Olive Through the Ages
| Packing Houses
| Stories and Images
Late Night Meetings at the Olive Heights
- by Gordon T. McClelland
|Author Gordon McClelland
in 2009 photo
For a variety of reasons, California orange packing houses
regularly seemed to catch on fire and burn down. To avoid this situation
many of the packing houses hired a night watchman to stay at the packing
house all night.
The watchman's job was to walk though the packing house each hour and
check things out to make sure there wasn't any trouble. At select places
in the packing house, he would insert a key into a box which would record
the fact that he was actually doing his job and not just sleeping.
In the 1960's and early 1970's, the Olive Heights Citrus Association
night watchman's name was Jim. He lived near the plaza in downtown Orange
and came to the packing house every night. I met him when I started
working at Olive Heights in the 1960's, but he was an elderly man and
I'm sure he had been working this job for many years before. The reason
I got to know him is that he was the only one who had labels from the
Olive Heights Citrus Association. I searched every inch of that packing
house looking for the orange crate labels they used and never even found
One day Juan, a Hispanic man I worked with, asked me what I was looking
for. I told him, and he said when they took all the old labels to the
dump some years prior, the night watchman Jim saved a bunch of them
and took them home with him.
That night I went to the packing house and spoke with Jim. He then invited
me to his home to see some labels. When I got there he informed me that
the reason he saved the labels was that they were the exact same size
as his bird cage. He would place a clean label in the cage each day
so that he did not have to wash the bird poop out of the cage on a daily
Actually he had two of these cages, and in each cage he had a myna bird.
One of these birds could perfectly reproduce the sound of a loud vacuum
cleaner. It was amazing. The other bird had a reasonably large vocabulary
which it would repeat after Jim spoke select prompts.
Anyway, I got some Olive Heights labels from him and after that began
visiting him at the packing house on a regular basis. Often around 10
or 11 p.m. after going out on a date or outing, I'd stop by and hang
out. We would talk and do the rounds. This went on well into the early
1970's, long after I stopped working at the packing house.
Many older friends of his would also stop by and I would listen to them
tell stories. I did not think to write them down, but there was one
story I never forgot because it seemed so very odd to me.
After a long trip I made to Europe, I stopped by to visit with Jim in
the early evening just after dark. There was a man with him that was
over 90 years old. I can't recall his name, but Jim claimed at that
point in time this man was believed to be the oldest living person who
was born in the town of Olive.
I listened to them talk for a while about the old days, and then Jim
told the old man that I had just returned from Europe. The man asked,
"What in the world would you go all the way to Europe for?"
Before I could answer, Jim blurted out that this man had only been out
of the town of Olive one time in his entire life! At first I thought
this was a joke or something, but when I implied that is what I thought,
the man became quite indignant and Jim assured me it was the absolute
The old man said that one time in the 1920s he went to Los Angeles with
his father and that he did not see anything very special on the way,
nor did he see anything of interest when they arrived there. After that
he said he never felt the need to leave Olive, and that he was born
there, lived there, and worked there every day of his life except that
one day that he went to Los Angeles.
I remember asking, "Do you mean that you have never even been to
Orange or Anaheim?" He said "No." Several times he reaffirmed
that everything that anyone needed in life was available in Olive and
that there was no need to leave there.
After that time I asked Jim if the story was really true, and he insisted
that it was and that many other local people had confirmed the story.
At the late night packing house meetings I met many interesting people,
including another old man whose family started the Anaheim Gazette
newspaper in the 1800's, and other people who were old time residents
of Olive, but I never listened to a story that seemed so odd as that
story of the man who spent all his life except for one day, in the same
little town of Olive.
- GM, December 10, 2012
Stories and Images