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Presque Isle: The Star City

Harvesting Potatoes

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Loading Potato Barrels, Presque Isle, 1976
Loading Potato Barrels, Presque Isle, 1976

Item Contributed by
Presque Isle Historical Society

During the 1940s, battery powered or hydraulic hoists were used to load barrels onto the truck body. This picture shows how two persons can load barrels with a battery powered hoist, one man to operate the hoist and another to place the barrels. The man operating the hoist would toss grapples onto a barrel on the ground. He would push a button on the loader grip to run an electric motor that will hoist the barrel onto the truck body. On the newly loaded barrel is a ticket that will be deposited in the box on the headboard. This ticket will help the farmer keep track of the number of barrels the potato picker filled. Most potato barrel trucks had a ticket box like this on the back.

With a power hoist, a box over the wheels for wheel clearance is no longer necessary. This truck has a flat body that can carry 40 barrels.

After this truck was loaded with 40 barrels, it was driven to the potato storage building. Workers there would unload the full barrels and put the empty barrels (empties) back onto the truck. The truck was driven back to the potato field so that the empties could be dropped onto the picker's sections.

The hoist operator must make sure the power button is released in time so that the barrel will drop onto the truck body. If released too soon, the barrel will drop back onto the ground and potatoes would spill. If released too late, the barrel would go up too far and loader operator thumb will jamb between barrel and hoist. Many thumbs have been jammed by these hoists.

The gentlemen on the back of this truck get a chance to ride through the field and talk to the pickers. The digger tractor driver and the truck drivers also get a chance to talk to the pickers. These gentlemen had to unload empty barrels and then load full ones. They were good at good - natured bantering with the pickers Typical suggestions, criticisms, and encouragements that are given to potato pickers are:

1. You're too far behind. Pick faster or I will shorten your section.
2. Your barrels are not full enough. Fill them level to the top.
3. Your barrels are too full. Potatoes will spill when loading.
4. Don't forget to put a ticket on the barrel when you fill it.
5. You put two tickets on this barrel. You're only allowed one.
6. Your barrels are too close. Leave a space between them so the grapples will fit over.
7. You are missing too many potatoes. Go back and pick the ones you missed.
8. Don't pick any rotten potatoes.
9. Don't throw potatoes.
10, You're setting your barrels in the wrong row, I can't get the truck through.