"Pattie" (Lois) and "Nellie" (Nelson) were wed in 1918 when they eloped to California. Nellie was in the Navy during the First World War at the time. Two years later they were able to settle in to domestic life buying a 15 acre orchard in Clifton, near Grand Junction Colorado. There they raised their 4 children and literally tons of fruit. By this time, fruit growing was well established in the Grand Junction area. Nelson was known for his hard work and innovation. Some of the equipment he manufactured is still used on our farm today.
By the 1930’s Nelson and his brother-in-law Earl were making weekly trips to Denver to market their fruit. They would work with their crew picking fruit all day, load up the truck and drive to Denver during the night. They would drop off their load, turn around and get home in time to pick more fruit and make more deliveries.
The trip to Denver was not easy. There was no road between the Vail area and Frisco, nor was Loveland Pass a main road. There were two choices when driving to Denver; one was to take Tennessee Pass to Leadville and Fairplay and then drive over Kenosha Pass into Denver. The second choice was to drive to Kremling and take Berthoud Pass and Clear Creek Canyon into Denver. Either choice meant gravel roads and slow going. Nelson’s daughter Shirley (my mother), who accompanied her dad on these trips, remembers waking up to have breakfast in Fairplay. She also remembers the men throwing rocks behind the wheel of the truck on steep grades to make sure it didn’t roll back down the hill!
Until 1936, much of the labor of fruit growing was done with a team of horses. This included spraying with hand hoses and digging irrigation furrows. The team was trained to obey voice commands, so the person spraying could vocally tell the team to move forward, turn or stop without having to stop spraying. My mother remembers a very sad day when her dad’s team had to be sold to help pay bills.
Worms were a constant battle in the fruit. Apples were often sorted as clean, one worm and two worm apples. Nelson used to guarantee his fruit – he would jokingly tell people that if they bought a one worm apple and it didn’t have a worm to bring it back and he would exchange it for an apple with a worm. Arsenate of lead was the only spray available to help control the worms. This was applied with a hand held hose and the growers, equipment and horses would be covered with it. While only marginally effective, it was the only choice at that time. Ironically, the spray would stick to the fruit so much that at harvest, the apples would have to be run through a sulfuric acid bath to get the arsenate of lead off before they were washed and packed.
There were difficult years and good years in the fruit business. Nelson survived near bankruptcy by working off the farm as well as selling his fruit in many venues. He mined uranium for many years to help pay off debts. Uranium from the area he mined eventually made its way into the Manhattan Project. Nelson and Lois had four children and through his hard work, Nelson was able to support his family and provide enough for Lois to live on long after his death in 1964. His love of kids and close-knit family led their two surviving children to move near them.