Olive Through the Ages
| Packing houses
| Stories and images
How my citrus crate label collection began
- by Gordon T. McClelland
|Author Gordon McClelland
in 2009 photo
As a child I had a homemade scooter. My Dad made it by
taking an orange crate and nailing it to a 2x4 board with a roller skate
attached to it. The crate was up front and had handles attached to it.
On the crate was a label. We also had other wooden crates with labels
on them around the garage. I would often look at the colorful labels
on those crates and on other wooden produce crates at the market. I
always liked the way those labels looked.
In the early 1960's when our family moved to Orange County near
Olive I picked up a few unused labels from orange packing houses in
the area. Some of the nicest were from Villa Park Orchards Association
where I worked as an orange picker at age 12.
After that I started working during the orange picking and packing season
at the Olive Heights Citrus Association. My job was to unload boxes
of oranges from the trucks that were coming in from the groves. In the
off season I worked repairing wooden picking boxes.
Both these jobs were done in the loading dock basement
area at the Olive Heights Citrus Association. During those years I spent
much of my break time admiring the collection of orange labels which
were on display in the basement. The rafter beams were lined with several
hundred different labels from packing houses all over California. At
some point I asked my boss what they were and why they were there.
He explained about the labels and said that a man named Clyde Fairbairn
had collected them starting back in the early 1920s. Over a period of
time Clyde built this amazing collection. When I continued to ask questions
he suggested I stay after work and meet Clyde. I was then informed that
he came to the packing house after most of the workers were gone and
did paper work for them. I hung out for awhile until this thin, elderly
man walked up and went directly into a wooden booth and began doing
some paper work. He was a stern looking man and did not seem particularly
happy when I approached him and started asking questions.
|Image of Chas. N. Kim
citrus crate label, circa 1928, one of the first labels Clyde gave
The first meeting was short and he basically just acknowledged what
my boss had already told me. It was apparent I was disturbing him, so
I left. A few days later I approached him again; this time with more
confidence and better questions. He then opened up and became quite
friendly. He told me that he grew up right there in Olive and had been
working at the packing house since he was young. He went on to explain
that different areas of California picked and packed oranges at different
times of the year. Each year he traveled to different parts of California
where he sought out work in the citrus industry. Every time he worked
at a different orange packing house he would get some of their labels
and bring them home.
From what he told me it appeared that he still lived in a home on Lincoln
in Olive, just a short walk from the packing house. He mentioned that
when he was a young man his bedroom walls were covered with orange labels
he tacked up. The extra ones he collected were mounted on wooden box
ends and carefully nailed to the rafters at Olive Heights. He stated
that he considered Olive Heights to be his "home" packing
house and that is why he made the label display in the basement.
At that time Clyde took down several wooden heads from the packing house
display and gave them to me. He said I would not likely ever see those
ones again and that I should keep them for my collection. Those were
the first really rare labels I got for my collection and it was Clyde's
display and story that gave me the idea to travel around California,
Arizona, Florida and Texas looking for labels in the packing houses.
- GM, June 15, 2009
(revised on December 10, 2012)
NOTE: To read more about Gordon's label collection and
to see samples of some of these labels, please see Citrus
industry: Crate labels.
Stories and images