Letters and Miscellanies

Growing and Threshing Melons

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Concerning the recent discussion about watermelon threshing: I was born on a homestead April 4, 1913. I was raised on a farm and ranch south of Rocky Ford, Colo. Rocky Ford is known the world over for its Rocky Ford cantaloupes. I have raised melons for shipping and for seed.

The early-day seed threshers were built on a low-wheeled running gear. The thresher consisted of two cast iron rollers with about 1-inch spikes cast on them to crush the melons. The crushed melons dropped into several screens set at an angle and the rinds dropped out the low end. The seeds and juice were caught in a tight box underneath the screen. When it was full, sometimes we filled the seeds in gunny-sacks or hauled the seed and juice to a pit. A single-cylinder hit-and-miss engine usually drove the machine.

Later, machinery was pulled by tractors and PTOs drove the machinery. I've threshed many acres of watermelons and cantaloupes. The seeds had to be washed to wash off the juice and then dried. In the early days, screens were made of window screen and the seeds were sun-dried. Later, driers were developed to dry with gas and propane. At one time, there were six or more seed houses in Rocky Ford that I can name. Only two remain.

The Burrell Co. was founded in about 1890, as was the Hollar & Co. I worked for Wood Seed for a while. We packaged and shipped all over the country. Hollar & Co. shipped seed all over the world. I've also shipped cantaloupe and honeydew. It was big business in the early part of the 20th century.

Cantaloupes were shipped in ice cars, with bunkers of ice in each with air scoops in the end to circulate cold air to cool the melons. Honeydews were usually shipped in dry cars. I don't really know how many cars were shipped daily on the Stance railroad. I've been told that the icehouse in La Junta, Colo., could ice 40 cars a day. I could write a book on seed growing.

The main crop grown in the first part of the century was melons, sugar beets and onions. At one time there were two sugar factories in Otero County, but there are none now. Onions were also a big crop grown in Otero County. Crowley County north of the Arkansas River was also a big grower of melon and grain crops.

Francis H. Olsen
125 S. Snead Drive
Pueblo West, CO