With the building of a fast, interstate highway at river level during the mid-1950s, much of the high, curving, Columbia River Highway was abandoned. Landslides buried parts of the road. Yet even today, most of the graceful bridges remain standing and quiet, mossy sections of the proud old road still lead to enthralling waterfalls. For me, they will always be the jewels of the Columbia River Gorge.
In the Hood River Valley, we had trouble finding a job. It was too early in the season for the apple harvest. Ugly “No Hiring” signs turned us back at one orchard after another. Finally, we landed a job picking cherries. The orchard boss put us to work immediately, along with a gang of migrant workers from California, We camped in the woods, on the edge of the migrant worker camp. And we cooked our pork and beans and boiled coffee over a small fire of our’ own that we set in a clearing.
I think Cy and I were adequate cherry pickers, averaging more than a hundred pounds a day. One time, Cy picked almost 125 pounds. Yet at the end of each sweaty, daylong shift, we found ourselves credited on the books with tinder a dollar a day. I think the pay was less than a penny a pound.
No doubt about it, the last, painful throes of the Great Depression could still be felt up and down the agricultural valleys of the West.
Still, we remained in high spirits. The intoxicating feel of freedom on the road and the pride of making it on our own, day after day, was a heady mix. While working in the orchards, we even burst out in occasional song. Like many teenagers of the time, we knew the lyrics of just about every popular song of the day. High up in the trees, we’d challenge each other, One of us would shout out the name of a song. The other would respond with the opening verse or opening chorus line. The two of us would then flail away on the full chorus, lusty and loud.