1937, NEWBERRY

In the depression year of 1937, I reached my manhood at 21 years of age. Difficult times still existed in our mining town area of Dickson City, PA Employment was zero. Most people survived on Public Welfare. My friend Mike Victor had a contact with his uncle in Florida, who was a farmer. He thought we could work on a farm with his son-in-law Lester Hodge, who was newly wed and a resent graduate from Florida University. Lester was given this farm property by his mother......Mike Victor and I learned that the bus fare by Greyhound bus from Scranton, PA to Newberry, FL was $14.95. During the fall months of 1936, we saved money toward this trip by picking coal from the Mine Company rock pile. Our main customer was an animal feed merchant, Mr. Miller. He have use $.25 for a burlap bag of coal, which he weighed on his Fairbanks scale, it had to be 200 lbs. or more. I'm sure the scale was "rigged" in Mr. Miller's favor.

Time came in February, 1937, we left Scranton, PA for Newberry, FL with a ribbon of fare tickets. Our bus journey southward took us two days. We made a change of the bust at different towns as we continued the trip, by "cat-napping" on the bus, until we reached Jacksonville, FL. Since it became nighttime and our final connecting ride to Newberry was at a morning hour, we had to find a cheap "flop-house". I remember the lodging as $.50. Next morning we boarded a small bus to Newberry. Our employer, Mr. Lester Hodge met us at our final stop, we rode in a Model "A" Ford to the location of his farm, a distance of five (5) miles. Next day, I was taken to work at his parent's farm. The house was primitive, no electric, water by a hand pump, kerosene lamps, indoor fireplace, that burned pitch-pine wood, which gave a heavy dense smoke filled air to the room.

I was awakened at 5AM in the morning, though it was dark outside, the eldest daughter prepared breakfast. As daylight was about to break, I had a constitutional urge for a BM. I asked where the outhouse was, the informed me they had none - one made a choice of the ground near the vicinity of the mule barn. I inquired if they had any old newspaper or perhaps an old Sear-Roebuck catalog that I may use for toilet tissue - I now learned that one gathered a corn-cob from the outside corn-crib, or used a small dry twig. Was this a punishment because I was a Yankee?

Mr. Hodge was an elderly farmer, grim and humorless, non-talkative, anyhow he brought out into the field a mule that was in a harness and attached to a single tree plow. He let me know that he wanted me to drive the mule with the plow and furrow a section of the field. Well! since this was a first time experience for me, to follow a donkey, hold the handle of a plow and reins in my hands, and say "giddy-up" to a jackass, this was too much for a beginner. It turned into a disaster. I ran the plow to deep into the ground, as a result the mule balked and would not move ahead. Mr. Hodge had a temper tantrum, he never instructed me in the art of plowing. I was willing to learn, however, Mr. Hodge was very aloof, we could not settle our differences.

Next day the young Lester Lodge came by and hired me to work at his farm together with my buddy Mike Victor. Lest had a magical way of communication, it only took me ten (10) minutes to guide the mule and plow, he was so satisfied that he left me on my own the rest of my stay at Newberry, FL. Lester's main domain was a crude shack, a kitchen and two bedrooms, air-space of two (2) feet under the entire house, the water pump was outside, kerosene lamps and kitchen stove. The walls had no inside insulation, outside structure , twelve (12) foot boards from floor to ceiling, to a corrugated tin roof. Many gaps in this building allowed mosquitoes to enter at will. The shack was center amongst a thick area of pine trees. These trees had small buckets attached to the trunk with a slash in the bark to extrude turpentine.

Work hours were from daybreak to sunset! Mike and I would harness each mule and ride atop the animals through a forest of pine bout 1/2 mile to the farming area. Then we began the day's work by "hooking-up" the mules to separate plows. Our tour of labor was Monday to Friday, on Saturday morning we did chores around and near the house, gathering firewood and an adequate supply of fodder for the mules. In the afternoon we rode into Newberry with Lester where he "picked up" from the local store our weekly food supply of a five (5) pound bag of grits, which cost $.25. That was our main food staple, breakfast lunch and dinner.

Mike and I adapted easily to our farm labor tasks, at times we felt a bit of loneliness, missing contact with other people, however one's duty to work, erased such things from your mind rather quickly.

Lester had three (3) main crops to produce - tobacco, watermelons and peanuts. A plot about the size of 150 feet was a bed of tobacco seedlings covered with cheesecloth which we nourished with a fertilizer from early February to April. Time came to transplant to tobacco seedlings to the field. We long ago cultivated the rows of soil to await this next phase in farming. This was like a festive event, for Lester had to acquire additional labor from nearby farms. A water-tank mounted on a wagon was a necessity for the tobacco plants. A system of team-work was developed. A worker with an inverted V-shaped stick would walk the long furrow in the field and poke a three (3) inch hole in the soil every thirty (3) inches apart. The next hand would drop a seedling near the hole, followed by the next hand who inserted the tobacco plan into the ground and then finally the hand carrying a large water bucket supplied each individual seedling. A project like this was usually completed in one, long, long, day!

Mike and I enjoyed this work detail, we got to meet people who came as strangers, but left us as new friends. The following days of spring brought us back to our life of farm labors.

Lester had two (2) large galvanized tin tubs - on certain Saturdays, we filled the 20 gallon tubs with the outside pump, let the water sit in the sun awhile and make an attempt at taking a bath in the backyard.

Rough and primitive - but that's the way it was in our year of 1937.

PRAISE THE LORD FOR MODERN PLUMBING!!

LEAVING NEWBERRY, FLORIDA - MAY 1937

The long ago day in May came into our life when we saw the anticipated reward of receiving our pay for three (3) months of farm labor. My friend, Mike, left the farm to work riding horseback on a nearby cattle ranch. I continued working for Lester in Newberry, FL. After a few week Mike came back to notify me that he quit his stint as a cowboy. Mike had a married cousin (older sister to Lester's wife) living in Gainesville, her husband Jim was a dispatched in a grocery warehouse. Anyhow, the invited us to stay with them. Mike decided to return north to Pennsylvania. With the three (3) months of pay of $36.00 we "splurged" on living high; some new clothing and honky-tonk enjoyments. It wasn't long; less than a week and we were financially "busted".

With fifty cents ($.50) between us we started our trip north by securing a truck ride to Georgia. We were advised in the art of hitchhiking - to thumb a ride only to trucks; the state of Georgia at this time had it infamous chain-gang, and it was a known fact that civilian cars would report you to the local sheriff, if you tried to flag a ride. Our system, we developed, a rule to walk along the highway until we came upon a road side diner. We would wait outside until a truck diver turned to this truck, we appealed to him for a ride heading north on Highway 1. We found success nine out of ten times. At times a truck driver would treat us to a sandwich. We just wanted to get out of Georgia as soon as possible.

ON THE ROAD TO PENNSYLVANIA

Before the end of the day we found ourselves across the Georgia State Line and in South Carolina. We chanced a long ride, though it took us off Highway 1. The driver was very kind to us, he treated us to a bite to eat at a diner along this journey. Partial darkness was upon us as our ride came to an end. Not to be picked up in a strange southern town for vagrancy, we went directly to the Police Station and asked to be "bedded" down in the jail house. I recall the police officers were very kind to us, even though we slept behind iron bars the bed bunks were comfortable. Early morning we set out hiking toward Highway 1. We were now on a secondary rural road, it was a hot sunny day, traffic was light, we managed a short ride in a pick-up, but far short of Highway 1. As we trotted along this dusty road, Mike had the last nickel ($.05) between us. We came upon a small country store, tired and thirsty, we had to make a decision how to spend the five cents! Mike favored a small bag of Bull Durham tobacco, however, I did not smoke, and pleaded for a bottle of Royal Crown soda. We shared the contents of this Cola with "lip smacking" satisfaction.

Tramping and hitch-hiking a few rides we reached our goal of Highway 1 at Cheraw, SC. We seized upon our method of awaiting truckers at a roadside diner. It was an adventure, our next ride was upon a long flat-bed trailer truck that was hauling red building bricks; the driver's destination was to Chapel Hill, NC which was about fifty (50) miles west of Highway 1, we gladly accepted this trip, since the direction pointed north for about 150 miles. The cab of the truck gave room for only one additional person beside the driver. Mike and I alternated during the trip with one of us seated in the back of the trailer. I remember the force of the wind, it shivered the human body as we sped on along the highway. A small paid sacrifice for the distance to be covered! When we reached Chapel Hill, NC , we thanked the driver and found ourselves on a secondary road, it was mid-afternoon, we continued our journey heading north. A number of short rides brought us in the vicinity of the North Carolina/Virginia state line. We met another hitchhiker who treated Mike and me to some "grub". He informed us he was a "crop picker" and asked that we join him in this small farm country. The sun was setting as we walked to a rural unoccupied platform of a packing house. We slept the night on the floor., The air was cool as we wrapped our bodies in our jackets. We arose early in the morning, our body bones somewhat stiff from the endurance of the cool night. We noticed other persons at this packing house site, they informed us that the hiring of hands was "put off" because the harvest of the crop had not as yet ripened. Oh, well! Nothing else Mike and I could do, so we headed in the direction to travel north and Highway 2. We covered a short distance and soon found ourselves in the state of Virginia.

An unknown reason, I can't explain, the mileage covered was short, as we reached Richmond, VA at dusk. Worried about vagrancy we inquired for the location of the Salvation Army Building, which we figured would bed us down for the night. a citizen gave us an address, we walked four (4) or five (5) blocks to the location and found the building closed. Our only option was the police jail house. We were shocked and surprised by the treatment we received. Certainly was not comparable to the Daalington, SC station house. The law office "grilled us" as if we were a sort of criminal, they thoroughly searched our clothing and body, took in their possession our toilet articles (Gillette Razor, etc.) and locked us in a large 15 foot by 13 foot (15X13) holding cell, with only pieces of cardboard on the cement floor. As the evening progressed, they "locked in" other individuals. By the morning there were close to ten (10) men in this cell.

I mostly slept with one eye open, wary of the company that surrounded us. Finally the law gave back our toilet articles, with the advice to be out of the town by sundown. I assured myself, very swiftly that even my shadow would not remain in Richmond, VA.

Christmas, 1935 Memoir Index The Family Pearl