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Gard, Robert Edward / My land, my home, my Wisconsin : the epic story of the Wisconsin farm and farm family from settlement days to the present
(1978)

Of new ways, and of new harvests,   pp. 37-62 PDF (16.1 MB)


Page 38


Little by little Wisconsin torged into the leaa.
Hoard showed the way to do it.
Cows became creatures with but a single purpose: to produce
milk and more milk.
    Set at intervals in the yard were large boxes, eight 1
four feet, with a support at either end for a ridgepole ru
ning lengthwise. The big box was divided into four sraa
compartments, each holding seven bushels of hops. M)
called "box-tenders" cut apart the vines at the top of the p,
with a tool resembling a long-handled corn-knife, slashed t
thick vines at the bottom, pulled the pole out of the groun
and carried it to the four pickers waiting at every large bo
If the pickers were young girls, flirtations were apt to be ca
ried on between them and the box-tender.
    Sometimes when things became dull, some of the gii
who craved excitement would form a conspiracy. When t
box-tender came to empty the hops into a big canvas sa(
they would seize the unsuspecting fellow and dump him
the hops. With much disgust he would pick himself out
the box with hops clinging to his clothes and hair and lo
wildly around for the guilty parties, who by that time we
at the other side of the yard. However, he watched his char
to even the score by dumping one of the girls into the b4
But he could not run, as he had to stay and empty the bo
naturally, he heard just what they thought of him. The jo
to them was not nearly as funny as when he was the victir
     The pickers stripped the pungent, not ill-smelling ho
-.... L " ... .. 1 1     ........ - ... . .. 1.. 1
from the wrines arnd leaves and though this wo- gu.mmed up
the fingers, the average laborer filled two or three boxes
daily; expert pickers filled four or five. If a box were left
partially filled at night, by morning the hops were covered
with lice, worms, and insects of all kinds, and these were emp-
tied with the hops into the big gunny sacks to be carried to
the drying kiln. It was a standing joke that the more insects
there were, the better the flavor of the beer.
    The hop houses where the curing was done were a com-
mon sight on the farms for many years after the hop craze
died out. They were always surmounted by a cupola, a venti-
lator for the drying kiln which was on the upper floor of the
building. In lieu of flooring were laths set far apart over
which was stretched coarse canvas, called "hop sacking." A
huge stove in the room on the ground floor heated the drying
room above. When the big sacks of hops were brought in
from the yard, they were emptied on the sacking to the right
depth and drying began. Occasionally the clusters were raked
over, and at one point in the process sulphur was sprinkled
on the stove to bleach the hops. Following the drying, the
hops were pressed into oblong bales weighing 200 pounds
apiece.
     Farmers having many acres of vines kept their crew of
helpers several weeks while the owners of smaller yards
needed us only a few days. We usually went to five or six
places a season. The hours of work were long, the sun was
hot, but the singing in the yards helped to lighten the labor.
"Listen to the Mocking Bird" was a great favorite, and sad
and sentimental songs such as "Lorena," "Belle Mahone,"
"Lura," "Billy Boy," and "Nellie Darling" were
sung as
choruses, quartets, duets, and solos. "Barbara Allen," "My
Poor Nellie Gray," "The Old Elm Tree," and other emotional
songs relating the untimely death of some beloved maiden
were sung several times in the course of the day in different
parts of the yard. One different in theme concerned a swain
with "a jet black eye, a grand mustache, and a buckskin bag
of gold."
     Many practical jokes were played on gullible pickers,
 which were taken good-naturedly, on the whole, but once in a
 while a grouchy individual would resent the foolery and start
 a feud which in the process of being smoothed over, required
 all the diplomacy of the yard boss.
38


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