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When the bean crop ruled Johnson County agriculture: Part II

In last week’s column I wrote a bit about the green bean enterprise in Johnson County and having been involved in the labor aspect of that once thriving enterprise, I remember a great deal about it. What I mean about being involved in the labor of it is I picked and carried out — two important jobs toward getting the beans from the vines to the weigh station and finally to market. I hope last week’s and this column might evoke the memory of some of those of us who worked all day in the bean field in the blazing sun as well as be informative to the young people of today as well as newcomers to our great county.

When beans became the right size in the field it was time to harvest them. It was necessary to acquire pickers. This was often done by word of mouth. There was always someone who had a field of beans to harvest so it was rather easy to find beans to pick. There were people who owned various sizes of trucks from pickups to the larger ones who could make extra money by hauling pickers. Even today, I shudder at the memory of pickers sitting on the tailgate of the truck with their legs dangling down. In those days folks may not have been as cognizant of danger as they are now in many ways.
Usually the pickers would arrive at the bean field early in the morning when the dew was still on the ground and soon they would be wet. But when the sun came out it was a different story. Then the relentless sun would begin to make you yearn for the cool of the dew. When it rained, and it often did, many times there was no shelter except for a tree at the end of the field.

In my experience, the system used worked out pretty well. When a picker’s hamper (basket) was filled, the picker would call out “hamper.” The bean field owner always hired folks to “carry out.” One of those designated to carry out would go to where the picker was located and take the full hamper and leave an empty one. The picker received a ticket for each hamper picked. In my day each ticket was good for fifty cents. Some folks could pick 10 or 12 bushels a day or more. Some like me picked considerably less. The beans would sell at the market for about $2.00 or more. Sadly, sometimes poor quality beans would sell for less, sometimes not even covering the farmer’s expenses.

After being picked, the beans were hauled to market. At one time I seem to remember that there was two bean markets in Mountain City but the market near where Tri-State Growers, Inc. is now located was most prominent. The farmer put a basket full of beans on a sort of bench on the floor of the building. This served as a sample of the farmer’s beans and what the buyers used to judge the whole crop.
As the buyers came down the line of bean hampers, an auctioneer used the auctioneer’s chant to keep track of the prices offered and who offered them.

I remember that there was a snack bar at the north end of the building that served cold drinks, hot dogs, hamburgers and other items. Believe me when I say after a hard days work in the beans, the items sold at that little snack bar were welcome indeed.