In this week’s podcast, I was excited to sit down with my grandfather – my Papa – for the first time and begin recording our conversations. While I have heard many of these stories before, I had him start at the beginning, from immigrating from Sicily, to his paternal family becoming farmers, and the eventual beginnings of being commercial citrus packers in the Central Valley of California.
Coming to America
Both my Papa’s paternal and maternal grandparents came from small villages in Sicily and migrated to various parts of the United States from there. His maternal grandmother’s parents – the Capaci Family – came from a village in central Sicily and migrated to the United States, sometime in the late 1800s and early 1900s. My Papa’s grandmother, Rose – known to her children and grandchildren as Mama – was born in Sicily and came with her family at a very young age. Her father and uncle settled in New Orleans where they became merchants and eventually opened a small grocery and general store on the outskirts of New Orleans.
Mama’s husband, Vincent Gallina – who was also from a village in the central part of Sicily – landed in New Orleans but in a less veracious way: He and his brother stowed away on a ship, evading Ellis Island which immigrants were required to pass through on their way to citizenship in the United States. Despite jumping ship in New Orleans and being here illegally, they were able to get jobs and stay in New Orleans, where eventually my Papa’s grandfather met his grandmother.
A Romance for the Novels
While Vincent Gallina’s illegal citizenship in the United States did not prevent him from finding work or living here, he met a force that was immovable on the matter: His future father-in-law. As the story goes, Rose’s father did not want her to marry Vincent because he was in the United States illegally. He said to Vincent, “you’ll end up marrying my daughter, getting her pregnant, and then you’ll get captured and sent back to Sicily.” Her father was firm that he did not want them to be married unless Vincent could be in the United States legally, which meant he had to go back to Sicily.
Vincent supposedly returned to Sicily and went then through the proper channels to come back to the United States, where he was then able to marry Rose who had waited for him to return. By this time, his brother had moved to California, where the newly married Rose and Vincent followed them.
A New Life in California
The Gallinas arrived in Los Angeles in 1906, shortly after the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. They later moved to the Bay Area where construction jobs were readily available as the city was being rebuilt. Vincent picked up landscaping as a career, which is what he did for most of his life after. Rose and Vincent would have four daughters while living in the Bay Area, including Mary – my Papa’s mother – who was born in 1911. Mary would go on to marry a man from another Sicilian family who came to the Bay Area: my Papa’s father, Fred LoBue, Sr. The LoBues were given the chance to come to America after a death in the family left them no choice but to make a new life elsewhere.
Fred’s father, Philip (or Fillipe) was born as one of several sons and one sister to parents near the coastal fishing town of Trabia, Sicily. His father had property which made them fairly well-off for the area. In Italy and other parts of Europe during that time, when a patriarch died his property and assets could only be passed down to his oldest son. This was done to keep plots of land together and prevent having tiny properties scattered across the European landscape. When his father died sometime around 1913, Philip’s oldest brother inherited the property and promptly fired his brothers – including Philip, who had two children and one on the way – saying that they were more expensive to keep on than hiring someone off the street. But he made them a deal: If you want to go to America, we have enough money to send you.
Of the siblings, all but one of the brothers (who was possibly too ill to go), took up the eldest brother on his offer to go to America. Philip and his wife, Vincenza (who later went by Virginia) decided to make the trek to the United States, despite being pregnant with my Papa's father, Fred. Virginia said good bye to her family in Trabia – fishermen by the name of Sanfillipo – and moved to Portland with his other brothers before later moving to the Bay Area. They would return to visit Sicily again in 1930.
A Visit to Sicily, Generations Apart
My Papa visited Trabia on a trip to Sicily, where he was able to eat lunch a mere twenty feet from where his grandparents stood in a family photograph (pictured above). Behind them in the photograph is a tuna cannery, where Virginia's family would sell the tuna they caught. There is now a hotel and resort in that spot in Trabia, where the cannery is now a restaurant, aptly named “Tonnara” as a reference to its past.
Decades before his visit, Papa’s grandparents returned to Sicily in 1930 to bring Philip’s mother, Josephine D’anna LoBue, back to the United States with them. She had been living with the eldest brother and - rather than leave her alone in Sicily - they brought her to America after he passed. She remained with them in the Bay Area until she died, and was most likely able to see some of Philip’s entrepreneurial endeavors there.
A Job in Portland
When they arrived in the United States, Philip was able to bypass Ellis Island and Angel Island by obtaining jobs prior to arriving. Fortunately for him, he had a cousin - last name Piazza - who was already living in the Portland area. He was able to secure a job for Philip with the Western Pacific Railroad headquartered there in Portland. My Papa’s father, Fred Sr., was conceived in Sicily and was born shortly after they arrived in Oregon in April of 1914. While Portland was the beginning of their life in the United States, they did not end up staying, and moved later to San Francisco.
While in San Francisco, Philip found opportunities there to support his family. While continuing to work for the railroad in San Francisco, he came to know of the market there and saw an opportunity to serve others and make a profit on his days off. He would buy fruit and vegetables at wholesale from the produce market and then peddled the fruit door-to-door with a pushcart that he had. While the concept is simple, when considering the hills of San Francisco, pushing that cart up and down the hills would have taken a considerable amount of strength. It was by no means an easy way of living, but it was common work for many Italians in the area at the time. (Perhaps the steep hills of the villages in Sicily helped them navigate the hills of San Francisco as well). Philip had a regular route of customers that he would service and sell the produce to at retail prices. He did this until he and Virginia had saved up enough money to purchase their own farming property.
While Philip peddled fruit in San Francisco, Virginia worked in canneries while also raising their four children. With their savings, they bought a ten-acre piece of land with a house in San Jose in 1927. The house there was built sometime in the late 1800s but had been remodeled before they moved in. My Papa was able to visit often as a child before his grandmother died, but he was given a rare opportunity to visit as an adult in 2003 with his sister, Phyllis. The house is still there in San Jose and the owners at that time allowed them to tour the inside of the house, but the farmland that was around it is now a distant past.
Cherries, Prickly Pears, and String Beans
The land was bare when the LoBues bought it, leaving Philip with a lot of possibilities of what to plant. With his knowledge of the market at the time, he had seen that cherries were a lucrative cash crop. But cherries took five years to come into production, which would have meant no profit coming from the land for quite some time. So, in-between the rows of Cherry trees, he decided to plant prickly pears. But prickly pears take two years to come into production, so in between the rows of the prickly pears, he planted string beans. The string beans were the first crop he was able to sell at market until a couple of years later when the prickly pears came into production, and, eventually, the cherries.
Philip built a packing shed on the property for the various crops he grew. However, rather than taking up precious farmland, he built the shed over a creek at the edge of the property. His ingenuity and determination allowed him to take some creative liberties over the traditional methods of farming and packing. Back then, however, there were not machines yet for grading, sizing, and packing like there are now. So each cherry bunch and pear had to be picked, sized, and packed by hand in this small shed at the edge of the ten-acre property. While the cherries were his main crop for a while, he soon set his sights on properties and produce beyond San Jose.
The “Home Ranch” and New Endeavors
In 1934, Philip began to take an interest in oranges after seeing their popularity and prices grow at the market in San Jose. Citrus was familiar to him: His father had grown pomelos back in Sicily. During the Great Depression, many banks were reselling foreclosed properties; All the prospective buyers had to do was catch up on the payments and take over the remainder of the loan. This meant there were many citrus properties in the state for very affordable prices available. Philip initially had his sights on Southern California since it was known that there were a lot of citrus properties in that area at the time. But his banker at Bank of America (then the Bank of Italy), told him that he did not have to go as far as Los Angeles to get farmland, but that there were eligible properties in a closer area: Tulare County.
Philip and two of his sons - including my Papa’s father who would have been twenty or so - boarded a bus to Tulare and met a Tulare County area bank manager for Bank of Italy at the bus depot. The manager drove them out to a property between Lindsay and Strathmore that had forty acres of oranges. They purchased the property, named the “Home Ranch,” which marked a new beginning for the family in Tulare County, and is still a property owned by the family company today. In the beginning, the family hired out for the selling of their oranges, but two duplicitous transactions led them to find other means.
Scorn Me Twice, Shame on Me
At the time, there were two different ways a farmer could sell their oranges: Through a co-operative or through a commercial packing house. Co-operatives would consist of groups of growers who would pool their money to build or buy a packing house and pack the crops at cost, so any profit from the sales would return to the growers who owned it. But selling the fruit, however, usually was done by another entity, and co-ops would often hire sales and marketing companies to sell the fruit for them. If you drive through Tulare County today, you will still see signs in front of citrus ranches that say “Proud Sunkist Grower,” as an indicator of being a part of one of these co-ops. Commercial packing houses, on the other hand, would usually be owned by a single entity that operated the packing house but would take a fee or price for packing the fruit for the growers. They would be responsible for the sale of the fruit as well. Some would purchase the fruit outright "on the tree."
When the LoBues bought the ranch in 1934, the intention was that the whole family would move to Tulare County and sell the property in San Jose. But shortly after, Philip was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had to stay in San Jose where his doctors were. So their sons, Fred Sr., Monte, and eventually Joe, moved down to Tulare County to man the ranch and sell the crops in his place. The first year, they sold the crops on the tree to some men with an agreed-upon price. The men came over a series of days, picked their oranges, gave them a check, and took the year’s crop away. When the LoBues cashed the check for their harvest, however, the check bounced, and the men who took their crop and year’s work were never to be found.
They were fortunately able to recover from that significant loss, but another scheme would soon weasel its way into their profits: Later down the road, they sold their fruit on the tree to someone else and signed an agreement to receive payment per box of oranges picked. When they signed the contract, they assumed that the boxes used would be the standard box size of the time (approximately 55 pounds). When the men arrived to pick the fruit, the boxes were larger and held about 12 pounds more fruit, significantly reducing the amount of payment they would receive for the fruit. After this second defrauding, Philip, his cancer in remission and still being the innovator and entrepreneur he was, said, “if you can pack the fruit, I can sell it.” Thus began the start of the first LoBue Brothers packing house.
Hard Work Paid Off
Thanks to Philip’s connections in the San Francisco market, he was more than prepared for selling his fruit there. His years of networking and hard work were able to profit him one more time on yet another enterprise. He told his sons to build a packing shed on the property in Tulare County and he would sell the fruit in San Francisco and teach them how to do so as well. My Papa can still recall seeing his dad drive off with a load of fruit in the truck to sell and being upset that he could not go with him. He typically went with his dad everywhere, but that was the one trip that he would not take him on.
It wasn’t long until neighboring farmers saw the prices that they were getting for the fruit and soon asked them to pack and sell their oranges as well. But with the demand for the packing house increasing and already expanding it a couple of times to accommodate, they realized they needed to be closer to a railroad where the fruit could be loaded into freight cars and shipped directly to San Francisco and other places. This led to yet another big endeavor for the LoBue Brothers.
Read the rest of the story in "Finding Your Passion and Work You Love." Be sure to sign up for our email list so you can receive notification when a new podcast is live.
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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