I noticed in an interview a question about what the interviewee had as his or her first job. This made me recall the first job I ever got paid for. I was about 5 or 6 and the neighbor was loading loose hay into the mow in his barn. The loose hay was dumped in front of the barn and a big Jackson Fork would swoop down and grab a load and the hay would be elevated and run down a track where it dumped in the hay mow. They had about 20 sheep in the loft and my job was to chase the sheep around on the hay to pack it. I think I earned about 25 cents. My next paid job, age 8, was helping the neighbor girl milk cows for a week while her parents were on vacation. By age 10 my Dad had me driving a tractor and doing a little summer fallowing. Later in that year again the neighbor had me helping his son stook oat bundles that had been dropped by a horse drawn binder. I decided early on I didn’t need the job, I only needed the money.
At age 11 I finally got a job I loved. The community pasture of about 200,000 acres was not far west of our ranch. The pasture manager had a kid, about 22, that traded a lot of cattle and some ran in that pasture. He would come by with his cattle truck and load my horse and we would gather cattle to a corral and sort out a few and load them. We would jump the horses in with the cattle and be off. On the way home Tommy would pull a couple of beers out from under the seat and we would have a cold one on the way. It was years later I found out that a lot of the cattle Tommy loaded weren’t his. I did enjoy rustling.
At age 12 we moved to California and there seemed to be plenty of work there. None of it pleasant. Now that I was hooked on money I found work mowing lawns and other menial tasks. Living in the San Joaquin Valley there was always work in the orchards. The first spring job I remember was picking boysenberries. A bunch of us would ride our bikes to the berry patch about 6 a.m. and pick till about 2 p.m. I can’t remember how much we were paid per crate but it was more than mowing lawns. Later in the summer I next worked in a dry yard hauling peaches to the women who cut them and put them on drying trays. First thing in the morning we had to take the trays out of the sulphur houses and spread the trays in the yard. This paid $1.25 per hour and was hot miserable work. If you were a good worker you could pick peaches for 15 cents a box and maybe pick 125 boxes. I wasn’t a good worker so I worked for the $1.25 per hour swamping the filled boxes onto pallet trailers or propping peach trees. Just about every kid in my class worked in the fruit in the summer and if the harvest was late they would postpone the opening of school to get the work done.
By the time I was 16, 1957, I had saved enough to buy a 4-year-old 1953 ford with 35,000 miles on it. I paid $730 for this beauty, license number FJN 813.
Now that I had a car dependent on gasoline and repairs I had to step up my employment attendance. It seemed there was no shortage of work in the fields and orchards. In the summer there was harvesting fruit, in the fall grapes and nuts. I once made pretty good money swamping grapes with a kid that would work hard. We were paid 50 cents a ton each to load out grapes. Don almost worked me to death. In the winter you could prune trees and in the early spring you could set out smudge pots in almond orchards or thin peaches.
I did have two jobs that were better than working in the fruit. I landed a job taking care of the swimming pool that wasn’t too bad. I also worked for Oliver’s Flying A gas station pumping gas. One day a couple of boys about 18 pulled in to get gas. I knew them and wasn’t too fond of them. I had just started putting $2 worth of gas in their car when Mr. McGee flew into the gas station and jumped out of his car. He ran over to the passenger side of the car and pulls JC Phillips half way out the window and gave him a real good beating. He then left. It turned out that these two boys were driving by Mrs. McGhee, who was carrying a bag of groceries into her driveway, and threw a bunch of grapes hitting her. They didn’t see Mr. McGhee sitting on the front porch. Herman McGhee, though only 145 pounds, wasn’t one to call the cops.
Talking to my grandfather one day he was extolling the virtues of living in Saskatchewan. I asked him what was so great about a country that got down to 40 below in the winter and had mosquitos that would carry you off in the summer. He answered, think about it, if you were smart enough to stick to grain growing and not raise cattle, you only had to work 40 days a year. He made a lot of sense.