Laughs relieved the Depression in HB Orchards
By Gilbert H. Lloyd
The 1930s gave little cause for laughs in Hawke’s Bay orchards where money and work was very scarce, but we had our brighter moments.
Greasy Bill was a grubby bachelor grower who had a poor Havelock orchard. Bill was so lazy he didn’t wash or shave and avoided all possible work.
One evening there was a card party at a neighbouring orchard when there was a knock at the back door and a young woman visitor who was not playing cards offered to answer it.
A few moments later there was a scream and a crash of crockery when everyone dropped his cards and rushed to the rescue to find the young woman up on the kitchen table, clutching her skirts.
Greasy Bill was standing in the doorway.
“Whatever happened?” asked the host.
“Well,” said Bill, “I haven’t worn this old overcoat for some weeks and the lady had just opened the door when I thrust my hand into the pocket.
“A big rat must have made its nest in my pocket and it jumped out and ran across the floor…it seemed to alarm this young lady.”
Lazy men invent labour-saving devices and Bill was too tired to use two hands carrying a ladder around his stunted trees.
He used a petrol case with an extra step on the top, an ideal device for working among today’s semi-dwarf trees.
Today hydraladders and steel ladders have eliminated the hazards of white pine ladders, which soon rotted to shaky steps.
When 3 metres up, with a bag of pears around your neck, a step would break, leaving you hanging by the armpits between the rungs with the bent step nails biting into your ribs.
The only way to descend was to rock the ladder sideways until you and the ladder collapsed and you sorted yourself out on the ground.
It certainly left you in a sticky position – but not as sticky as the tractor salesman who was demonstrating a new tractor on a mixed orchard and cow farm.
He had just finished his demonstration and was backing his tractor to load on to the truck ramps when he failed to notice the manure cesspit behind the cowshed and dropped tractor and driver into 1.5 metres of muck and sludge.
As the driver stood on the seat, the farmer tossed him a tow rope so he could go down below the surface to tie it to the front axle.
When the farmer pulled them both out with his old tractor, the salesman rushed to the creek nearby, to wallow in the water fully clothed until he was hygienic enough to load his machine and head back to town.
Some of the fruitgrowers were reluctant to pay wages in full and one grower said that pay and work started on spray days when the spray came out the end of the hose on to the tree.
Catching and harnessing the horse, filling the vat and mixing the spray were just “preliminaries” and not to be included in the day’s work.
But his wife loved cooking and her “smokos” were a dream.
Cream sponge cakes, hot buttered scones with strawberry jam…it took the workers half-an-hour morning and afternoon to wade through the “goodies.” So the boss was still behind the play!
Hungry Bob was a penny-pinching fruitgrower at Twyford who used to work his men 8½ hours and pay for 8 hours.
But he met his match with one of his seasonal hands, Swivel-eye, who, for three weeks each summer, was more than punctual at work.
First there, he would go down the orchard with his picking bag five minutes ahead of time, return for lunch at the packing shed after the others and head back early on the job.
Hungry Bob was very pleased with this diligence, little knowing that Swivel-eye hopped through the fence, worked for three weeks of the William pear crop at the dairy farmer’s next door and collected both lots of wages.
Everyone knew, except old Hungry Bob, who never left the packing shed, so he could scold anyone who dropped an apple on the floor.
Herb Webb in the 1880s started a 2-acre orchard in Havelock and also kept a few beehives.
The orchard was dug with spades in winter and weeded with hand hoes in summer.
Arthur Fulford worked for him occasionally as a boy and noticed one day that a hive was about to swarm.
He hurried to the boss, who stalked to the hive, paused for a second and plunged his bare arm in among the bees and gently closed his hand on the queen bee.
Then he stood up, holding his arm stiff while the bees buzzed all around him, forming on his arm and beard.
Meanwhile, Arthur thought the boss had gone mad and was jumping up and down out of range.
“Don’t be standing there like a dummy,” roared the boss. “Get a box – quick.”
Arthur rushed for a box and the boss, with his arm still stiff, quietly put the queen in the box and stepped back as all the bees left him to join the queen.
The only person stung was Arthur, who got 12 beauts, while he was rushing around trying to save the boss.