On the farm in
about 1946-47-to 49
There has been so much interest in the sugar beet story, I will expound a little on the labor intensive crop.
First the field was plowed, harrowed, planted and ditched. The seeds were planted with a planter machine. Each row had to have a ditch as the beets had to be irrigated by water running down each little ditch. Dad walked each row, irrigated them all through the summer. I can remember how tired he was with his big rubber hip boots getting up at three each morning to tend to the water. He came in for breakfast, took a short nap, and went back out to check the water. He made little rows from the larger ditch that brought water from the headwaters of Horsetooth Reservoir. (I remember when that was built also and how farmers were so excited at having water to irrigate the crops.) Big tunnels were dug from Granby Lake to funnel the irrigation water to Horsetooth and then on to the farmers in our area.
Dad and neighbor, cigar smoking Victor Acken, were the ditch riders which entailed “riding” the ditch to see if the big irrigation ditches were not plugged with tumbleweeds and debris. They also patrolled the whole system to see that every farmer got the right amount of water. They would not tolerate farmers that stole water! I cannot remember exactly how that water was measured but somehow dams let a certain amount of water go through to the smaller farm ditches and the rest would fall over the top of the dam for the next farmer. It was a complicated water science. Victor would pick Dad up in his big Cadillac and off they would go down the dirt trail built on top of the ditch bank. Dad told many harrowing and scary tales about Vic and his Cadillac “riding the ditch.”
One year Jamaicans arrived in a truck with benches built on each side of the truck for them to sit. We knew the minute they were coming down the road and over the hill because we could hear them singing. Oh! What beautiful and fascinating music! We never heard anything like it in our little sheltered part of the world. What wonderful rhythm from such happy people!
They were long legged tall people, who would jump out of the truck, dance a little jig, listen to what Dad had lined up for them and happily go out in the field in the hot sun. They bent over at the waist picking the weeds and thinning the beets, picking and pulling with the right hand and jamming little weeds/beets in their left hand until the hand was full and then carefully laid them in Dad’s irrigation ditch, in a little pile, never breaking stride or standing up. Those piles looked like little haystacks up-and-down the irrigation rows. Try as Dad could, pleading with them, “Please just thin the weeds and leave them on the ground, not in a pile in my ditch, please, please, do not make little piles.” The piles plugged Dads little rows for watering. They happily shook their head “yes boss” and went right back to their habit of leaving little stacks in the irrigation ditch. They would sing and laugh all day long, stooped over at the waist. So at the end of each day when they were finished thinning beets, they would climb back in the trucks and sing their way back to the camp where they were staying. Then Dad and my brother and me and whoever else went out to the beet field and picked up the little stacks of thinned beets and weeds out of irrigation ditch. Then Dad, ever so calculating and always thinking, hit up on an idea! At the end of each day he just sent them back to the field, each with a gunny sack, to pick up their little piles, which they happily did. They would hand each full sack back to Dad as if it were a big prize.
Dad loved their energy, their music, their smiles and their melodic language. He picked up some of the “lingo” (as he would say) and we were subjected to Dad’s Kansas drawl talking Jamaican! Finally Mom put a stop to it: “John, for heaven sakes. STOP!”
We also had German Prisoners of War one year to help in the beets. They were held in captivity in a warm camp outside Greeley, Colorado. This was one of many in the sites all over the United States, during the early 40s. Dad needed help and the prisoners were offered their labor. They arrived in big Army trucks with canvas tarps arched over the top. Each truck had two armed United States Army guards. They filed out of the trucks, lined up and Dad told them, through a translator, what he wanted them to do. They filed out to the field and either hoed the beets or later in the year topped beets with the beet knives. They were watched and guarded closely. Dad was very kind of them and often joked and laughed and played pranks. They each had a small lunch that was packed for them from the prison. Mom provided lemonade each day. She was not very friendly as she was afraid of “those people.” Dad would say they were victims and that we should treat them kindly.
I often wonder about those young looking, frightened POWs. They seem to be just as frightened as we were. After the war Dad and Mom received a letter (and I wish I had this letter) from one of the prisoners. He thanked Dad and Mom for being so kind and said someday he would come to the United States to stay. I do not know if he ever came to our country or if he contacted them after that. Dad took that as a personal thank you and showed the letter to several people.
The smelly part of this story is Dad would take the same truck he hauled beets to the rail road dump site and night after night he would get beet pulp, a smelly, sticky, dripping wet, grey mess of leftover beets, after the sugar was extracted. He would then drive the truck up next to the feed troughs for the cattle and one of us kids would guide (guide — not drive) the truck while Dad would shovel the stinky beet pulp into the trough for the cattle to eat. They loved it! They would push and shove and slurp and chomp on the smelly mess. I still smell it! We always had to take our clothes off on the porch during the beet season because we were dirty, muddy or stinky or all three! Dad was cited for being in the “High Ten Producer” in that area in 1947 in 1949.
Dad raised beets until it was not profitable for him and others in the areas and the sugar factory was closed and torn down. Great Western Sugar Company was a very large, block long, brick building that housed all the equipment for making beet sugar. It was located east of Fort Collins.
The end of the beet story!
Thank you for the interest in these articles about sugar beets and relating to me the facts about your involvement in the end of a labor intense era.