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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, Texas, and grew up traveling north each summer with his family and then returning to Texas for the winter. So he knew the migrant life. After he married, he continued coming north each summer to work in the cucumber fields. Mostly he enjoyed the life, seeing different parts of the country and especially being paid the money he and his wife and children made picking cucumbers in central Wisconsin. He wanted his children to have a good education and nice clothing and perhaps find less demanding work when they became adults. Working ten-hour days bending over a row of spiny green cucumbers was hard work, no denying it. Carlos, along with most migrant workers, believed strongly that with hard work you got ahead. The Rodríguez family included Carlos’s obviously pregnant wife and their three sons, ages fourteen, twelve, and ten. Their three-year-old daughter played nearby while the rest of the family picked cucumbers. 54 8 Migrant Pickers 55 Migrant Pickers As Carlos drove along the field road watching his sons load bags of cucumbers, he remembered when he was their age. He had worked alongside his father, his brothers, and his sisters picking cherries in Door County, Wisconsin, and then helping with the cucumber harvest in the central part of the state. Cherry picking was easier than picking cucumbers. You didn’t have to bend over to pull ripe red cherries from a tree. And cherries didn’t stain your hands either. At least not the way those cucumbers did. Picking cucumbers crusted your fingers with a greenish brown stain that only Lava soap would remove, but never completely. By the end of the cucumber season, your fingers looked like the cucumbers you were picking, without the spines, of course. Carlos had a dream that he hadn’t shared with anyone, not even his wife. He wanted to live in the north year-round, to find a job where he and his family didn’t have to make the annual trek from Texas to the cucumber fields of central Wisconsin. Few people outside his family knew he was a good cook, but he often thought about opening a restaurant, perhaps in Willow River. The restaurant would serve authentic Mexican food. He knew he would have steady customers in the summer, and he also knew that once the locals became acquainted with his food, they would like it. Or, even better, he dreamed of working for one of the big pickle companies like H. J. Heinz; Libby, McNeil and Libby; or even the H. H. Harlow Company. He could serve as a connecting link between the farmers, the migrants, and the company. He knew how to talk to farmers, and even better, he knew how to get along with them. And he could solve many farmer–migrant problems when they erupted. Carlos had never heard of a former migrant working for one of these companies, so he didn’t tell anyone about his dream. But that didn’t keep him from thinking about it. On that same day, Dewey John, editor of the Link Lake Gazette, drove over to a Willow River migrant camp in eastern Ames County. He was gathering information for a story about migrant workers in the county. The Willow River–area cucumber growers had employed migrants for several years, and Jake Stewart’s migrants were the first ones employed in western Ames County. Dewey John was tall, thin, balding, and wore thick glasses that often slid to the end of his oversized nose. He was never seen without his clipboard and papers on which he was constantly making notes. Dewey, a Wisconsin farm boy, had been twentyeight years old when he drove his green 1949 Ford coupe into the Village of Link Lake on a June morning in 1951. He had been hired as the new editor of the paper, which meant being reporter and photographer and doing whatever else needed doing at this small paper that covered western Ames County. He had been writing for weekly newspapers since he graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism in 1945. The paper’s owner had selected him because of his interest...


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MARC Record
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