The Star-Herald

Mud, mayhem and memories

Harvest time has changed. Looking through the old pictures of times past, gone are the barrels, barrel trucks, baskets and pickers. Now giant creatures crawl across the fields digging up the produce of summer’s green plants. A melancholic memory comes to mind of those years when everyone got dirty digging round whites out of the ground.

Stories are told of working through tons of muck, mud and mayhem as crops moved from field to storage house. Barrel races were held on Main Street. First-time drivers learned to manhandle all sorts of vehicles that today would be barred from the highway. Best of all, no school. When school restarted or, in the rare moment when sessions were held between rainstorms, people would regale others with horror tales of the digger that would not stop, or the massive potato fight involving a hundred pickers, spuds and mud.

There were the stories of packing an extra lunch and challenging your best friend to fill the most barrels the quickest. Set the basket down and use your hands as scoops to lift dirt, spuds and rocks into a basket. Dump the mess into a barrel and move on. Working from daylight to dusk and in between raindrops. Remember: no tag on the barrel, no pay. How many pairs of gloves did you use? Acres of brown cotton gloves were in every store.

Dreaming of the moment when one could leave the baskets behind and drive the truck, work on the harvester or work in the potato house.

Line after line of spud trucks rolled the highways and byways of the community. Notable stories of the truck that tipped over or lost its brakes and created a drive-thru for the Kentucky Fried Chicken Store [then on Main Street in Presque Isle]. The infamous mud creature that swallowed harvesters whole and buried trucks to the axles when they were full.  Great kickstarter for the Halloween season.

Waking up at 4 in the morning to catch the latest from “Potato Picker’s Special,” two hours of live, anything-can-happen television and radio. Would Stacey Meister get one of John Logan’s beard hairs for a new fly? Would the fancy Washington representative from the Agriculture Department wear flannel? Ever the optimist, would he wear a tie or braces? Ties were not appreciated in those wee hours of morning. Lists and lists of farms and families trying to get the crop in: “Farmer needs a woman”; “Pickers needed in Mars Hill, starting at 7, potato house crews at 7:30”; “Harvester operator needed, Easton. Bring tools.”

There was Wayne Knight retelling the tale of Hereford heifers loose on the Washburn Road. And, of course, the live breakfast moments: Coffee by the barrel. Eggs so often that one turned yellow. Hashbrowns, beans, biscuits and bacon with the brew. It was stick-to-your-ribs cooking, done under the lights and in front of the camera to the soundtrack of unlimited lists of names numbers crews starting, ending and needing a hand.

Not a place for wimps. Braces on the britches and black coffee. No city types apply. Harvest has begun.

Orpheus Allison is a photojournalist living in The County who graduated from UMPI and earned a master of liberal arts degree from the University of North Carolina. He began his journalism career at WAGM television later working in many different areas of the US. After 20 years of television he changed careers and taught in China and Korea.

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