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The Making of Forest Cove Acres: McNeill Pt. 2


I mentioned in the last post, introducing Phyllis Badgley and my surprising connection to this orchard, that I will try to include as much of her own words as possible. She has been a gifted orator and author in our region for many decades. I am glad for one more platform showcasing her words. Phyllis' daughter recently sent us this picture of the original McNeill home and Phyllis included the text of an article she authored in 2014. A few additional familiar Cove names pop up in her story- one being "Antles," which happens to be the name of the road we recently moved from. Rather than summarize or take pieces of her narrative, I have determined to post this account in its entirety and exactly as originally written.



LIFE IS A BOWL OF CHERRIES

Phyllis Badgley

Written in 2014, Baker City


A recent article in the Agricultural section of our local paper featured a story about growing cherries in Cove, Oregon. That sparked my childhood memories of 1930s as our family travelled often from Baker to Cove.

We travelled old Highway 30, over Telocaset bridge. I recall a service station at top of the highway grade. Business was brisk as they sold flat tire patch kits (necessary equipment of that era). We drove down Pyles Canyon through Union to Cove, where we visited relatives, and obtained cherries. Always on Memorial Day we decorated family graves at Cove Cemetery. occasionally we swam in the Cove thermal swimming pool.

My maternal grandparents in early 1900 established a cherry ranch on Upper Mill Creek, in Cove. A road sign (McNeill Road at "The Red Barn") presently indicates the location. Temperatures and elevation in that area are ideal for growing cherries, which became the initial crop at the McNeill ranch. My mother graduated from Cove High School in 1918. Her close friend was Helen Antles, whose father directed choir at the Methodist church. Helen married Tom Conklin, and Conklin Lane in Cove today bears the family name.

The McNeill orchard harvested several varieties of cherries including Lambert, Bing, and limited quantity of Royal Anne (seldom seen on market now; however, I have observed presently a similar white meat cherry called Rainier). Mother sought Royal Annes for preparing preserves, and making maraschino cherries. During years of rearing a family she also canned many quarts of Bing cherries. While visiting my grandparents' ranch one day I noted a lone cherry tree growing in the front yard. When I inquired about the variety, my uncle smiled and told me it was called "Black Republican."

Uncle Arch McNeill assumed managing of the orchard after my grandparents moved to LaGrande. During cherry season Uncle Arch employed "pickers" who came annually to harvest the crop. They slept in tents at a grassy area next to Mill Creek. I recall the name of the Chipmans that my uncle spoke of. The pickers were instructed to grasp the full stem, not pull fruit off separately. Pickers attached a bucket to a heavy belt waist high, to facilitate freedom to pick fruit with both hands.

One summer as a 10 year old, I was allowed to spend a week at the Cove ranch in the company of my cousin, Ruth. She and I discovered that the gentle squeeze of a Bing cherry produced luscious juice at the stem cavity. We enjoyed sucking in the tasty eruption. We also spent time transforming hollyhock blossoms into doll figures. Ruth and I were dependable messengers who delivered a midmorning energy treat to my uncle, at work in the upper orchard. Aunt Stella prepared a nourishing drink of milk, eggs, and vanilla. She placed the mixture in a pint jar for easy transport as Ruth and I hiked to deliver the wholesome drink to Uncle Arch.

As a "city girl" I became aware of country surroundings different than what I was used to. I noted a pathway that led to an outhouse; a cream separator that hummed in motion; a square glass table-top churn that required turning to create butter; a reservoir section on one end of a cook stove; a single standpipe that supplied water from a spring; a sneaky garden snake that scared me; a cold damp root cellar that stored carrots and apples; and a nearby chicken house where chickens nested and enhanced the fresh egg supply.

An incident I vividly recall from my stay at the ranch, was seeing a group of American Indians who came to buy cherries. I was fascinated to see people of a different culture. women wore tightly secured head scarves, and several layers of ankle-lenth skirts that brushed their moccasins. Uncle weighed the cherry purchase on a hand held scale as the menfolk discussed the transaction and counter-offered the asking price.

I recall another incident, hearing Uncle's concern about a possible hail storm. He hoped it would hold off, so cherries would not be damaged. if the storm blew over, he anticipated a commercial buyer would pay .08 a pound for his prime 1935 cherry crop.

After a number of years harvesting cherries and adding more trees, Uncle Arch surrendered to life's aging process and retired. He and Aunt Stella sold the McNeill cherry ranch to the Towle family, and moved from Mill Creek to a home in downtown Cove, where they lived out their final years. Both are interred in Cove Cemetery near other McNeill "kinfolks."


There are so many familiar names and landmarks and details that pop up in this brief chronicle of the McNeill era of this orchard. In a subsequent post, I will parse out some of these pieces and show the modern-day state of each. It has also been asked that I describe the current varietals in the orchard. Still so much left to share.


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