Olive Through the Ages

Citrus industry: Stories and images

Crate labels | Packing houses | Stories and images | Other

Late night meetings at the Olive Heights Citrus Association
- by Gordon T. McClelland

Gordon McClelland, 2009  
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 label.

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 basis.

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 truth.

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


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