Henggelers Participated in Fruitland's Development

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From "200 Years in the Making"
Highlighting Malheur, Payette, Washington, Owyhee and Baker County History in Idaho
Malheur Publishing Co. (Publishers of the Daily Argus Observer)
Bicentennial Edition, 1976, Page 1867-1868

FRUITLAND - A brief motor trip in the fall of the year through the rural section of Fruitland leaves no doubt that the name of the town still matches its principle functions, fruitgrowing and shipping. Apples and prunes are still in abundance here and their prolific production has been reaching all corners of the century for many years.

Tony Henggeler came to Fruitland in 1908 from Utah where his father had been an orchardist with 16 acres of fruit trees. The family had moved there from Missouri.

Tony recalls that his first real job was when he was six or seven years old. His father's water rights in Utah had been lost and a well-digging ensued. Tony rode the horse back and forth from the well so that buckets filled with dirt could be raised from the depth of the well to the top.

"My first irrigating experience was in Utah, too, when I helped make little, circular ditches around the trees. I came to Idaho when I was nine," he related, " and my younger brother, Joe, was born here."

The Henggeler family home, about a half mile south of Fruitland was built in 1902. A lot of the fancy "gingerbread" trimming along the roof and a spire had been blown away by wind before the Henggelers moved into the two-story structure but it weathered many storms in the next 72 years. It's gone now.

Mentioning the early years as a fruitgrower, Henggeler said that the trees were sprayed by a "machine." The horse-drawn spray rig required one man to pump pressure into the spray tank and another to direct the nozzle. Henggelers were the first in the area to put a metal power sprayer to work.

In the early days of fruit shipping, that teen years of the century, the fruit wasn't even washed before it went into baskets or bulk into boxcars. Tony grimaced as he reported this bit of history, "I couldn't quite stand that and the way the bad apples, culls and wormy ones were loaded into one end of the boxcar then covered with good apples." He was a teenager then.

Shipping requirements changed in the 1930's and fruit was washed.

"The only way to survive in the apple business now is to produce a crop with top grade apples" and in packing and shipping, the fruit has to reach the consumer in optimum condition. "The consumer is the final and most important judge of the quality," Henggeler said.

Tony and his brother, Joe of New Plymouth, formed a partnership in 1943 as Henggeler Packing Company. There was a total freezeout in June and it took another full year to really get going in the packing and shipping business. "The next year, we rented the Beckwith apple shed and shipped 100 cars of apples," the packing company president noted.

1945, he recalled, was a great year for the apple packing partners. Joe and Tony first used the Buckingham siding that year when "apples were practically hanging from the fenceposts."

The early years of the business provided many opportunities for decisions. One was on the matter of whether to switch from baskets to paper boxes. Admitting that he had been fortunate where foresight was concerned. Tony said he never made important decisions without "sleeping on them."

The first use of the paper box was in the 1940's. "We were skeptical when the Weyerhauser salesman showed us paper boxes. Prunes, plums, apples - all belonged in baskets. We put a dozen or so boxes of apples atop one carload nearly filled by baskets the first year. The second year, the packaging was half boxes, half baskets. The third year, we discontinued using the baskets." Soon, the entire apple industry in Idaho had switched to the cardboard containers for the tray pack and the loose pack.

How the apples are packed brings up another decision. Competing Washington state shippers bragged about their separate wrapping of the apple. "We are proud of our apples and we want the consumer to see them," Tony gives the Idaho the industry a plus stroke and defends the loose and tray pack system.

Another area where the quality of Idaho apples and prunes has been advanced is in the method of paying the packing house crews. Some packers, he pointed out, paid strictly on a piecework basis without taking into account quality control factors. The quality control can't be slighted in a successful operation.

Before cold storage came into general use, the Henggeler brothers developed a system of cooling prunes when they came to the packing house from the hot orchards. "The fruit was picked in 80 to 90 degree weather. We built holding sheds with a north exposure and cooled the prunes at night before the packing procedures began. The cooling was sufficient to insure shipping prunes which would reach the markets in a fresh condition."

Grading standards have changed a lot in Idaho during the Henggeler packing history. "We used to get $2.50 a ton for processing apples and now the prices between $60.00 and $70.00." Even at that price, it's the top grades (Idaho extra fancy and Idaho fancy) which are the claim to fame.

The Henggeler Packing Company has weathered the storms through a pioneering era in this community's basic industry. The family's third generation in Idaho has joined Joe and Tony. Tony is president; Joe is in charge of quality control. Jerry (Joe's son) is sales manager; Rudy (Tony's son) handles the equipment and packing; Bob (Joe's son) manages the orchards, and Tony Ray (Tony's son) is in charge of receiving. "There's still a job for each of us."

Tony remembers when apple orchards completely covered the area from Gay Way to New Plymouth with a bit of dairying in some places. Now, a few roads and highways and houses and farms of other types have replaced some of the orchards.

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