Hewitt pickle station brought community, economic benefits
The pickle transfer station opened in 1929 and the locals worked hard to pick and supply cucumbers for a dose of income. The station was also a popular place for children to play outside by the storage vats.
“Big business” in Hewitt included farmers and families selling cucumbers for years, as Hewitt native Wally Wiese described. The cucumbers destiny were pickles with the M.A. Gedney Foods Company .
Community members from the region would head to the Hewitt transfer station to have their cucumbers sorted by size—with the smallest bringing in the most money. The cucumbers would then sit in large vats of salt brine outside the station before heading to Chaska.
While today there is no pickle ‘factory’ in Hewitt, the location on Pickle Street, the memories of picking cucumbers and children playing by the vats live on—not to mention the annual Pickle Fest.
“It seemed like everybody had at least a small patch of pickles, up to like right outside of town here you had how many acres of them and you’d go by there and be two, three of those creepers (picking machines) going,” said Steve Peterson.
The Hewitt pickle station opened in 1929 with six to eight large storage vats. The locals operated the station and supplied the cucumbers and machinery for picking the cucumbers. There were also stations in Bertha, Deer Creek and Henning.
“The station's best year was 1963 when they bought 13,000 bushels. The biggest day was in 1955 when they bought 533 bushels that had to be hand sorted. Wayne McIntire and Ray Stokes both mentioned that they worked all day on through to 5 am,” a portion of the 1999 Hewitt Centennial book reads.
When the Henning station closed, people brought more cucumbers to Hewitt, making it a benefit for the town, according to Peterson and the Centennial book. The cucumbers were brought on certain days, dumped in a machine, weighed by size and placed in the vats. Wiese said the days were eventful for kids as they waited their turn to sell cucumbers. Once the vats were full, a train or truck hauled them away. The stations eventually closed when cucumbers were directly hauled to Chaska instead of using the vats.
Hank Greenwaldt said his family had an acre to an acre and a half of cucumbers.
“There was seven of us boys and everybody was picking pickles because that was our school clothes (money),” Greenwaldt said. Community members Marlowe Marsh and Jerry also used their earnings for school items. The smallest cucumbers sold in the early 1960s for about $7 a bushel.
“Put a lot of money in the country,” Harold Tritsch said of the Gedney Company.
Both the young and older community members found camaraderie from the station. Children enjoyed playing by the outdoor vats from throwing in frogs to hiding from the cops, having snowball fights and playing hide and seek. Peterson remembers young people having snowball fights with the soft snow of the spring on the vat platforms.
The picking process brought another business opportunity with the creation of a creeper machine by locals Tritsch and George Jones. Tritsch’s family owned a garage in town where they developed the creeper and worked on cars, tractors and trucks. The creepers allowed two people on the machine for navigating and picking the cucumbers underneath a canopy, as Peterson described. The cucumbers would then go on a conveyor belt into a sack. And it also meant more people added acres of cucumbers besides the smaller pickle patches, according to Tritsch.
“When it comes time to pick, then you had to go out there and pick them, lift the vines up and find the pickles. If you missed them, mom and dad they right there watching make sure you do it right,” Wiese said. “But we enjoy it. It was fun.”
Some picked with bare hands, some with gloves for the prickly cucumbers and some with the creepers that inched along the rows. Jerry said picking meant being on your hands and knees.
“Your hands turned black about July and they didn’t get clean until the frost come,” Marsh said.
Although the picking cucumbers and playing by the vats are gone, Peterson said “looking back it kind of set this little town apart from other towns … it made it a little bit different.”