May 27-07

Past-E-Mail: Cam Notes - 2007: May: May 27-07
Potato farming in the U.P.    ...scroll down to share comments
Photo courtesy of the MTU Archives
Bagging some spuds    ...scroll down to share comments
Photo courtesy of the MTU Archives
Quality Control    ...scroll down to share comments
Photo courtesy of the MTU Archives

Charlie at Pasty Central (Chopper) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 07:10 am:

As farming season begins in the U.P., we look ahead to harvest time with another Shoebox Memory transporting us to 1954, the Sohlden farm near Klingville, just south of Chassell. In the first shot the truck moves down the rows as sacks are poured onto the loader. Betty and Marie Onkalo fill one of those sacks in the second photo. Finally, Earle Sohlden himself (R) scans the end result for quality, assisted by Wally Keskitalo (L) and Uno Kemppainen.

We have Erik Nordberg to thank for today's pictures, as seen in the Mining Gazette and preserved in the Michigan Tech Archives. Erik is researching the potato farming industry in Houghton County, especially the period from 1930-1945. At its height, local farmers produced more than 900,000 bushels of potatoes annually for sale in local markets and as a cash crop for shipment to major Midwestern urban centers.

During the fall harvest, local farmers hired a lot of short-term "pickers" to help bag the spuds that mechanized harvesters couldn't get. Most pickers were paid by the bushel and some were offered the opportunity to take additional bushels home for winter storage and consumption.

Erik is hoping to hear from folks who might have participated as potato pickers at Houghton County farms. He's interested in collecting reminiscences about these experiences and is also seeking other photographs. You can reach him at

As always, thanks for stopping by Pasty Central. Hope your Memorial Day Weekend is a pleasant one. Have a good week :o)

By Theresa R Brunk (Trb0013) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 08:02 am:

No doubt a lot of those spuds went into many a Pasty. I always use Russet potatoes cause I was told that was the best to use. Am I correct on this? Also I would like to add a link to a Utube video for memorial day I found this morning. Remember all vets this weekend.

By Pete Wilberding (Peshtigopete) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 08:17 am:

I see there is now a web cam at the old radar base. What if anything is it being used for these days?

By Charles In Esky (Charlesinesky) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 08:17 am:

Potatoes are still big on many U.P. farms, I think. This past week
I attended a meeting of our Delta County Parks Commission.
One member of the Commission is a local farmer. When he
began talking about potatoes, I could see not only how much he
knew about them but how many others on the Commission did.
It's like downstate farmers and others in their rural communities
talking about corn, beans and how wet their fields are right now.
Everybody up here knows about growing spuds, I think, and it's
kind of neat to live in such an area.

By Paul Oesterle (Paulwebbtroll) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 09:15 am:

In the early 40's, my father was diagnosed with undulant fever. This was caused by the use of dairy products from cattle that had not been vaccinated for TB. He was hospitalized for quite a while and had to undergo some treatments that consisted of him being placed in a iron lung type device and then they raised his body temperature to about 105/106° for a certain period of time. As I recall, I was only about 10 at the time, he had 2 or 3 of these treatments. They were exspensive and of course my parents had no insurance. To make matters worse, all but 2 or 3 of their 25/30 head of milk cows tested positive for TB and had to be desposed of. The hospital, St. Lawrence in Lansing, agreed to take potatoes toward their bill. We had about 5 acres of potatoes and it was an exceptional crop that year. I remember hauling potatoes in a 2 wheel trailer behind a 1938 Ford car into Lansing. Probably laws against paying your bill that way today! All cattle have to be vaccinated now and of course the milk pasturized.

By Mr. Bill (Mrbill) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 09:19 am:

Among the Atlas employee rivalry for the greatest yield per home plot, Jack Nivala reigned for years until finally being up-rooted, or was it out-tubered, by Archie Richards.

By Mr. Bill (Mrbill) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 09:27 am:

An area miner shared this great oral history:

“My pa made carrying cases by adding straps to the empty powder boxes. We’d walk from Ameek to Calumet, about six miles, and carry potatoes back home. That’s why I was always way ahead of the guys marching with full packs in WWII.”

By Eddyfitz (Eddyfitz) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 09:37 am:

We had the great experience of "skipping school" and being picked up by an open back stake truck around 7 a.m. in Hubbell and driven to pick for the day in either Trap Rock Valley or out in the Mud Lake Rd/Bootjack/Dreamland area. This was a big week for us kids as I recall we would get $.10 a bushel and I distinctly remember one day getting paid $9.20 for my labor. All of the older, stronger kids got to "work the truck" all day and we were given cardboard milk stoppers with our own number on them to place on the top of each bushel we picked, the stronger guys would hoist them and stack them on the truck as they went down row after row. This was big money as my father was only making about $1.60 per hour at
C & H. I was able to buy all of my clothes for school (Lee Jeans and khakis) with the 10 days or so of picking potatoes. At the end of the picking season our father got to take us 5 brothers out and cull the fields and bring home the 5 to 10 sacks of potatoes free of charge. During the 40's and 50's there were 3 potatoe warehouses located along the DSS&A tracks between Hubbell and Lake Linden.
I saw on PBS a few years ago that this process is still being used in Maine to get the potatoes picked and sent to market.

By Gus LL (Gusll) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 10:03 am:

In the early 40s., as a teenager living on a farm in Sievi,Trap Rock Valley I worked on the potato harvest. We grew potatoes of our own but sometimes I would help the neighboring farmers with their harvesting. We were paid .05 cents a bushel, or sometimes maybe a dollar a day. The best time of the day is when we would go to the the host farmhouse for a coffee break and all the homemade sweets. Most often we were served a noon meal,sometimes a very good beef stew.With that dollar I made I could buy 5 gal. of gas to run my 1922 Indian motorcycle for quite awhile.

By Michael Du Long (Mikie) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 10:03 am:

Eddy, I remember after you guys had picked potatoes you had a fire behind Gus Lesages and threw potato in the fire. I was the youngest in the neighbor hood but can remember your brother Jim giving me a "baked potato" it was burned but to this day I remember it.

By JH (Thumbgardener) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 10:15 am:

We used to pick potatoes in the Cadillac area of the LP. We would pick Saturdays and the
Thursday, Friday and Saturday of parent teacher conference break. They never picked Sundays. We got 10 cents a bushel and most days could pick 100 bushels.

By Clara Huhak (Mugga) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 10:30 am:

I used to pick potatoes at Sohlden's farm. I made $.10/bag.

By Paul Roberts (Grizzlyadams) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 11:13 am:

I just eat potatoes. :-)

By Heikki (Heikki) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 11:13 am:

By (Gusll):
".....5 gal. of gas to run my 1922 Indian motorcycle for quite awhile."

This is off topic, but Gus mentioning his 1922 Indian motorcycle brings to mind a very good movie (available on DVD) titled "The World's Fastest Indian", starring Anthony Hopkins. A true story of New Zealander Burt Munro's effort to set a new land speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats on his highly modified Indian motorcycle. If you former/current motorcycle enthusiasts haven't seen this one, it's your loss. It's destined to become a classic.

By Roy Beauchene (Royb) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 11:39 am:

I remember picking potatoes at Koskela's farm on the road to McLean Park from Calumet. We would pick them, in the evening, for our own family use and also during the day for money. We would walk behind the tractor, which had a cultivator plow, and pick up the potatoes and place them in a bushel bag tied to our waist. I think we got $.10 per bushel. Very tiring job. Our own potatoes were stored at home in a potato bin, down the basement. My Dad would sprinkle the potatoes with white powder, which I think was lime.

By Eddyfitz (Eddyfitz) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 11:41 am:

Mike would you believe where the time has gone as Jim is coming north from Florida for the 50 year reunion this summer for the class of 1957 at Lake Linden-Hubbell high.

By Heikki (Heikki) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 12:25 pm:

My memories of picking spuds was on our small family farm in the 50's. A shovel plow pulled behind our 9N Ford tractor brought most potatoes to the surface.....had to comb through the soil with a potato rake for the rest. Stored them in a root cellar built into a hillside behind the garden, along with the carrots, rutabagas, etc.
They usually remained firm until late spring/early summer. Good memories....hard work...healthy lifestyle.

By Daveofmohawk (Daveofmohawk) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 01:06 pm:

Royb: I worked on Koskela's farm near Bear Lake in the 1960's. Stayed there in the summer and weekends in winter. At that time pickers got .10 per bushel and they sold potatoes to the public for $1.25 for about a 65-lb. bag. A lot of hard work but wonderful memories. The Koskela family were really nice, hard-working people.

By Mary Geshel (Maryll) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 01:43 pm:

A lot of us kids from the Lake Linden area picked potatoes at the Gardner and Hiltunen and Kallio farms in the 40's. We earned .10 cents for each bag, and we too had our own way of marking our bags with cardboard squares with our names on them. We had alot of fun and working together and were always trying to pick faster then the one next to us. Those were great times, even though it was hard work. We also used to make a fire in the pit in the yard and bake them and eat them although they usually were burnt black. Dads always helped and sat around eating the potatoes with us and telling stories to all of us kids. Fathers were a big part of our lives when we were growing up. All neighbors got together at night and did things like that and playing ball with their kids. Good memories.

By Helen (Heleninhubbel) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 07:32 pm:

Theresa......great grandson leaves pretty soon and the video touched my heart......thanks

God Bless all of you and safe traveling to those on the roads......hugs

By Dave (Daveintemecula) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 08:19 pm:

Thanks for the potato pics. I think my mother was working this farm at about the same time. It was especially nice to see a picture of Betty Onkalo. She was my Godmother and she just passed away a week ago Friday. RIP.

By Daveofmohawk (Daveofmohawk) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 08:50 pm:

Notice the size of the potatoes on the grading conveyor. The size of the potatoes that we buy today in the grocery store back then were either given away or fed to the livestock.

By kosk in Toronto (Koskintoronto) on Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 09:32 pm:

When I spoke with my dad this evening, I asked him if he had ever
been a potato picker. He said no but was aware of the fact that
people up in the Keweenaw did that. He did, however tell me a tale
about picking potato bugs and dousing them with kerosene. No
money crossed his palm for this activity. Apparently it was a part
of doing his share of the work in the family garden in L'Anse.

By Liz B (Lizidaho) on Monday, May 28, 2007 - 01:31 am:

Several local school districts in Idaho still have potato harvest off for about 2 weeks. Even today's mechanization needs vine tossers, baggers, drivers, sorters. That first russet of the season baked just so is the best spud of the year. Harvest: Reds first, chippers second (potato chip spuds), russets last. In between the Yukon golds and other fun varieties.

By Stewart Keskitalo (Skeskitalo) on Friday, June 1, 2007 - 10:37 am:

My dad, Wally , and I would often go to meetings in the evenings for the farmers and MSU Extension Specialists. I got picked to go with dad as I was the middle child but little did I know what I would learn from those meetings that would help me later in life. Now I treasure those times. Planting seed potato rows to check for yields in Bootjack. I got to pick up pine cones laden with seed for a professor at MSU. He called dad and wanted them now. Then there were the strawberries that our area is known for. I remember piling in the back of Dorothy Binoniemi's Ford truck going to Bill Niemala's to pick strawberries at 6:00 am. Six cents a quart , by golly. I count myself among the lucky to have grown up in the Copper Country.
"Stewie" as my dad called me.

By Pamela S. Morse (Pmorse) on Friday, June 1, 2007 - 12:20 pm:

Wally Keskitalo, my father, sure was a handsome man! I have fond memories of picking strawberries but my basket was always empty because I ate them as fast as I picked them - a little bit of dirt never fact it added to the taste. - Pam Morse

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