Paula Brock of Highland owns a home on the Kite Route of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Brock, like thousands of residents of Highland and Redlands, made a living working for the citrus industry.
“I used to work for A.P. Crim Grove Care,” said Brock. “I worked with that family for almost 30 years.
“The Crim’s son, Bob, took over the business. He was a good man,” she said. “I was his ranch foreman. I would get the guys together and take them to the different groves that they managed. Later on, I managed their books.”
Brock was the foreman. She did their books and was a smudger.
“One time when I was a smudger, the guys played a trick on me,” said Brock. “They taught me how to light my torch, then light the smudge pots.
“They teased me because my face was all black with smudge. It was nighttime and they showed me how to light the pots incorrectly with the igniter. All the smudge went on my face. I couldn’t see that my face was black because it was night,” Brock said with a laugh.
“Working for the Crims gave me an interest in learning about smudge pots. That’s why I started collecting information about them.”
She has books on the different types of smudge pots that were used in the citrus industry; from small pots to those with a return stack. Her books show the dimensions, illustrations and prices for the smudge pots.
Smudging was phased out in the 1990s. By then most of the growers were running water in their groves.
Brock has fond memories of her time working for the Crims.
“It was fun time when we smudged. It was like farming in old days. We had our own society or community of folks that worked the groves and in citrus. Each grower would help each other. They relied on growers to call each other for the frost weather to get the word out.
“Randy’s grandmother would call each of the foremen to tell them what the weather would be. They would, in turn, call their bosses. We had a really tight community back then.
“Bob Crim’s kids would smudge with me and the other workers. We’d all go down and have coffee, after we set the wind machines running and lit the pots.
“We’d watch the flag at Denny’s. If the wind picked up, we’d run out and quickly turn off the wind machines, so the wind wouldn’t break the propellers. We’d wait, go back to the restaurant and wait for the temperature to drop or go higher.
“If the temperature dropped, we’d have to open the holes on the smudge pot. We’d use the regulator. At sunrise, it got really, really cold. Then, we’d shut everything down.
“Afterward, we’d get the spray oil rigs and fill the smudge pots.”
The oil rig was on the bed of a truck that moved through the groves. The smudgers would then refill each pot and wait for the next frost.
“We had to have everything ready. You could never be sure about the weather,” said Brock.
“The pots at the Crims groves were about every fourth tree, unlike other groves that were colder. In colder groves, smudge pots were placed at every other tree.
“Sometimes we would run the smudge pots with the wind machines. We’d fill the wind machines with gasoline.”
Brock mostly started the wind machines because Crim had a large crew of men lighting the smudge pots.
The Crims managed and maintained about 30 groves for different owners. According to Brock, the absentee owner would get a percentage of the profit and the balance would be left for the Crims.
“Sometimes there wasn’t much left after expenses,” laughed Brock. “Depending on the season, you might not come out so good. Sometimes there was no money in the fruit.
“A couple of times we had to pull the Valencias. Valencias won’t make a big crop, if they aren’t pulled. We’d have to pay the pickers to pick the fruit and drop it on the ground.”
With the wasted fruit on the ground, the Crims would cultivate the fruit back into the ground.
Brock’s has a library of knowledge when it comes the citrus industry, the managing of orange groves and the hands-on requirements to make sure that a grove has profitable fruit. Her story about the citrus industry and the history of Highland is rich with passion and grit.
If you know anything about the history of Highland, I would be interested in hearing from you. You can reach me at (909) 816-0318.