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a minor historical farming-related mystery!  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Hello everyone,

Today I am here wearing my research-for-writing hat!

Amongst my many creative writing projects, I have a start on a creative non-fiction children's book - based on somewhat sketchy information I've been able to find about a real life celebrity's childhood. (Don't worry, they died over fifty years ago, so no matter what mess I make of it, if I ever get it done,  I can't be sued for personal libel! Yay!)

I have a dating problem I figure permie types can help with.

It is reported that this child traveled from Oklahoma to California, over four months, in a slow and unreliable car, and that they earned their first wages at the age of eight pulling potatoes not far from Flagstaff, AZ. Because their eighth birthday I think would have been in the first week of September 1921, (although I am having serious problems figuring out math right now and for some reason have them down as arriving in California in 1920, which would mean the kid was seven, not eight, but I think I may have just...got that wrong.whatever.) and because where I live potatoes are generally harvested in the fall, I have assumed that the kid (and parents) was traveling over the late summer, perhaps leaving Oklahoma in late July or August and getting to Arizona in early September, shortly after the birthday. They apparently arrived in California within the year, (now I don't know if it was 1920 or 21, my information source is unclear) so even if they stayed at the potato farm for a while, I've been imagining them arriving in California by late fall/early winter.

However, on reflection, August sounds like a terrible time to be travelling through the southwestern states in an old car which obviously would not have air conditioning, and perhaps in Arizona potatoes are grown/harvested earlier or later?

I guess what I'm asking is - what time of year would a large potato farm close to Flagstaff probably have been hiring migrant harvesters in 1920 or 21?

 
master pollinator
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August sounds like a terrible time to be travelling through the southwestern states in an old car which obviously would not have air conditioning



Air conditioning was a fairly new invention then & not on many cars yet. Very few people were accustomed to air conditioning. Relatively few had cars. Seems to me that being in a moving car would be one of the coolest places to be.

This date calculator might be useful.

 
master steward
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Back in the 20s, there probably wasn't much/any traffic. It's a PAIN being stuck in a car without air conditioning if one is in traffic. If there is no traffic, however, driving would be cooler than most anything else, even going just 20 or 30 miles an hour. Think how much cooler it is riding down a hill on a bicycle in summer than it is to walk.

I went to look up info on growing potatoes in Arizona and found this "You will need to plant them early as possible to obtain the most crop possible before summer heat kicks in, or the winter cold takes the plant." (http://apnursery.com/blog/how-to-grow-potatoes-in-arizona/) So, it looks like they get harvested in late spring/early summer?
 
gardener
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August sounds like a terrible time to be travelling through the southwestern states in an old car which obviously would not have air conditioning,  

My dad told a story of being about that age in Texas during the dust bowl, and one summer they had to go 100 miles with too many people in the car, so four of the kids (him and his twin included) were put in the trunk. It was left open a bit for air, which just added dirt coming in the back to the heat in it. He said it was the most miserable trip he was ever on.

I lived in southern NM 90% of my life, and never had an A/C in a car. And have also had unreliable cars that I can see taking 4 months to get places... Took me 4 days to do a 200 mile run one time, just lots of chaos along the way.

Wish I knew  more about potatoes near Flagstaff. but I don't... Early season would be my guess, they freeze out unpredictably.
 
pollinator
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Flagstaff Arizona is at 7000 feet in elevation. It's quite a different climate from the hot deserts of Arizona. According to Wikipedia, average summer high temperatures there are around 80 degrees, with an average nighttime low of around 50. Low humidity, sounds like a very nice place to be in the summer. I can't say exactly when potatoes would be harvested there, it would depend on the variety too, but I'd imagine in the fall, maybe late summer, because there's a short season up that high and I don't think they'd be mature before then.
 
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Weather varies somewhat year to year. Call the Flagstaff Historical Society and see if they have any records.

The first factory installed air conditioning was in a 1940 Packard. As far as it being hot in the 20's, it's all relative. Depends on what you are used to. If air conditioning does not exist, then you expect to get hot, and you simply deal with it.

The internet is rather incredible. Everything is there.

P.S. Anybody can be sued for anything. It may not be justified. It may not be reasonable. But you can still be sued, and even if it goes absolutely nowhere it can still cost you monies to defend.
 
master pollinator
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The supreme court has ruled that dead people cannot be offended...
 
Vera Stewart
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I have experience with cars without air conditioning too, but I am in Canada, and I've only rarely experienced temperatures over 100F, which is what I was imagining for summer in Arizona, but now I am reminded that Flagstaff is high up and at least part of the trip would be at elevation! Of course, there is also the challenge in terms of routing the fact that the interstate system wouldn't exist for another thirty years.
Also thank you for reminding me that a moving vehicle creates its own 'air conditioning' with wind.
I'm expecting to handwave some details, but I am still hoping to make an educated guess at time of year...
maybe my guess of summer/early fall isn't bad after all!

I will see about contacting Flagstaff historian types directly...




P.S. ...well, I'm not intending to offend anyone living or dead on purpose anyway...
 
Pearl Sutton
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Oklahoma through Flagstaff is mostly HOT in the summer. Oklahoma to the Texas border is humid and hot, Texas border through Albuquerque (actually Gallup) is desolate, hot (don't forget about reflected heat off the ground, it's the opposite of wind chill, makes it feel worse,) dry, no place to stop for help with car trouble etc. West of Albuquerque to less than 40 miles out of Flagstaff is these nasty deep ravines, long downhills, longer uphills, hot, dry, unless they are flooding, which is worse. The last 40 miles or so up to Flagstaff is uphill, zigzagging up the ravines, not an easy run before the highway. Not easy now, overheated cars are a common sight. The trees start eventually, but it takes quite a while to get that elevation. That whole run is hard even in modern cars in summer, on the interstate. At that time, with low money, if they had a moody car etc, it sucked BAD. If they did it in summer, they were NOT happy about any of it. Anyone with sense runs it at night, even now, when it's cool, which has it's own problems, but at least isn't quite so scorching. The hot season in the desert starts about April, and runs through October, by which time it's snowing up in the higher elevations.

Odds are high they would have been on old route 66, which has mostly been taken over by the interstate, but was narrow and in bad repair then. Washouts were common, and towns few and far between. The locals at that time weren't sick of the migrants cutting through, like they were within 10 years, but there probably wasn't enough to be able to pay help, even if they were willing to work, you could probably get food, but not cash, so gas and repair money would be a problem.



And Albuquerque was an exotic place, a city that looks alien out in the desert, would have been very non-familiar building types to them, and unfamiliar people, food that you have never seen. And Gallup was even worse, that was Indian territory, and they are NOT people that look or act like Oklahomans...  And all across the desert you have snakes, lizards, bugs with too many feet, giant spiders, and buzzards in the cacti. It's alien territory, silent, and shocking the first time.

Just some local flavor to add to your writing :)
 
steward
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Folks that never had air conditioning survived a lot better than folks now days.

Children seemed to handle heat better than adults.

One summer, I keep my bedroom door closed the whole summer and complained that air conditioning was too cold.
 
Vera Stewart
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Anne Miller wrote:

One summer, I keep my bedroom door closed the whole summer and complained that air conditioning was too cold.



I used to do that too as a kid, but again, I figured that was in part because it wasn't really really hot anyway!
 
Vera Stewart
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Pearl Sutton wrote:

Just some local flavor to add to your writing :)



I will definitely refer to your notes here! In fact I'm going to copy-paste them into my story note file right now. Thank-you.
 
gardener
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in 1920-21 there was no paved road to flagstaff AZ.
The mother road was started but it was in Illinois that the paving began.
In 1926, some 400 miles of Route 66 passed through Arizona, but very little of it was paved.
That changed in 1933, and it was finally completed in 1938.
Rt. 66 was decommissioned in 1986 (officially, it had been mostly out of use for over 10 years at that time)

The rollercoaster is one of the most fun parts of Rt. 66, you can see the lights of flagstaff 300 miles away on Rt. 66, many cars ran out of gas because the drivers thought they would be there soon and so passed the last chance gas pump in New Mexico.


Just some tidbits from my youth riding back and forth from CA to AR on Rt.66 from 1956 through 1969
 
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