Fruit drying beds

Today’s story involves Reuben Francis Cunningham, an enterprising man vastly involved in the communities of San Bernardino, Highland, Riverside, and beyond.

But, for today, the focus will be on his fruit drying operations, here in Highland.

As we know, before citrus became the main crop in this area, there were many deciduous fruits, including peaches, grapes,and apricots. These were dried as shipped to the East.

One of these fruit drying plants was owned by R. F. Cunningham at the “south end of Pepper St.” “ fronting on Pepper Ave., and about fifty feet from the motor road.”

Mr. Cunningham’s ranch included 105 acres of apricots and peaches; fifteen acres of raisin grapes; eight acres of wine grapes and twelve acres of oranges. In addition to drying his own crops, a large number of his neighbors brought their crops to sell.

The drying process began in a 20’ by 40’ “receiving room” where the small boxes holding about thirty pounds of fruit were stacked in tiers until needed.

Adjoining the receiving room was a 40’ by 50’ cutting room. Here, women and children sat at benches surrounding long tables where the fruit was cut and spread on trays with the cut side facing upwards.

These trays were then piled on trucks to a height of about 6’ and placed into a 75’ by 24’, air-tight smoker which is divided into four compartments. Underneath each compartment was a furnace in which there were suphur pans. The fruit is smoked in these compartments for six hours. During this time every part of the fruit as ripened.

After this process, the trucks were wheeled out into the yard where long racks, about three feet off the ground, are waiting to receive the trays. The trays are left out for 2 to 4 days. If the weather turned bad (foggy) all the trays had to be stacked up and put inside.

After the fruit was dried, it is again loaded on truck and put in a 16’ by 24’ store-room, where it is sorted, the largest and best in one compartment and the poorer in another. The sorted fruit was then placed in large sweat boxes that change the fruit into clear and translucent gems.

Mr. Cunningham’s orchard and drying plant employed seventy people, including women and children. Ten men picked the fruit; six handled the fruit; ten worked in the store-room, and the remaining forty-four women and children cut the fruit. Wages ranged from 75 cents to $1.50 a day!

R. F. Cunningham, a man of Irish decent, was born in Nova Scotia in Septmeber 1845. He immigrated in 1875 and became a naturalized citizen in 1880. The 1880 Federal Census notes that he was a hotel keeper in Riverside. His father was also a hotel keeper.

In 1876, Mr. Cunningham married Annie Magee and they had five children: Ruby, Lucy, Jean, William and Goroge.

Rueben Francis Cunningham died in 1910 in Riverside. More about this enterprising man in the future.

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