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That Juicy Fruit

John Rico

Vacaville, once the most prominent fruit center of America, gained that fame because early settlers took advantage of virgin soil, plenty of rainfall and the sunshine that came early in the year.

It’s strange that history does not record the first planting of orchards in the Vacaville area, although there is proof that John Wolfskill planted the first figs and olives on his ranch in Pleasants Valley. This was back in 1845. His neighbor, J. M. Pleasants, planted an orchard of apricots and pears in 1852, but it took M. R. Miller to commercialize on the fruit industry, when he planted figs, apples, peaches and Mission grapes. He grafted the grape vines to the Muscat variety, and with a sufficient supply he loaded his four-horse wagon and hauled the crop to the mines of the Mother Lode area, where he had no trouble disposing of his supply at 50 cents a pound.

Miller became enthused at his ability to grow Muscat grapes and in the year 1863 he came upon an idea of packing the grapes in cork dust, sending some of his crop to New York via Panama. But he was soon to learn that the Muscat variety of grapes would not stand this kind of handling.

When the Central Pacific Railroad was completed small shipments were made to eastern markets, bringing a high price, but the excessive shipping cost made the venture unprofitable.

To help publicize Vacaville grapes, an entire carload was loaded and sent to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. One half of the carload of grapes was contributed by Pleasants Valley grape growers as an advertisement for California. This was the forerunner of the from which was to come to California grapes in later years.

Grape growing flourished in Pleasants Valley and in the hill sections north of Vacaville, but in the ‘70s many of the grape vines had to be uprooted because of disease and growers turned their attentions to the growing of fruit, and it is generally believed fruit growing here really got underway about the year 1880.

Sol Decker, a fruit grower in the Pleasants Valley area, had grown a peach crop and in later years through propagation the variety was successful for commercial purposes, thus was born the Decker peach.

L. W. Buck, a pioneer in the fruit growing business in the Vacaville area, was listed as among the first in California to risk shipping his fruit to eastern markets. .The ventilated car came into use, but a charge of about $1,000 per car was made by the railroads for this new method of transporting fresh fruit to eastern markets. So popular was this method of fruit shipping that the railroads were forced to limit to a maximum of four cars to each train.

In 1889 the first refrigerated cars were used in California, which went a long way in helping to bring fresh fruits to eastern dinner tables. Many of the fruits now harvested in California had their origin in the Vacaville area.

Today the remnants of Vacaville’s glorious past in the fruit industry can be seen in decaying stumps of fruit trees. There are a few orchards remaining in the Pleasants Valley and Vaca Valley sections, but these are insignificant compared to the thousands of acres of fruit tress which formed an unforgettable sight in blossoming time in the spring. Like the Mother Lode and its gold fever past, so it is with Vacaville and its rise and fall in the fruit growing industry. Few ranchers would plant an orchard today because there are other crops taking less work which are proving more profitable. But the day may once again come when the overworked lands of the area may once again go back into fruit production, particularly grapes.

In one season alone, 1923, a total of 1713 carloads of fruit departed from Vacaville and averaging 1,000 crates or boxes to a car, it can readily be calculated that the total packages was 1,713,000.

That was a lot of fresh fruit going to all parts of the United States and bearing the label “Grown and Packed in Vacaville, California.”