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Memoirs - Part 3 of 4: Farming in Colorado

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Starting a New Farm

Starting a farm operation from scratch in the San Luis Valley is a very difficult task at best. The growing season is short and the crops require extra personal care. Add to this, the time is the middle of February 1942 and all of the established farms are already rented out by this time. Certain vegetables need to be started from seed in hot beds in Mid-March. New equipment and tools need to be purchased in order to prepare the soil for planting. Despite the shortage of time, the difficult and arduous obstacles, and lack of funds, we were able to plant our first wartime crop on schedule.

We found a small (approximately 120 acres of tillable land) farm located in a very remote and desolate area, approximately three miles east and south of Sanford, Colorado on a poorly maintained dirt road. The farm had been laying idle for a good many years but it was a rich, river-bottom land located along the Conejos River. Because the fertile land had lain idle for so long, it was overrun with mosquitoes and weeds. The farm was known as the "Bar S Ranch" and belonged to a very nice gentleman named Fred Christensen. However, the farm was not only remote from the markets, it was very primitive. It had no telephone service, no electrical power, no gas or oil heating; the house had no indoor plumbing, toilets or running water.

By the time we were able to lease the "Bar S Ranch," it was mid March. Hot beds had to be constructed and seeded, protective bed coverings had to be made, and a watering source had to be tapped and piped to water the hot beds. For human benefit, outhouses had to be provided, and a separate community bathhouse had to be constructed. Other priority work included plowing the fields, disking and leveling the land, and installing a telephone service.

Due to the wartime shortage of wiring, Telephone Companies were not installing new communication lines. The only way we could get phone service was to find a vacated line, salvage the wire, and restring approximately one mile of line on long poles ourselves.

Once the telephone line was strung and the phone company hooked us onto a party line, we had communication with the outside world. The US Postal Service also came within one mile of our farm but we were required to put up and maintain the mailbox. Despite the inconvenience of sharing the party line with complete strangers and having everybody cognizant of our personal business, the party line did provide contact with the outside world. We felt the communication was critical to our family's security and safety and so it was imperative that the two communication medias be available to us at all times.

However, periodically our line would be cut and our mail box knocked over. When these acts of vandalism occurred, one of the family members would go repair the damage. It soon became obvious the acts of vandalism happened whenever a Japanese military victory occurred in the South Pacific. On one occasion, when the war situation was really bad, Mr. Christensen rushed over with weapons to protect us when he heard that a lynching party was being organized.

Farming by Horse Power

Our farm was as modern and up-to-date despite its remoteness and lack of conveniences. We had an Allis-Chalmers 30-horsepower Caterpillar to pull heavy loads like 4-bottom plow, 12-foot disks, and 20-foot drags (land leveler). We also had a Farmall "H" rubber-wheeled tractor w/ four-row cultivator attachment, and wheel-aligned to fit most configuration of row crops. However, there was one twenty-acre field of lettuce located adjacent to a marshy slough that was too wet on the north side and couldn't be aerated (cultivated) by tractor. The only feasible solution was to cultivate by horse power but work horses were a thing of the past. After quick inquiry we discovered that Yoshiko's (Roy's wife) brother (Tom Nakayama) had work horses on his Rocky Ford farm.

Much to my misfortune, two horses were delivered almost immediately; my misfortune because I was selected to be the user and caretaker of the horses. We determined that two-horse cultivator could not be used because of the excessive moisture, but a single-horse single-row cultivator could serve the purpose. A two-horse cultivator is a riding cultivator but a one-horse cultivator is a walking and guiding cultivator. Thus I was destined to rein, walk, and guide horse/cultivator all day long for two weeks until the field dried out sufficiently for the lettuce to grow. The surprising thing about this innovative plan was the resulting lettuce that we were able to harvest from the twenty acres. The lettuce developed into large, juicy and sturdy heads that were ideal for shipment to market. And the two work horses were retired to a life of eating and sleeping.

Unfortunately, we didn't restrain them sufficiently and they broke out of the corral. This happened after Yoshiko's brother Tom had sent us two crateful of cantaloupes and melons after their harvest in Rocky Ford, Colorado. We had temporarily stored the two crates in our storage shed located just outside of the house. Unfortunately, the two horses grew up on the Nakayama Farm where they learned the delicious taste of the melons. While penned in the corral, they smelled the cantaloupes and melons and went berserk! They broke out of the corral, kicked out the shed door, broke open the crates, and partook of the fruits in their entirety! So ended the horse farming concept forever!

Labor Shortage

The crops we grew were labor intensive, especially since the farm lay idle for years and was comprised of rich, river-bottom land. The resulting condition was an overly weedy, moist-saturated field that required frequent hoeing by hand to kill the weeds and to till the soil for drying. The crops requiring such intensive care were lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower and our 1942 farm contained 120 acres of these vegetables. One laborer could hoe approximately an acre a day in a ten-hour-working day, therefore, it would take twenty laborers six days (60-hour work week) to complete one round of hoeing. Then the cycle would continue again for about four or five weeks until the crops were ready to harvest.

The family members who participated in our work crew were: my mother (who was fifty-nine years old); my sister-in-law Yoshiko; our family friend Soichi; and myself. Each work crew needs a "rabbit" who is the hirer's representative that sets the pace for the crew to ensure each participant completes an acre of work per day. Additionally, the "rabbit" must be a motivator, a complaint listener, a verbal scolder, and a compatriot, all in one. Since Soichi only knew one way to work (full bore at all times), the job of "rabbit" fell on my shoulders. Although the work was hard and tedious, my family members were bearing more of a load than I was. My mom (who was advised by a medical doctor four years previous that her high blood pressure was so bad that if she didn't get to sea level she would not live for more than a few months) was plodding away every day for ten hours on a farm that was located over 7000 feet above sea level. My sister-in-law Yoshiko (who was married to Roy for less than a year) was putting in fifteen-sixteen hours each day working in the field, cooking three meals for the family, and doing housework late at night. Soichi Kukita (our family friend who was classified as enemy alien) would spend a ten hour day in the field and after dinner would go back to the field and work until it became too dark to work.

For recreation, Soichi and I would periodically go fishing in the lagoons that were located right on our farm. Since Soichi was an enemy alien he couldn't get a fishing license and therefore he didn't fish the Conejos River (adjacent to our farm) that had better game fish, but he felt safe to fish the lagoons at night. We would fish till midnight, catching chubs, blue gills, carps, and an occasional trout. The carps we would keep alive and release in our private artesian water fish pond. After the carps had resided in pure artesian water for several weeks, we would make carp sashimi, a real delicacy for land-bound Japanese. Many Issei who lived in the San Luis Valley loved to fish but weren't permitted to get licenses; they were welcomed to fish in our lagoons undisturbed.

Labor Maintenance

Although I was less than fourteen years old, I was taught how to operate all of the mechanized farm equipment including the big truck. After working all day with the labor crew, I would have to transport half of them to and from their home in Los Sauces, Colorado, located some fifteen miles from the farm by road. I would haul them by truck over the back roads that cut the distance to eight miles and required approximately one hour to traverse round trip. The back road was single lane, deep rutted, mountainous short cut that had several hazardous turns and hills.

My work day started at 6 a.m. when I would start my trip to pick up the laborers, and end at 7 p.m. when I returned home. For the remaining half of the workers, I didn't have to transport them to their residences because they lived on our farm or within walking distance of our farm.

But on Saturday nights, after transporting half the crew to their homes in Los Sauces, I would load up the rest of the crew and take them into town of La Jara, Colorado for their shopping and recreation. We would cover the truck top and floor with tarps and with a few blankets; the truck provided a comfortable transport for the twelve-mile ride to town. Upon arriving in town, I would set a one o'clock a.m. time limit when they had to be on the truck for the return trip home. First they would go shopping for groceries a

nd clothes, bring their purchases to the truck and then go find their evening recreation. Their options were quite limited. They could go to church for services (mass or confession), or go dancing at the dance hall, or go drinking at the bars, or buy a bottle of wine and just go drinking.

At one a.m., we would count noses and patiently wait until two a.m. and if there were any workers missing, we would start the weekly roundup. First we drive to the dance hall to find those who might have forgot the time, then we'd drive the alleys looking for any passed out persons and if we were still short of crew members, we would go to the city jail and bail out any of ours. Hopefully, after all this, we can account for all of our crew and can then head home.

This "labor maintenance" may seem excessive but this was wartime and young male workers were either in the military or working in the big city on higher paying jobs. The remaining labor pool was quite limited and so we had to protect what we had with good favorable treatment.

Part 4 >>


© 2008 Herbert Inouye