Thursday, September 24, 2020

KOAC "School of the Air"

 “School of the Air” sounds like a distance-learning program that might have arisen in response to the Covid-19 pandemic school closures. In fact, this program began in 1930.

The 1920s were the decade in which radio spread across the country.  By the end of the the decade over 40 percent of American households had radio sets.  Locally, Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) began broadcasting from a radio station (KFDJ) which was a lab experiment in physics. In December, 1925, the station's power was up-graded and it began to operate statewide as KOAC.  The station adopted the slogan “Science for Service” and began offering broadcasts of faculty lectures relating to farm, business, and household management.  Some OAC (OSU) courses were also offered via radio, such as a 1930 home study poultry course.  Readings were assigned in a text and in college bulletins, and radio lectures were broadcast every Tuesday evening.  Over 500 Oregon poultry farmers registered.

In that same year, the station also began the “School of the Air” which featured 15-minute programs broadcast to elementary and middle school classrooms during the regular school day. The programs were intended to supplement the regular curriculum, especially in areas with limited resources.  Interested teachers could sign up and receive a curriculum guide which included aids for listening and suggested activities. One such program, from the 1940s was "Let's Sing America".

This booklet included words and music for the songs in the for schools  "which possess only a limited musical library and consequently find it difficult to have both words and music to many of the songs" which were sung together each Thursday. 

Some programs were science-oriented, including “Autumn in the Woods,” “Nature Trails,” “Starry Skies,” and  “Adventures in Research.”  Other topics included  “Land of Make-Believe,” “Children's Theater,” Let's Explore Art,” “Hero Tales from Oregon History,”   “ National Parks and Monuments.”

“The Boy Next Door” was a health program.  Ninth grade students interviewed state and community officials for the “This is Our Community” program.

The station estimated that in 1945-1946 about 35,000 children from over 50 schools, listened to “School of the Air” programs.  In 1949, KOAC broadcast over 14 weekly programs as part of this series.

When Oregon established the state system of higher education in 1932 , KOAC became the system's radio station. In 1981, the state board decided to divest its radio and TV stations and these facilities became part of  Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Robert Hamill's Memories of Hop Picking

 August through October is the time when growers harvest hops. Production began in Oregon in 1867 near Buena Vista.  Many farmers added hops as a cash crop.   In a manuscript in the archives of the Benton County Historical Museum, Robert Hamill tells his memories of hop harvesting in the early 1900s.  He was a boy at the time but accompanied his parents when they went to pick.

“The Hamill family went hop picking first in 1904....My father was a...commercial fisherman on the Columbia River.  He needed a new net and while my mother and father could kit the many fathoms required, they needed funds for the twine.”

His mother saw an advertisement in the paper for hop pickers.  “Dad read the ad and decided with four adults and my twelve year old sister that the fund for the net could be obtained during the picking season.  Since I was but seven they didn't count me in....The ad had stated that a river steamer and paddle wheeler firm was to be contracted for transportation and other detail so dad went the next morning to sign up.  The yard he signed for was near Independence …. Dad thought that the family could make fifteen to twenty dollars a day....We had to take some food, clothing, cooking utensils and bedding.  Cabins, wood and water were furnished by the farmer....

“We were soon on our way to Independence and the hop fields.  Dad told us the the middle Willamette Valley was the hop capital of the U. S. producing more than the rest of the country produced....Many hundreds of persons were moving to the hop yards from Portland and the valley towns headed for intriguing adventures. The trip was beautiful and we saw many wild animals in the fields and woods....

“Finally we arrived at our dock near Independence and saw the large areas was filled with farmers and their wagons.  The crowd poured off milling around trying to find the farmers groups they were assigned to.  A genial looking farmer called out Hamill—so we promptly loaded our baggage I his wagon and away we went...Arriving at the camp site on the farm, we were assigned to ...nice cabins arranged in long rows with plenty of trees for shade.  We soon got acquainted with our neighbors and I found a nice boy to play with.

“Next day we all assembled in the field, the family would pick, I would watch. Some people picked in hop sacs, a few in hoppers arranged with saw horse legs and canvas bottoms.  Mainly the picking was in slatted baskets, shaped like a truncated cone, about thirty inches in height.  When filled, they were emptied into a large wooden box convenient to the row of pickers. The attentant [sic] gave the picker a ticket for twenty-five cents credit.  When the wooded boxes were filled, the farmer hauled them to the hop house.

“Since poles held the distinctive high wires for the hops to grow up to, when pickers were ready for a new row, the farmer's helper would lower the wire and hop vines to a suitable level for picking.  To get the attendant for this service the pickers would bellow out, 'hop pole, hop pole.'....

“...boys of my age, not picking, would play shinney.  It was a dry weather form of hockey.  The puck was made from a carnation milk can squashed as much as possible, clubs were sticks with knobs or crooks on the ends....We played run, sheep, run, and pum pum pullaway or maybe it was pump, pump, pullaway, which were lots of fund then....

“There was only one drawback to mar the fun in picking.  Some persons got hop poisoning-- a more severe malady than poison oak. My mother had it lightly the first time we picked.

“after about three weeks we finished the picking and headed for home.  The family made plenty to buy net twine...

“We didn't go picking in 1905 because the Worlds Fair in Portland took all are [sic] spare time.....The family did go again in 1906, same yard, but this time our trip was aborted because mother got a very severe case of hop poisoning. It was so severe that she had to have medical help; as soon as possible all but my two brothers went home, sorrowfully I must say-- as we missed the group.”

Prohibition decreased local demand for hops which was offset by increased exports to war-torn Europe.  After the repeal of Prohibition, production expanded but after World War II mechanical harvesters replaced hand labor and the camps described by Mr. Hamill disappeared.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Corvallis Brick & Tile Company


What was this object used for?  Hint:  it is related to the subject of the last post.

Made by the Fuller Manufacturing Company of Iowa beginning in 1920, this object is a brick carrier, also known as brick tongs.  With it, a user could carry 6 to 10 bricks at one time.  The user adjusted the metal frame for the number and size of bricks and then lifted the handle to clamp everything in place. This one was found on the site of the Corvallis Brick and Tile Company on Crystal Lake Drive in Corvallis, Oregon.

Louis Wilson and W. C. Corbett founded the Corvallis Brick and Tile Company in 1896.  The company operated under this name until it shut down in 1981.

Periodic flooding of the Willamette River long ago created extensive deposits of high quality clay on the 6 acres of land along Crystal Lake Drive owned by the company. In 1931, these deposits were reportedly sufficient for fifty additional years of brick production.

After topsoil was removed, the clay was dug up-- by hand in the early years and later by mechanical plows and scrapers.  By wheelbarrow or dump truck, it was taken to processing.

Dump truck at Corvallis Brick and Tile, 1921
Any rocks were removed and the clay ground to a fine powder which was then mixed with water.

The mix was forced through a shaping collar or die.  A conveyor belt carried the shaped clay to machines which cut separate bricks.  The bricks were then placed in a three-story drying shed where they remained for 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the product. 

After the bricks had dried, they were fired in one of the company's two kilns.  Using over a cord of wood per hour, the kilns were heated to 2000 degrees.  After about 48 hours at this temperature, the bricks  were allowed to cool before being stacked in the yard for sale or delivery.  In 1967, the company switched to using natural gas to heat the kilns.

The company operated on a seasonal basis.  In the 1920s, the company employed about 24 men from spring until October.  By 1949, with mechanization only 8 were needed. In the 1930s, these employees could produce 15,000 bricks  or 20 tons of of drain tile per day.  The company was managed by Phil Corbett (W. C.'s son) for many years until it was sold in 1936 to John Ash (who also owned the Builders Supply Company). It was sold again in 1946 to A. W. Woodcock and E. Winegar and then to Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Albright in 1949. The company stopped making ordinary brick in 1952 but continued making drainage tile and other products until 1981.

Bricks from the Corvallis Brick and Tile Company were used in many OSU buildings as well as many of Corvallis's commercial buildings.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon