Written and presented by Lee Schrepel, June 22, 2012
A few years later, the relationship with Bradley Pie had matured into an opportunity for our family to buy what became known as Bradley Frozen Foods. A freezer was constructed at the old mill site and remodeling revealed a facility for the making of frozen fruit and cream pies.
Shortly after expanding the farm with a large, existing plum orchard, the Columbus Day storm of 1962 created a huge challenge as the wind pushed over many trees. An incredible effort was mounted to straighten and brace trees. Similar obstacles were overcome through later years in the form of crop failures, trees broken by early snow and crop loads, ash from Mount St. Helens and personnel changes.
Before too many years, Bradley Frozen Foods required more space and utilities than were locally available, so it moved to McMinnville. That firm eventually became Mrs. Smith’s West Coast Pie Company. The vacated space allowed the Schrepels to expand fruit processing activities by adding plums to their line.
In a college agricultural engineering class, Keith had built a limb-shaker to mechanize prune harvest. This early attempt to reduce a farmer’s dependence upon labor proved to be a precursor of things to come. After a huge cherry crop in 1966 required a harvest crew of hundreds, Keith and Kay visited agricultural equipment shows seeking a means to prepare for anticipated future high labor costs, if not shortages.
They found a machine that had been used to harvest California prunes. Keith said to the manufacturer, “Send me a machine. If it works, I’ll send you a check.” In a manner that cemented a life-long relationship, Ed Kilby replied, “Send me a check. If it is any good, I’ll send you a machine.” For the next 45 years, we represented Kilby Manufacturing and Leasing in Oregon!
Keith’s investment of $16,000 resulted in mechanization of stone fruit harvests worldwide. Our machines harvest sweet cherries, red tart (“pie” or “sour”) cherries and Italian purple plums. For many seasons, Kilby could hardly build machines quickly enough for grower demand in California, the Willamette Valley, Michigan and internationally.
Not only was the family farm’s labor problem brought under control, but my brother Mark and I, as teenagers, became well-known tree fruit mechanical harvest experts. Mechanical harvesting equipment for tree fruits was such a revolutionary improvement that it may be the single greatest factor contributing to survival of our family farm into the 21st century! Though not quite as dramatic, we also made use of cutting-edge, labor-saving technology in the form of electronic defect and pit detection equipment in the processing facility.