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On a scale of 1-10 for hard work, raking cranberries was an 11

Jerry Apps
Working in the cranberry bogs near Wisconsin Rapids was hard work for this well-seasoned farm boy.

In the fall of 1955, I was working on the home farm waiting to go on active duty in the Army. By the first of October we were mostly caught up with the farm work. The corn had been harvested. The silo was filled, and we had finished the first round of making wood for our ever hungry wood stoves.

Our neighbor friends, Jim and Dave Kolka suggested we could earn a few dollars working in the cranberry bogs located near Wisconsin Rapids. They knew a bog owner who paid $1.25 an hour, a quarter more than the standard $1.00 offered for laborers in those days. So my brother, Donald and I joined our friends in applying for this new job.

I had never paid much attention to cranberry growing and knew nothing about harvesting them. I would soon learn. The bog where we worked was one of the few left where the cranberries were raked by hand, using a rake similar to the one pictured. I also learned that I needed to have a pair of hip boots, as we would be working in water.

Army basic training was nothing compared to raking cranberries by hand with old-fashioned rake.

Ranking cranberries by hand proved to be one of the most difficult jobs I’d ever had. By this time I’d worked in a pea cannery, in a pickle factory, and of course, did farm work of every stripe. On a scale of 1-10 for hard work, raking cranberries was 11. But the money was good and by late October, with frosty mornings and cold, cold water to wade in all day, we finished the job. Army basic training was nothing compared to raking cranberries.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: A little hard physical work never hurt anyone.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to www.jerryapps.com.