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Unforgettable Sight

John Rico

Present-day Vacaville residents will never experience the thrill and fascination accorded to the older residents of the community who lived here during the ‘area’s boom days of the fruit industry. Not that the fruit was any different than that which is grown today, but because of the methods of handling is our reminiscing back so interesting.

There are many people in Vacavile today who regularly see the television series “Death Valley Days” and its 20-mule team hauling borax across the desert valley. In Vacaville’s yesteryear there were teams hauling fruit to downtown Vacaville where it was placed into freight cars for shipment to many points across the United States.

Unlike the 20-mule team of the “Death Valley” stories, teams haul¬ing Vacaville fruits numbered one, two or perhaps three, tugging away at lumbering wagons heaped high with crates of fruit neatly stacked, with some loads weighing over three tons.

From distant ranches, four, five, and as many as seven miles distant, the driver and his wagon and horses or mules, would leisurely make their way over the dirt or graveled roads, to “fruit shed row” on East Main Street, there to await their turn for unloading.

It was not an unfamiliar sight in the busy shipping season to see wagons lined up all the way from the shipping shed area on East Main, to downtown Main Street.

There was some competition among the drivers to get to an unloading area ahead of other ranchers, so that team, wagon and driver could return to the ranch for a second or perhaps third load of fruit in a single day.

The days were hot and long, and the driver dared not leave his seat once he had his wagon in line at the loading platforms for fear that some¬one would crowd ahead.

Sitting in the hot sun in the peak of the summer’s weather, the driver sought protection under a wide-rimmed straw hat, a handkerchief circled around the neck, or perhaps a wide umbrella. To protect the crates of fruit from the hot sun, and the dust of the country roads, canvas covers were draped over the entire load, and securely fastened with ropes to keep it in place.

There were horses of a dozen breeds; there were mules of varied colors, and drivers of a multitude of nationalities. This was hard work—real hard—because the crates of fruit weighing all the way to 30 pounds had to be handled in a hurry, and the only way it was done in those days was with muscle. From driver to car-loader in tossing the crates of fruit, presented a rhythmic pattern, and neither of the two dared hesitate a moment lest he be caught flat-footed with an extra crate of fruit in his lap.

The crates found their way into the box cars, were neatly stacked, and firmly braced to withstand the rugged ride of thousands of miles across the country. The car-loader not only earned his wages by tossing the heavy crates around, but he also had to be adept with hammer and saw to do the carpenter work inside the box car before the doors were locked shut.

An average of 1000 crates went into every car, and there were days when 30 carloads departed from Vacaville. There were morning and afternoon shipments, with two trains coming to Vacaville to do the switch¬ing from the several side tracks provided for the half dozen shipping company in business here.

As the horseless carriage came upon the scene, so did the horse Less wagon, but few were the local area farmers who could afford one of these new innovations. Those growers fortunate enough to have one of the new trucks could ramble down the local roads at a pace that would leave the horse or mule team far behind.

We talk about pollution today, but the animals in our yesteryear who had to use the same thoroughfare as the smoke-spurting trucks, really had it rough, as did the sweating driver, perched up high on the wagon seat, inhaling the fumes from the chugging vehicles. But these were rugged men who knew how to jerk on the reins, and curse in rhythm so that it actually sounded like sweet music.