Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer job

I happened to pick up the July-August issue of Orion magazine, and as I was browsing through it, I saw this article, "Peas, Man", by Matt Rasmussen. [The online version is abridged.] I had to buy the magazine then because I spent a full summer and part of another one pea vining in the Skagit Valley, not too many years before the author of the article.

It was during the first summer that I lived with my grandparents. Like Rasmussen, I worked the night shift. The viners I drove, though, were the older, tractor-pulled models. It was good money for a high school summer job. Because I was under 18, I had to take a safety course at the local community college, which I later attended as a regular student. The first entry on my college transcript is something like "Pea Viner Operator."

Here are a few pictures. Again, please pardon the quality of the scanning.

Tractor and pea viner. Much of the time you faced backwards monitoring the viner behind you. I got really strong climbing on and off the tractor and spreading pea vines around with the pitch fork.

Cleaning the pea viner. This is early in the shift when it was still warm and light out. As it got darker and cooler, more layers of clothes were added. Like Rasmussen, there were times I had to climb inside the viner with rain gear on, almost swim through the half-digested pea vines and, with a linoleum knife, hack through the vines and caked mud that would stop up part of the machine.

Dumping the peas. When your pea bin was full, you'd signal the pea truck to come over so you could dump your load. The peas were then driven to the processing plant where they were packaged into the bags of frozen peas sold in grocery stores. The rows of vines were cut and heaped into rows in advance by the swathers. Rasmussen's machines cut the vines themselves.

All done. The field is harvested. The viners are lined up ready to move to the next field. As Rasmussen described, it could be rather scary at times driving on the roads. With so much weight behind you, it was easy to oversteer. Going over hills was also nerve-wracking. All the viners would stop at the bottom of the hill, and the mechanics would come around to make sure we were in the lowest gear. Once you started up the hill, you could not touch the clutch to shift down, or all that weight behind you would overpower the brakes and you'd roll backwards into the tractor behind you.

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