To read the beginning of this story, visit last week's episode, "Sicilian Roots and the American Dream."
This week we continue where we left off and learn more about the family business, my Papa's parents and their early lives as newlyweds, and my Papa's own journey toward finding work he loved.
Railroad Packing House
When planning for a new packing house, the brothers knew that their best option was to build on a railroad track, where they could more easily ship and sell oranges to San Francisco and other areas. They hoped to find a packing house that was already built on a train track; however, their best and most affordable option was to lease a plot of land from the railroad and build a new packing house. They found a piece of land to lease at a good price from the railroad company which already had the foundation of another packing house that had burned down.
However, this was between 1942 and 1944, at the peak of World War II, meaning construction materials were not available as everything was being directed to the war effort. All building materials that they needed such as cement and steel beams were completely inaccessible. After the war was over, in 1946, they built their first large commercial packing house in Lindsay, California, which was completely modern for the time with a round roof and steel beams. This commercial packing house expanded their capacity to take on more acreage and more volume, and they were also fortunate with timing in the market along with their sales experience. This led to quite the success story for the LoBue Brothers during this time, which is also when my Papa’s father, Fred, brought his new wife to the Central Valley.
Newlyweds on the Ranch
Fred Sr., who had begun taking over a lot of the farming operation in Tulare County, would drive up to San Jose to help with Cherry picking season in late Spring/early Summer. He still had a lot of friends up there who he would see when he visited. On one of those trips, he met my Papa’s mom, Mary, through a mutual friend. Mary and Fred carried on a long-distance courtship for a time, in which he wrote some beautiful love letters to her that are still with someone in the family. I recently found a letter from my Great-Grandmother’s sisters to her shortly after she was married, which was probably written around this time. In the letter, her sisters teased and joked with her about being pregnant and asking about her new life as a married woman.
After they got married in 1938, Fred and Mary moved to the 40 acres “Home Ranch” that the family owned in Tulare County. Eventually, the family purchased property with 160 acres in an area 20 miles north of Lindsay called Ivanhoe around 1941, which is where my Papa and his siblings grew up. My great-grandmother Mary was there to watch as each LoBue brother fell into their respective roles in the company and took many photographs of them working in their various roles in those early days.
The LoBue Brothers
Each brother and their children were attracted to certain areas of the business which contributed to its success: Monte LoBue took charge of overseeing the packing house operations while Fred LoBue Sr. oversaw the farming. Monte had gone to Junior College and studied bookkeeping and accounting, so he took on those responsibilities while Fred Sr. had gone to a technical high school where he learned how to weld, use cutting torches, and other important skills that would help him run the ranches. But when there was less to do on the ranch, Fred would also help out at the packing house. My Papa can recall watching his dad do manual labor like stacking boxes there.
Joe LoBue Sr., the youngest of the brothers, was very young when they bought the property in Tulare County. His family had hoped that he would go to school to become a doctor, but he was not interested in attending college past junior college. As their father, Philip, got sick and could do less and less, Joe began taking on more and by twenty-years-old or so, he was doing a lot of the work at the San Jose ranch. This continued after Philip passed as well, in 1941 at the age of 61. Soon, my Papa also began to take help out with the farm duties at a very young age.
Mary and Fred’s First Homes
Papa’s earliest memories are of growing up on the ranch in Ivanhoe. The person they had bought the land in Ivanhoe from was a San Francisco businessman by the name of CW Weld who owned a chain of hardware stores in and around the Bay area. This particular piece of land had been leveled with mules some time during the early 1900s and the Welds planted oranges there sometime between 1912 and 1914. The property had two homes, and one is where the Welds had stored many of their family possessions which were still there when Fred and Mary LoBue moved in.
As my Papa describes it, when his parents moved in, it was like moving into a home in San Francisco. There were all sorts of artifacts and antiques in there (though at that time they would have still been fairly new) and many of these still are passed down within Fred and Mary’s family. The house itself was a Craftsman style, “cookie cutter” home. Back then, you could order a kit and they would ship all the lumber and materials to you, and you would hire a carpenter to assemble the house. The owner of that home also built a second and third home across the street on twenty acres of land. When that family was ready to sell that acreage, my Papa’s family also bought that twenty acres of land and his parents moved into one of the houses there. And that was the house that he ultimate grew up in.
Childhood in Ivanhoe
My Papa has fond memories of growing up with his siblings and his brother on the ranch there in Ivanhoe. Eventually, after his grandmother passed in 1951, his Uncle Joe, Aunt Rosalie and their children moved next door when they sold the cherry orchard in San Jose. Papa and his younger brother, Richard, would ride their bicycles all over the ranch. While their dad would not let them venture far from the ranch out of fear of rattlesnakes and tarantulas, they would occasionally sneak away and climb the hills and buttes around there. As they got older, he did not mind them climbing and exploring the area as much.
Starting at around nine and ten years old, however, his dad would start putting him and his brother to work on the ranch. His dad would put blocks on the gas pedal and clutch of a ranch jeep so they could reach them while sitting in the driver’s seat. He had a choke on the hand throttle so they would not go over a certain speed. Then they would drive slowly down the rows of the trees so that they could spray them with a rig being towed behind. Though this would be his start in the family business, as he got older, Papa quickly found where he wanted to be in the company.
While his father worked the farming aspect of the company, Papa took an interest in accounting, even at an early age. He loved to collect data on things and kept logs of the weather and daily temperatures. He would keep track of all the money he earned and even made deals with his brother and cousins to take their money, invest it, and give them the interest. At the time, his uncle Monte took care of the financial side of the business. Once he was old enough, my Papa began learning book keeping from the book keeper who worked for them when he had a break from the manual labor jobs he did at the packing house.
Eventually he began to help with more and more office tasks, especially after he took typing in high school, which of great benefit. Most of the book keeping was still done by hand; All of the basic everyday recordings for account were done in books with pencil or pen. But he assisted with providing typed invoices for growers, farm reports, and railroad manifests to record the dates and contents of shipments when they were loaded. It was this experience working in the packing house where he found his passion, along with his dream to work there for the rest of his career.
Taking Over the Business
My Papa was not the only one to find his dream job in the family business; One of his cousins, Robert, mentored under my Papa’s dad, Fred Sr., to learn the farming management and got a degree that would help him with that work. He took those operations over when Fred Sr. grew ill and eventually passed. Robert’s brother, Philip, had an ag engineering degree, which helped them later on when they acquired a juice plant. Their other cousin, Joe Jr. – along with my Papa’s brother-in-law Ron – stepped into covering the sales operations and thrived in it. Each cousin seemed to – like their fathers before them – step into roles that they found a passion for working in that also matched their skillset. It was this exciting dynamic that my Papa attributes to part of his reasoning to carry on the legacy.
For my Papa, from the start, he knew that they would not be able to pay him much when he first got out of college. There had been a freeze (which always leads to difficult years for growers, packing house, and other agricultural professionals in the area), so they had to make do with what they had to keep on their most essential employees with borrowed money. My Papa worked for almost nothing, knowing that he was not only gaining important experience learning but also that he was going the be drafted, which did happen after one year of working at the packing house. When he returned, the woman they had as book keeper retired, and his uncle Monte offered him the job. He stayed there until Monte passed away, where my Papa then became President overseeing the finances and running the day-to-day operations like his uncle did before him.
Preparing for His Role
My Papa spent a lot of time and energy building the skills and knowledge he would need to work in the packing house one day. That included working for a family who had a pear packing business, but grew oranges in Tulare county and the LoBues packed for. Eventually, they decided to have their oranges hauled and shipped to their area in Silicon Valley since their pear packing operation only operated two months out of the year, while packing their oranges allowed them to keep it open for an additional six or eight months. My Papa got to know them and spent the summers he was in college working for them, knowing that he was building his experience for working in his family business.
In addition, he made sure that all of the courses he took in college would help in in making sure that he would be successful at the packing house. He took courses in accounting and computers and agricultural science that would be beneficial to working there. Though they were supportive of this, there was never any pressure from his parents to work in the family business, and they encouraged him to pursue other things if it meant more success for him, especially financially. But my Papa never had any desire to do anything other than the packing house, even when an opportunity came up to work for new upstart computer company in the Bay Area. How different life for him and his family may have been if he had chose that path. But my Papa believes that he may not have been as happy with his choice.
Taking Time to Find Your Passion
When reflecting on his own path and the paths of his children, my Papa thinks of the saying “find a thing you love doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” He never considered his job as just a job, or something that he had to go to just to pay the bills. It was something he loved doing and wanted to do, whether the money came or not. And early on that pay was not there, but eventually it did come. And as he looks back that the things he did as a child – recording the weather, working with money, taking data on daily things – he realizes that those were the building blocks or indicators for where his passion was.
These conversations certainly are not a new thing, but something a lot of people – young and old – still struggle with. Some know from a young age what they were meant to do and find their passion early in life and are able to successfully make a career of it. Some, whether they were discouraged by family or society or may have many passions take time to explore and go through many different things and then settle on their passion later. Others may be very sure of what they do not want to do, and after time exploring then end up falling into the work they love and are skilled at. There is no right way or wrong way about it; But listening to yourself, assessing your skills and passions, and going from there is a good place to start.
About the Author
Lauren is a writer and business woman from the California Central Valley. Returning Time is a tribute to her grandparents and those loved ones who have passed on. She retells their stories here and on the Returning Time podcast.
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