The Oregonian, Portland, OR., May 14, 1903, page 14
Includes photographs

Famous For Its Strawberries, Apples And Other Fruits

     HOOD RIVER, Or., May 10. - (Special correspondence) - We Americans consider there are two requisites for happiness in this world -- "health and wealth," we desire health that we may gain wealth, and, having gained wealth, we seek to retain health. Hood River seems to be an ideal location for obtaining and retaining both. Here is a community of business men and farmers, wide-awake, energetic, intelligent and progressive. Here are women and children with bloom of health and symmetry of form, pleasing to the eye and the envy of the feeble and decrepit. Here are people who have prospered through having located where local advantages are so favorable, and each one is an immigration agent to tell an alluring story of why Hood River is to be referred to any other place. Optimism it is the rule and pessimism the exception -- and the spirit is contagious. Optimism is one of the diseases which is not to be feared or avoided, as it develops the best in the physical and mental of mankind.

Has Many Attractions

     "Come to Hood River," they say, "and drink in the ozone of our mountain air; bask in the sunshine of our months and months of cloudless skies; drink of our cool waters from snow-capped Hood; eat of our delicious fruits; gaze upon the grander of our scenery, the lordly Columbia River at your feet, the snow peaks of Adams and Hood to the north and south. Till the soil and note what golden harvests are yours. No fear of drought, for there is an abundance of water to irrigate the land throughout the valley. Our Winters are just cold enough to give us the pleasures of sleighing and skating, and our Summers warm enough to bring to the greatest perfection our fruits, rotating through the season, with strawberries, cherries, pears, prunes, peaches and apple. Of course streams abound in fish and of mountains in game."

Has No Rival

     Hood river is the name of the river having its source at the base of Mount Hood, and emptying here into the Columbia. It is a rapid mountain stream with a large flow of water, but is no where navigable. It is capable of developing much power, but it is being only utilized for floating sawlogs from the mountains.
     Hood River is the name of the town which now has a population of about 1200, but which had no existence prior to the completion of the O.R. & N. Co.'s railroad. It has water and rail connection, being 66 miles from Portland and 22 miles from The Dalles. It is the tipping point for all the Hood River Valley, which is from four to five miles wide and 18 to 20 miles long, and is rapidly being settled up with small farmers, on 10 and 20-acre tracts, and these lands are being set to strawberries and fruit trees, which return large profits on the investment. The total population of the valley is about 4000 and increasing from year to year. The land slopes back from the Columbia River to an elevation of about 300 feet, and there forms a table land extending back into the mountains. The abundant water of the creeks are brought out on this plateau, and distributed to the fruit and berry raisers, thus enabling them to have a positive assurance of annual crops, no matter how dry may be the season. The natural and only practical outlet of this valley is by and through the town here, and as a consequence it has no rival for commercial supremacy.

A Populous Valley

     Let us assume that the average income, of the lands of the valley is only $100 to the acre, which, I think, from the figures I will give later in this letter will prove a very low estimate, the present number of acres producing crops is only about 2500. The aggregate acreage of the valley, suitable for berries and fruit trees is about 50,000, so that the valley will eventually support a population of from 25,000 to 30,000 people, and the annual sales reached several million dollars, instead of as now only about $250, 000. These figures may seem to be extravagant, but it must be borne in mind that the products here are not dependent upon the demands of a local market, but extend almost to the entire globe, and as a consequence there is practically no limit to the market.

A Rapid Development

     The writer has personal recollections of the Hood River Valley when the only means of transportation was by the river; when there were no transcontinental railroads, and the only market with a local one, easily glutted, when the lands where there is now the town of Hood River was in large farms owned by the Coes, the Watsons, the Smiths and others, and only a short distance back from the river were hundreds of acres of unowned and untilled land covered with a growth of pine and under brush. The new residents in the valley then may have had a conception of the present settlement here, but they have been deemed visionary to have prophesied so rapid a development. It was largely owing to the experiments in strawberry culture, proving lands considered worthless to be very valuable, which gave to the Hood River Valley its fame, and its possessors fortunes.

A Busy People

     A trip through the valley, among the farms, is a most enjoyable one. The fruit trees are in bloom, the rows and rows of strawberry plants are bright green, and in every field are seen men, women and even children, busy as bees, taking advantage of this favorable weather to get the ground in proper shape, the fields of free of weeds, so that later, when irrigation commences, there shall be no interruption to the rapid growth of the strawberry vines and the bloom and maturity of the berries. About the middle of May the strawberries will begin coming into market, and it is estimated that this year there will be 25,000 crates of strawberries shipped.
     During the strawberry season about 2000 pickers have been heretofore employed, but this year demand will be for about twice that number. Hood River is a popular place for enjoying an outing, and many families come here to pick berries and at the same time enjoy the invigorating effects of the climate.

Plenty of Work

     "If one were to come to Hood River looking for work, what could he find to do it?" I inquired of one of the leading business men here.
     "There is a never-unfailing demand for men at $2 to $3.50 a day in the sawmill and logging-camps, and among the farmers, but at less wages for farm work, also during the fruit season for picking strawberries."
     "If I were up to apply for a job picking strawberries, where would I find a place to live, as your houses seem to be scarce even now?"
     "It is the general rule for berry-pickers to bring with them camping outfits. The owners of the strawberry plantations will hire an average of about five pickers to the acre, and will find for his pickers suitable camping grounds, where wood and water are convenient. The picking season lasts about one month, but it is not over through the entire valley for about 60 days."
     "With a family of say five persons, the husband, wife and three children, the youngest being 10 years of age, how much money can that family earn picking berries?"
     "That is a hard question to answer, as some persons can pick much faster than others, and the condition of the crop varies. A grown person can earn from $1 to $2.50 a day, and the children from 75 cents to $1.50 a day. At that rate a family of five can earn from $1.50 to $2 during the month. The pickers are paid by the box at the rate of 1½ cents each. Quite a large number of persons are employed as 'packers,' and are paid ½ cent a box, or wages by the hour. It is lighter work than picking, and persons who cannot pick profitably do well in the packing-rooms."
     "When does the picking season commence?"
     "About May 20 and it is at its best about June 10, and ceases about July 1."
     "Do the growers haul the camping outfit from the station to the farm, and back again?"
     "Yes, it is customary to do so, by nearly all the growers, and cooking-houses are also provided in some cases. The growers try to make it as pleasant and profitable for their pickers as possible."
     "What wages are paid on the farm?"
     "Hired men can get from $1 to $1.25 a day and board, and girls, to do housework, can earn from $3 to $5 a week."
     "Is there much demand for this class of work?"
     "Yes, greater than the supply. Farmers are looking for men every day, and the demand for girls as domestics is almost impossible to supply."

Securing a Home

     "If I were to come to Hood River and want to buy a tract of land for growing strawberries, or apples, where would you advise me to buy, what would be the cost, and what would be the probable profits?"
     "Much depends upon the state of your finances. If you have enough money to buy what you want and pay cash, and have some money over to live on, I would advise you to buy an improved piece of land, but if not you can do better to rent. By industry you can then make enough money to later buy an own a tract of land without going in debt. There are hundreds of acres of strawberry land which the owners will rent, from $5 to $10 an acre, in advance, and which will return to the renter, when set to berries, $100 to $150 acre. It is estimated that a man and family can take care of ten acres and hire no help except during the picking season. Water for irrigation costs from $3 to $5 an acre, per season. The cost of picking and crating two dozen boxes of berries is 64 cents, and the average yield through the valley is 150 crates to the acre, which sell at from $4 to $1.50 a crate, or an average of about $2 a crate, which leaves as a profit above all expenses about $1.50 an acre. Ten acres in strawberries will bring in $1500 or more a year. There is no place where a man with an industrious wife and children can succeed so well, as at Hood River, on a small farm. A woman, as an example, can tend to the irrigating ditches, trim the vines and do other things and earn a man's wages."
     "The season for attending a strawberry farm is about six months, from April to October, which leaves six months which can be utilized in some other way. Most of the uncleared lands in the Hood River valley are covered with a growth of pine, fir, oak or brush timber and this can be cut down, grubbed and burned, during the idle season. These uncleared lands can be bought at prices ranging from $10 to $150 and acre, depending on location. When the same land is cleared and set out in strawberries or bearing fruit, it is worth from $150 to $300 an acre, the difference in the price between wild and cultivated land being represented principally by the labor put on it. Thus a man clearing a ten-acre tract could put in from $500 to $600 work during each winter, the weather being but little interruption to his work."
     "Are not the prices at which land is being sold rather high?"
     "No, I think not. Our own people here are buying these lands at the prices and consider it a good investment and when a tract of land is once cleared and nicely improved there is a good demand for it by persons who do not want to work and wait for the same condition."
     "What do you consider it is the future of the fruit industry at Hood River?"
     "I look for the Apple belt to be on the foothills on the east side of Hood river, and the strawberry belt to be on the west side, where the soil is better adapted to strawberries and not so good for apples. The contemplated new water ditch on the east side will be of great advantage to that section as the present ditch has been to this side of the valley."
    "How are the settlers in the upper end of the Hood River Valley going to get their products to market cheaply?"
     "At present they bring them the 18 miles by team, but it will not be many years until the products there and settlement will warrant the construction of a railroad along the banks of Hood River, and it could easily be electrified, as there is available in Hood River over 100,000 horsepower."

An Irrigating Ditch

     An Idaho syndicate is now obtaining the right of way for an irrigating ditch which will carry over 10,000 inches of water and cover about 19,000 acres of fruit and farmland. This ditch will have about 200 feet of elevation above the bed of the river, and will be capable of developing an immense power. It will cost something like $200,000, and is to be rushed through to completion.
     The upper end of Hood River Valley is now in parts a virgin forest of fine timber, but as soon as those trees are cut out the farmer will follow with the ax and grubbing hoe, and orchards and strawberries will be planted there. We have the soil and climate for strawberries and apples, and it needs only capital and energy to develop the country, and the people are coming in the rapidly and making themselves homes. The future of Hood River looks good to me."

Transportation Facilities

     Rapid and reliable transportation facilities are of great importance to a fruit-growing district, and in this respect Hood River is admirably situated. The products can readily be shipped over four transcontinental railroads -- the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Great Northern and Canadian Pacific, besides being in the easy reach of water transportation north and south along the Coast.

Value Of Co-Operation

     The fruitgrowers here have learned from past experience that success is largely dependent upon co-operative organization in the distribution of their products, and hence the Fruitgrowers' Association here has been a prominent factor in the fruit industry of the valley.

Large Number of Telephones

     At the telephone exchange in Hood River are nearly 200 subscribers, and constantly increasing in number. In proportion to the population of only about 1200, this is probably the largest list of subscribers of any exchange on the Coast.

The Lumbering Industry

     There are seven sawmills in and near this town, and a combined amount of lumber manufactured each year being about 45,000,000 feet, the number of men employed about 400, and the payroll of about $250,000 a year. The lowest wages paid are $2 dollars a day for 10 hours' worked, and the season lasts about ten months. Fir lumber is the principal kind manufactured.

Two More Hotels

     The increasing business here has about reached the limits of the hotel accommodations, and two new hotels are talked of here, one for commercial men exclusively, in the center of town, and the other a tourist hotel, on a sightly location on land formerly embraced in the Coe farm. Hood River is growing, and some fine residences are in course of construction, and plans for more have been drawn. Probably 100 new buildings will be erected here this summer.

Berry Pickers Wanted

     The berry crop of Hood River last year was about 57,000 crates, and to gather the fruit about 2000 pickers were employed. The total acreage of full-bearing vines this year is closely estimated to be 800 acres, with about 500 acres more of new yards which will each bear a small crop. The number of crates of strawberries that will be shipped from Hood River this season is estimated at 100,000 crates, and that at least 4000 pickers will be given employment. Persons desiring information about securing work had best address the Davidson Fruit Company, at Hood River, and the camp should be pitched at least ten days before picking commences, in order to avoid the great rush of pickers which comes later.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer