by Delores Miller
Poverty-stricken mid-Wisconsin families began in the 1940s to look for ways of supplementing farm income. Milk cows, pigs and chickens were not sufficient. Cucumbers was a quick and easy cash crop, or so it seemed unless you were the poor individual picking pickles.
A contract with the Bond Pickle Company and their representative Laura Mauel was signed. Other receiving pickle stations were located at Big Falls with Otto Faehling as agent and Eastling at Manawa. Quarter or half acre was the usual size. Seeds were planted with the crop maturing the end of July, and continued until frost, sometime towards the end of September. Ten weeks of cucumbers.
Picked and priced by size, ten dollars for a hundred pounds of two inch size gherkins. A dollar for a hundred pounds of the over-sized pickles with various prices in between. Hot, humid, sticky days, rainy days, early morning, flies, mosquito bites, made no difference. The creeping vines, prickly, the blasted pickles still had to be picked. I was allergic, itched and suffered from hives, made no difference, rubber gloves solved that problem.
Hauled in gunny sacks to the pickle factory, located near the railroad tracks in Marion, east of the Plywood and the Ziehm Brothers livestock pens. Laura Mauel ran them through a conveyor belt and graded by size. Put in the wooden barrels, to ferment with salt, dill and vinegar, eventually being bottled and sold in stores.
And what to do with all the money earned, you say? Buy school clothes, supplies, perhaps a new winter coat and a few dollars to spend foolishly at the free shows. Money was hard to come by in those early teen-aged days.
copyright 2014 by Delores and Russell Miller
Delores Miller lives with husband Russell in Hortonville, Wisconsin. In the summer of 2007 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party hosted by their five children and ten grandchildren. It’s been a long road. Dairy farming until retirement in 1993, they continued to 'work' the land, making a subdivision of 39 new homes on their former hay fields.