Sunday, January 18, 2009

Harvesting wheat in Oregon in 1915

The following is from an unpublished book writeen by Marie Dorothy Jacobsen, a friend of our grandmother, Alma Beck and her sisters (our great-aunts) Adele and Lulu. The book is a collection of letters and pictures Marie sent home during a trip she took to the west coast during the summer of 1915. The following excerpt describes the portion of her trip when she visited the Becks girls in Oregon. [She consistently refers to Alma as Elma.]

Milton, Oregon
July 1915

Mrs. Beck and Adele were at the station to meet us. Adele teaches here in Milton and is planning on her B. E. degree soon. She is tall, lighthaired and has a sunny face. I like her. Then there is Lulu who is the prettiest of the girls and sings and plays the violin. She is a junior at high school. Reminds me of our own swede [a friend she often refers to in this journal] for she too loves to curl up with a book and eat peaches instead of apples while she’s reading. Elma is not at home this summer. She is out at her uncle’s farm in the cook house. A cook house is a covered wagon where they cook for the men in the fields. All they grow here is wheat, acres and acres of it. It is the prettiest picture one could wish to see, just like a big ocean of gold. It grows much higher than any wheat I have ever seen and stands up straight as can be. The straw seems stronger than ours too and they plant it only every other year in the same field. The rest of the time they cultivate the ground until there isn’t a sign of a weed. The fall that the “Summer Fallow”. Their farms are usually from fifteen hundred to three thousand acres and they harvest the wheat with huge machines called combines, that cut, thresh, and sack the grain all in one operation. Men get seven dollars a day here.

…The peaches and apricots are just ripe and I am sick of them already. We are sending you a box of apricots today, so look out for them. I have never tasted such fine cherries, berries, and plums as these in Oregon. They are so big and juicy and happen to be ripe now too. Most of the fruit is irrigated but the wheat grows by itself. We had a good chance to see this country for I made up my mind I’d wasted my visit unless I saw Elma. So we hired a Ford and drove thirty-five miles to see Uncle Henry’s. From there the Democrat Wagon (a light spring wagon) took us fifteen miles further to “Machateo” where they were harvesting “Uncle Henry’s” wheat. Across the road from “Uncle Henry’s’ house is the German Hall and we had an impromptu dance. The hired man is a student at the Oregon Agricultural College and with “Aunt Bertha” (Uncle Henry’s wife) was one Freda Sherning, the liveliest piece of humanity you ever saw. She was a ballet dancer over in Germany and a gay lady in Berlin. They have a dandy home, gas lights, running hot and cold water, and everything. Out as “Macheteo” we had a big welcome. The girls have a tent to sleep in and you can imagine the sleeping we six did. It’s the healthiest sort of life, the real thing in roughing it, Elma is getting strong and healthy for her next year at Boston. She is going to put the finishing touches on her music there. We rode the combine, took pictures, and tore around like wild things and then drove to Pendelton and from there took the train back to Milton…

These are the pictures Marie took of the cook house crew and the combine.

The second from the right of the four girls standing on the wagon appears to be standing and holding her head the same way our grandmother, Alma Beck, did in the other pictures of her taken that summer.

Alma's son Hugh (our father) is certain that in the fall of 1915 Alma continued her studies at the music conservatory in Walla Walla, Washington where she graduated in the spring of 1917. If Marie was correct that as of July 1915 Alma had been planning to go to Boston in the fall those plans must have fallen through.

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