Every time Labor Day rolls around, I think about the farm family I grew up in on the Old Mission Peninsula, and how hard they worked to keep the farms going, starting back in the 1800s all the way up to today. My brothers and their wives, Dean and Laura Johnson, and Ward and Carol Johnson, continue that tradition, working hard all year, even in this era when it can be challenging to find a home for all their crops.
Who are the hardworking people in your life? Feel free to celebrate them in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
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Below are a few photos of life on Johnson Farms through the years. This first one is of my dad, Walter Johnson, standing, and his brother/my Uncle Guy in the driver’s seat of their Case DO tractor and sprayer, sometime in the 1940s or possibly 1950s.
Mom and Dad first lived in the old farmhouse across from the barn (about a half-mile north of Mapleton), then in 1960, the year I was born, they built a house in Old Mission to raise their four kids – me, Dean, Ward and Carol. My Dad drove that Case DO pretty much up until the day he died, and you’d often find it parked in the garage of our new house in Old Mission. It was a great old tractor.
Here’s one of my dad and his hired hand, Elmer (I’ll check with Dean on his last name). Those look like cherry lugs that Elmer is standing on, so it must have been during cherry season. While the farm is now known as Johnson Farms, back then it was called Crescent Hill Fruit Farm, maybe because the barn was located on a little crest of a hill on Center Road.
Here’s Dad with that Case DO again, with a load of cherry lugs in front of the barn. Of course, there were no cherry shakers back then, so all the cherries were picked by migrant workers, and Dad would take his tractor and trailer through the orchard and collect all the lugs.
Here, it looks like they’re loading them onto our old Chevy Stake Truck and likely taking them to Gleason & Co., on the corner of Center Road and Eimen Road. Gleason & Co. is now owned by Bowers Harbor Boat Works, and a few years ago, owner Jeff Fouch uncovered the iconic Gleason & Co. sign on the building. So glad Tim and I stopped and talked to him about it.
Here’s Dean and Laura in that same Chevy truck at the 2022 “4th of July Walk Around the Block” celebration in the village of Old Mission. The truck is still going strong.
Here’s dad and his dad/my grandpa, Lester Johnson, with a load of cherries at the barn in 1938. Note the vintage truck and trailer and tractor (still a Case, though). Also, the cupola is no longer there. Dad said it blew off in a windstorm.
Beyond the tractor is where I used to set up my roadside stand in the 1960s and 70s (built out of lugs) and sell cherries to passers-by on Center Road.
Another vintage photo of the barn in the early 1900s, taken from the north heading south, before Center Road was paved. The farmhouse is no longer there, having burned down in 1964. Along with the cupola, you can also see a silo that was gone long before I arrived in 1960.
Here’s my Mom, Mary Johnson, and Dad in the apple orchard. I’m not sure of the location of this, but it may have been on a parcel of land we call “The Forty,” on the corner of Peninsula Drive and Kroupa Road, across from the Peninsula Fruit Exchange.
It’s still in the family and still growing apples, although the big trees (requiring those mammoth peekaboo ladders) have been replaced with smaller, high-density plantings that are easier to pick.
This was taken in September of 1946, just a month after Mom and Dad were married on August 21, 1946. My City-Girl Mom may have been wondering what she was getting herself into.
And here’s a photo of Mom and my Grandma (Stella) Johnson (Dad’s mom) at The Forty, with Dean’s dog, Duke. This was taken in the 1970s, and you can see that Mom has adapted very well to farm life.
And here are my brothers, Dean Johnson and Ward Johnson, who continue to work hard to keep the farm going, despite many, many challenges over the years. I am so, so proud of them.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb