place. Anyhow this place made casting for train air brakes. It was like being in hell. Dark, filthy, hot, and noisy. I can remember guys pushing molten aluminum around in these deep buckets suspended from an overhead rail. There must have be discontinuities in the rail because every now again the molten aluminum would splash out of the filled to the brim buckets. The guys wore heavy leather aprons, chaps, and flaps over their shoes in this impossibly hot room. Ventilation was a joke. Then the noise. Unbelievable. There were mold shakers, jack hammer like tampers, guys with muffler guns chipping off flashing, and other guys with pneumatic burring tools screaming. Thirty minutes in that hell hole convinced me that there were certain jobs that I would never seek...steel mills, foundries, and coal mines. I was very lucky to find a job as a test technician, and later engineer in a relatively clean machine shop / assembly plant. It was a great place to work, especially in test because we designed and built our own facilities. For working in an industrial setting, I was very fortunate.

    I think all young people should have a shot at working some of the crappy jobs in the world. I paid my dues working in a gas station for next to nothing, and four years in the military. The gas station had heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. Cleaning rest rooms, putting up with nastiness from the public. Nothing like working on a car in the winter up on a lift and having clumps of slush falling down your back, then go out and pump gas (this was back in the late 60s) for an hour out in the cold and have people complain that you didn't do a good job cleaning their windshield. Yep it is hard to get a windshield spotless in 10 F weather. Then we had people leave their cars to get washed on snowy days...then they would complain when you delivered the car and it had road slop on it. What the hell I supposed to do, put it in a sealed trailer and deliver it to their house. People are idiots and we had to treat them like they were royalty. Yeah the roads are slushy, its pretty hard to keep your car spotless after a two mile drive. But it teaches you humility, and hopefully the desire to treat a person making minimum wage as a human being. Unfortunately with the erosion of the middle class in America, I think we are going to find that we have royalty and a class of indentured servants to take care of their every need. Instead of working a crap job for a few years, one will get to work a crap job for their entire lives and honor the high class bastards that throw them a minor scrap of a wage for the privilege of getting to serve them. Its known as third world nation status.

  2. You are SO right - and you were lucky to have parents who cared enough to instill in you a strong work ethic.
    I spend a season on an asparagus picker and it was enough to keep me in university!!

  3. Sextant - Yes, that machine was fascinating, I'm glad I found such a great video online. Its amazing how it brings the crop off the field, vines and all then separates it. I wish I had learned more about how it all actually worked. I'm sure my dad would be able to explain it to me, in fact he would love it if I were to ask and then he would go on and on for hours!

    What made me ill was a combination, the smell, the texture of the stuff I was handling, the conveyor belt in front of me, the rocking and rolling of the machine...all of it. It was like being seasick, but I've never gotten seasick.

    My dad was a wonderful man, that is what makes his illness now so hard to bear. You see him doing things that are so out of character for him and you get upset with him and then you have to remind yourself that the person he is now is not the person he was all his life and even as I type this my eyes tear up and I want to cry. It's not fair.

    Wow, then you know what hell is...that foundry sounds horrible. And that is why OSHA is so stringent in the laws that they enforce. Can you imagine the horrible accidents that probably happened in that place? Molten aluminum splashing out? I don't think aprons, chaps and flaps are going to be much protection from that! I'm so glad you didn't end up working in a place like that. I can't imagine all your intelligence and wit being wasted in a foundry!

    I agree with you in that last paragraph. This world would be a much better place if all young people knew what hard work is. Granted there are a few that learn that early on, but for the most part parents pamper and spoil them and they think they should have a company car and a six figure income straight out of high school! C'mon! Get real.
    Anyway...as always, just love your comments!

  4. Pondside- I was very lucky. I tried to do the same thing with my kids. My daughter told me a few years ago that she never calls in sick because she remembers that I never called in sick. I was so proud...lol. Happy New Year to you!

  5. The new video is totally cool and very explanatory! I wonder how many cameras were sacrificed for "tomato view"?

    Man that had to be smelly! I didn't notice a tomato worm remover! Well I have heard that tomato products are rich in insect protein! What don't kill you can only be nutritious.

    Awesome! Thanks Alicia and Bobby!

  6. That's such a beautiful example of parents instilling life values in their children!

    I have immense appreciation for farmers. They are hard-working people that take out the good of the soil to feed the living people and animals.

    Your father, the farmer, is an inspirational figure. Whoever likes the fruit of the earth also likes people . He liked the crops liked his workers and his family. I can easily understand your being proud of him. May God give him good health!

  7. It always helps to have a good work ethic. Not something that is prevalent today in many people. They want to go to work, do the least amount of work possible, and then get paid big bucks! Good thing you learned early on how to do the right thing with the values taught to you by your parents! xo Sue

  8. Cool new masthead image. A real eye grabber!

  9. Sextant - Yes, Bobby found a perfect video that made me contemplate also how many cameras were lost to the tomato view!

    I was working on those machines at night so I never really had a chance to stop and watch how they work...but I can remember the smell.

    For years I hated tomatoes, especially the really ripe, beefsteak ones...YUK! But I've learned to love them again.

    Bobby's dad was a wonderful farmer just like my dad.

    People would be amazed to know what all goes into tomato paste and/or catsup...lol. Happy New Year Sextant, glad you like the new masthead, it reminds me of what I looked like as a little girl, without the wings of course.

  10. DUTA - I was very fortunate to have the parents I have.

    As someone who has trouble keeping houseplants alive I too have great admiration for farmers. Living now in such a huge agricultural valley I get to see a lot of different crops being grown. I should take more pictures! I need to stop and smell the roses, tomatoes, hay, apricots, oranges...wow, I could go on and on with whats grown in Kern Co.

    Amen Duta...Amen!

  11. Sue - You phrased that perfectly! Happy New Year to you my friend! See ya in 2012!

  12. It's so important to have a strong work ethic. My husband has one (his dad was the same way). And I pray that our kids see that in him, and realize the importance of hard work!

  13. This was a fascinating recollection of the values your parents taught you. I found your descriptions fascinating and I learned a lot. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and that 2012 brings only good things your way. Blessings...Mary

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