Olive Through the Ages

Citrus industry: Stories and images

Crate labels | Packing houses | Stories and images | Other

How my citrus crate label collection began - by Gordon T. McClelland

Gordon McClelland, 2009  
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.

Chas. N. Kim citrus crate label  
Image of Chas. N. Kim citrus crate label, circa 1928, one of the first labels Clyde gave Gordon  

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.


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