In a Pickle
A Family Farm Story
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Title Page, Other Works by the Author, Copyright
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Several years ago I was having dinner with my daughter, Sue. Shesuggested the idea for this book, having heard my “pickle factory” stories since she was a little girl. Sue, who is now a sixth grade teacher in Madison, helped me frame the story and read several chapters as it took shape. My son Steve, who is a...
1 Pickle Patch
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Andy Meyer watched the pickup’s progress from the cucumber patch just south of the farmstead where he was hoeing. He took off his straw hat and rubbed his sleeve across his forehead— sweat trickling into his eyes had become a constant annoyance. He hadn’t seen the pickup...
2 Birthday Party
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Isaac Meyer would be sixty-five on June 18. Some of the neighbors said they should throw a party for him at the country school. Isaac wasn’t much for parties—wasn’t much for having anybody call attention to him. He preferred to be at home on his 160 acres, which his grandfather had homesteaded back in 1867 after spending some time fighting in...
3 Pickle Factory
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Gonna be a good pickle year,” Isaac Meyer said at the breakfast table one morning a few weeks after his birthday party. “Be pickin’ cukes in a few days. Blossoms all over the place and a few little pickles peekin’ out here and there. Yup, gonna be a good pickle year. Maybe make a little extra money for a change.” Of course the weather...
4 First Cukes
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The day after the cleanup, Andy Meyer and his crew waited for the arrival of the first cucumbers, which would signal the start of the pickle season. Johnson had told him that Jake Stewart’s new migrant boss would be bringing in at least one truckload of cucumbers by late afternoon. But Andy wondered if any of the small growers had seen...
5 Grist Mill
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The same day the pickle factory opened, several farmers gathered a half-mile away at the Link Lake Grist Mill. The mill, a substantial three-story building, stood next to the concrete dam that stopped up the stream that poured out of Link Lake and held back enough water to provide the mill with power. City folks passing through...
6 Pickle Factory Crew
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After sorting, boxing, and weighing the few sacks of cucumbers the Patterson family had delivered, the pickle factory crew waited for the first truckload of cucumbers from Jake Stewart’s place. J. W. Johnson had called and said the truck was on its way and that he’d be at the...
7 Isaac and Jake
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After driving home from the grist mill and unloading the cow feed in the feed room in the barn, Isaac went in the house, and he and Mary ate dinner. Their noon meal was always their biggest. Isaac couldn’t understand why city folks wanted to call the noon meal lunch; for him lunch was something you ate after you finished playing cards at...
8 Migrant Pickers
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Carlos Rodríguez guided his 1950 red Ford flatbed truck slowly down the trail that cut through one of Jake Stewart’s big cucumber fields. Carlos, who had just turned forty-five, was stocky, and had a thick black mustache and a ready smile. Carlos had been born in Brownsville....
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J. W. Johnson and Andy stood on the main floor and watched as the big truck from the Stewart farm backed up to the pickle factory door. Johnson’s armpits were wet, and sweat poured off his face. Late in the day the humidity had come up, and there was no breeze, nor hint of one...
10 Long Days
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The Link Lake Gazette ran a front-page story about Jake’s pickle fields and the migrants he had in his employ. John wrote about the shacks where they lived and how crowded they were. He had expected letters or phone calls from Gazette readers, but none came. So far the community...
11 Pickle Days
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In 1948 the city fathers had decided that they needed something to attract people to the area, to give local businesses a boost and, as the village president said, “Put Link Lake on the map.” They agreed to erect a statue—something that would stand out and make Link Lake a special place to visit. But what kind? Should it be a huge Holstein...
12 Cucumbers Keep Coming
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The Monday following Pickle Days, Andy sat at the kitchen table reading the Link Lake Gazette. His mother was working in the dining room, and his father was outside somewhere. He’d have to leave for the pickle factory in a few minutes. Then he noticed the big ad the Harlow...
13 School Closing
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The notice in the Link Lake Gazette stated simply, “All members of the Rose Hill School District are invited to a special meeting,August 11, 8 p.m. at the schoolhouse to discuss consolidation.”cows, tote the cans of fresh milk to their milk houses and immerse them in cooling tanks, and turn their cows out to night pasture....
14 Salt Bin
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With the soaking rain, no cucumbers could be picked the following morning. The crew at the pickle factory needed a break. But there was no time for relaxation. Helen needed to keep the records up-to-date, the cucumber sorter required cleaning and oiling, several wooden cucumber boxes had loose slats and needed renailing, and broken boards...
15 George Roberts
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As he had promised, George Roberts reported at the pickle factory promptly at eight the next day. Andy was waiting for him, hoping he was sober. “Well, I’m here, Andy. Here, just like I said I would be.” George had a three-day growth of mostly gray whiskers that gathered in clumps around his jaw line. As they shook hands, Andy....
16 Ames County Fair
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Everyone in Ames County attended the fair. Old timers remembered when the draft horse judging was the major event. Kids in 4-H exhibited calves and cooking and sewing and woodworking projects such as doorstops and chick feeders. Kids too young for 4-H mostly came to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl that jerked them around in a circle and the Loop-de-Loop that turned them upside down and dumped their...
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The first thing Andy did on the Monday morning after the fair was talk to the factory crew about spot rot and what he had seen and heard the previous day. He said that Jake Stewart’s entry at the fair was infected. It was a sobering moment. Everyone listened carefully to Andy’s description of what to look for in a cucumber infected...
18 Love among the Pickle Vats
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Word about what had happened at the factory spread like a blight. Whether they had a quarter acre or a couple acres of cucumbers, farmers wondered if spot rot would attack their pickle patch next. Ordinarily, the patches would produce for several more weeks. Now there was a better than average chance that many farmers would...
19 Missing Workers
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Acouple of mornings after he caught Preacher and Helen among the pickle vats, Andy arrived at work to find Marshal Justin Quick’s car parked by the loading ramp. “Got a problem,” Quick said as he climbed out of the squad car. Quick wore his big silver badge clipped to his belt, which he wore in an attempt to...
20 Breaking News
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Marshal Quick kept no secrets. When he had news, he shared it. It’s hard to say whether Quick saw it as a civic duty to keep people informed or was a gossip who couldn’t keep a story to himself. Of course, he was also looking for some publicity, because he was up for reelection. The marshal detailed the disappearance of the preacher and the bookkeeper to...
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Allan Clayton’s fatal heart attack in mid-August had come as a surprise to everyone. Just two days before he died, he had delivered a pickup load of cucumbers to the pickle factory, and he and Andy had talked about what it was like ten years ago, when World War II had ended and farmers were just getting back on their feet. He had seemed...
22 Jake Stewart
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The week of the Clayton auction, the “letters to the editor” section of the Link Lake Gazette was nearly bursting with commentary about recent events. A young girl, upset about the spot-rot problem, wrote: Dear Editor: My two brothers and two sisters and I have an acre pickle patch that our pa gave...
23 Closing Down
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Andy Meyer didn’t deserve the abuse the community dumped on him. Not only did the letters to the editor in the Link Lake Gazette take him to task for something he had no control over, but rumors began flying that high school kids had been using the basement of the pickle...
24 What Next?
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If ever a guy felt like eating crow, Dewey John did when Andy Meyer called and said that Harlow was permanently closing down the pickle factory in Link Lake and would no longer buy cucumbers from small acreage growers. The editorial he had written defending Harlow for both the spot-rot situation and the preacher debacle now...
25 The Family Farm
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Dewey John couldn’t move past the anger he felt, which was mixed with considerable embarrassment. But he had learned a valuable lesson: be careful who you support before doing more research and learning the facts. You may regret your decision. He wrote the following...
26 Decision Time
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Friday, September 16, would be the Link Lake Pickle Factory’s last day of operation. This was about the usual closing date for the factory, although because of the spot-rot problem, few cucumbers had been delivered during the past few days. Andy had laid off Quarter Mile and Blackie a couple of weeks ago, and he let Agnes go just...
27 Another Mystery
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Dewey John walked into the newspaper office the morning after he visited the pickle factory. He heard the phone ringing and expected the call was from someone asking if he thought it might freeze tonight. Dewey didn’t know why people thought he’d know about the weather. It had rained all night, and a cold front was blowing through...
28 Remembering Jake
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In extra large print, the headline of the Link Lake Gazette read, “Prominent Farm Leader Dies in Freak Accident.” A two-column story followed. “Jake Stewart, 65, was found Saturday under a large pile of fertilizer bags on his rural Link Lake farm.” The story went on to detail the events of Stewart’s death, including a halfpage photo of the...
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The first cars began arriving at the Link Lake Methodist Church by ten o’clock, a full hour before Jake’s funeral was to begin. Marshal Justin Quick, wearing a freshly pressed white shirt and his ever-present cowboy hat, was on hand to help with the parking. He was standing...
30 H. H. Harlow
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Less than two weeks after the bank, H. H. Harlow, and Amy Stewart closed the deal on the Stewart farm, the Link Lake Gazette carried a front-page story. The H. H. Harlow Company of Chicago has purchased the thousand-acre Jake Stewart farm in rural Link Lake for an undisclosed sum of money. Henry Harlow, company representative, said the company....
31 Mystery Solved
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It took only a week for Isaac to find a buyer for his cows, and at a higher price than he had hoped for.He had milked cows since he was a small boy, and he was a bit surprised at how difficult it was to see the last animal walk up the ramp into the cattle truck. It’s one thing to talk about...
32 Barn Dance
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Andy Meyer got up early this June morning, as the sun was rising. After a couple of days of welcome rain, raindrops still hung on the little cucumber plants as he worked his way down the row, hoeing out weeds. He was enjoying the quiet. He heard a mourning dove...
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I managed the H. J. Heinz cucumber salting station in Wild Rose, Wisconsin, during the summers of 1952–1955. This story is fiction but is loosely based on my experiences during those years. The characters are all fictional. There was no H. H. Harlow Pickle Company, no...
Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2007