UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: J. B. Prevatt
INTERVIEWER: Paul Weaver
DATE: June 1, 1977
W: This is Paul Weaver. I'm talking with Mr. J. B. Prevatt at Mr.
Prevatt's ranch, the Bar B Ranch, in Sorrento, Florida. Mr. Prevatt
has been in the citrus industry for over fifty years and among the
offices that he's held are president of the Lake Region Packing
Association, past president of the Florida Citrus Exchange, chair-
man of the Florida Citrus Commission, and past president of the
Bank of Tavares. I'm talking with Mr. Prevatt on June 1, 1977,
at Mr. Prevatt's ranch, the Bar B, on State Road 46 in Sorrento.
Mr. Prevatt, could you tell me when and how you got started in the
P: Well, when I come out of the service, World War I, I was actually
out of work like many other young men, and there was an opening at
the Kissimmee Citrus Growers Association, and I was offered the job
as house foreman, which I accepted.
W: What was that, about 1920?
P: Yes, in 1920. I served as house foreman there for four years and
then was offered a job at Okeechobee, to manage the Okeechobee Citrus
Growers Association, which I accepted, as I felt it was an advance.
I run the house for one year. There was not enough fruit there
to really justify an association, and about three months later, I
was offered a job as manager of the Lake Region Packing Association
in Tavares, which I accepted. I served there as secretary manager
until the year of 1946, and was made president and manager, which
position I held until 1971, a period of forty-six years.
W: Let's go back to the beginning. Would you just briefly describe
what the citrus industry in Florida was like when you first started
P: Well, when I first became involved in the citrus industry back in
1920, the groves, not only around Kissimmee but throughout the in-
dustry, were planted in what the growers felt was the better loca-
tions with the protection from cold.
W: What were these areas like?
P: Protection of cold, most growers tried to get next to a lake, or
a big body of water primarily on the south side which gave them
a great deal of protection. As the citrus industry continued to
grow, many growers were taking gambles, a big gamble, and planted
groves where no one ever thought they could...
W: Why did the growers begin to move to these new areas?
P: The growers actually moved into these other areas because they
were able to get land cheaper and as the better spots, which I had
just referred to, began to play out. They had to take maybe a
piece of land that they wouldn't have taken ten years prior or
even five years prior to that. I can recall, for instance, when in
1925 when I came to Tavares, the groves in the Howey section, known
as the Howey in the Hills, were, I would say, largely planted in lo-
cations which were well-protected from cold, but in the later years
practically every acre in the Howey section had been planted one
time or another. I can recall several acres that had been planted
as many as three and four times, and it would freeze out, and some
other grower would get a hold of it and he'd take a shot at it.
They still don't have any groves in some of those places.
W: Let's talk for a minute about what the Lake Region Packing Association
was like when you first arrived here, and you told me about this
the other day.
P: Well, when I accepted the job as secretary manager, Lake Region
Packing Association, then, had an old wooden packing house, prob-
ably 150 by 200 feet. It had one of the first pre-cooling rooms
in the state.
W: What was that used for?
P: Well, when you'd pack your fruit, you'd put it in there and cool it
down just like you do in your refrigerator and cool it down to
approximately 40 degrees before you'd ship your fruit. But un-
fortunately, management prior to my time had not been successful in
accomplishing what I'm sure they put out to do, and they only had
42,000 boxes of fruit in the association, a bonded indebtness of
something like $85,000. And, as to their bank account, it was
practically nill. They had $250 in the bank. But I was determined
to make a go. I put in many hours. In fact, I done my own soli-
citing in trying to get new growers and more fruit into the asso-
ciation, and covered lots of territory. In fact I drove approxi-
mately 50,000 miles a year, meaning that I had to work long hours.
W: In what area did you find growers who were willing to let you handle
P: I had a big territory to cover. In fact you might say all of Lake
County was open to me. However, there was an exchange house in
Leesburg, one in Okahumpka, one in Groveland, one in Clermont, one
in Mount Dora, and one in Umatilla. But there was no line drawn to
where that I couldn't go into any territory to solicity tonnage.
W: Who were some of the larger growers who marketed their fruit through
P: Well, at the time that I came here, Mr. W. C. Daniels was the largest
grower in Lake Region.
W: Where was he from?
P: He originally came from New York. He planted a grove right here in
Sorrento covering approximately 600 acres. And Mr. Chase, president
of the Chase National Bank in New York, had the controlling interest
in this planting. Mr. Daniels and associates had a grove located on
the southeast shore of big Lake Harris, which was one of the best
locations, in my opinion, in the state.
W: Why was that? Because of the presence of lakes and because of the
P: Mr. K. M. Wakeland was president of Lake Region Packing Association
and Mr. Wakeland was one of the several men that went to California
with a group of Florida growers, to see what and how the California
Fruit Growers Exchange was set up and operated.
W: Do you remember how the ideas that they gathered from the California
Fruit Exchange were applied to the Florida cooperative system?
P: Well, no, the only thing I could tell you that this group accomplished
was getting some six or eight young citrus men to come to Florida,
and they were employed in some of the larger exchange houses.
W: Do you remember where some of these houses were?
P: Yes, sir. Namely Florence Villa, Winter Haven, Arcadia, Deland, and
W: Do you remember the names of some of these men?
P: One of these men, Mr. Harry Plano. Mr. Plano was the man who employed
me when I started in the citrus business. A man that went to Arcadia
was named Carr. I don't remember his first name. One that went to
Oak Hill, I believe there was one, but the name of Hal Allan. That
was all I can remember right this minute. I'm sure that with the
experience and knowledge that these men had in cooperative marketing,
that they were instrumental in helping to put the Florida Citrus
Exchange and cooperative marketing...
W: On solid ground.
W: Well, how did Mr. Piano get the idea that you would be a good man for
the industry to have?
P: That I can't answer your question.
W: Did you have any experience in citrus before?
P: I had packed some fruit, that's all. I had packed some fruit there
for him, but just in spare times when they needed some extra help.
W: What were wages like in those days, say for packers?
P: Packers back in those days was paid for packing oranges, I believe,
six cents a box and four cents for packing grapefruit. But they had
to wrap every piece of fruit with a tissue and it took considerable
more time than it does now. Daily wages run from ten to twenty-five
cents an hour. Picking was anywhere from ten to fifteen cents on
oranges, and a little less on grapefruit, a little more on tangerines.
But I can well remember the first work that I ever done in the citrus
was in a grove south of Kissimmee and, at that time, we lived beyond
this grove about two miles. I walked morning and evening, started to
picking fruit, and then I was employed in the packing house as a day
W: What sort of job did you do?
P: Just a flunky's job, you might say, at a price of fifty cents a day,
which in those times nobody grumbled about their wages. You could
take fifty cents and go a long ways, where today fifty cents don't
get you anywhere. That was before World War I, several years before
I started with the Kissimmee Citrus Growers Association.
W: Would you describe what conditions were like in the packing houses
then? Of course there was no machinery of any kind, was there?
P: Oh, yes, at this little old packing house I'm referring to in the
grove, the packing house in Kissimmee there, it had machinery. The
grove which I have just referred to, where I first started in doing
some work in the fruit business, at a packing house in the grove,
the machinery was very crude. In fact one man run the entire operation.
It had, as I recall, about three rollers where the fruit could go
down the barrels and size the fruit, and he run this by paddling it
like the old-time sewing machine. He done all the grading and run
the entire operation, you might say. The packers were in a pit about
three feet deep and when they packed the box of fruit, they slid it
off of the stand on the floor. We nailed boxes and the birch hoop.
Weput those hoops down in a stream of water to soften them up, and
the nailer would have to get down on his knees to nail those lids on
and the birch hoop around, making it just as difficult for him as
possible. Later when I went to work for the Kissimmee Citrus Growers
Association, which was after the war, we had modern machinery. We
had grading belts, sizers, bins, dryers, and really about the only
difference that we had then and we got now is improvement. And of
course the improvements have accomplished considerable so far as
an economical operation is concerned.
W: How were these machines powered?
P: With motors.
W: Electric motors?
P: Yes. In fact I'm just trying to think, the entire operation of the
machinery in packing houses are largely operated by electric motors.
W: Well, the man you described before, he had sort of a sewing machine-
P: Exactly, that's all it was. We had a man that dumped the box of fruit.
It went by this man, that was sitting up there paddling this, and
these rollers, there was two or three of them, and they were setting
different heights to get different sizes on the fruit. They dropped
down in the bin and it was in a circle, and when I first went in
there to work, my job was mostly keeping that fruit pulled down to
the packers because at this end, when it come out, it didn't have
very far to go, but the farther it went around, it had a much farther
distance to go before the packers could reach it. So I had to keep
it pulled down to them. I was thirteen or fourteen years old.
W: How was the fruit transported to and from the packing house at that
P: The fruit was severed from the tree by clippers, dropped in a bag
which hung around the picker's neck, then dropped in a field box which
held one and three-fifths bushels. It was then loaded on a wagon
which was pulled with oxen or mules, and was transported from the grove
to the packing house.
W: How much fruit would one of those wagons hold?
P: Well, anywhere from fifteen to twenty boxes. They didn't have any
sides onthem, just the flat bed, and they set on there about three
high. When I came to Tavares, we hauled fruit from Clermont by rail.
Trucks was very scarce.
W: When was that, in the early twenties?
P: It was in 1925. As trucks became available, naturally, we went with
this means of transportation.
W: When did that begin? When did you start using trucks as your main...?
P: Lake Region didn't own my trucks, so we contracted the hauling for
about ten years, and then we purchased our own trucks and hauled our
W: Until the '30s, in other words?
P: Yes, something like that.
W: When you first started out, who were the pickers? Were they black
P: The pickers generally were colored. Naturally in some sections and
in some cases the grower would pick his own fruit. But generally
speaking, they were all colored.
W: Mr. Prevatt, what was Lake County like in 1925, when you arrived here,
in contrast with the.way it is today?
P: Well, the county really hasn't changed a great deal other than the
improvement in roads. We had good roads throughout the county today
that we didn't have at that time. Naturally there's been a considerable
development throughout the county, particularly around the lakes.
There's been nice homes built in some sections, some sections it's been
these, what do you call these...?
P: No, mostly nice two and three bedroom homes.
W: Couldyou tell me when this road improvement began? The county roads
and then the state roads?
P: Well, to tell you the date, I can't, but improvements so far as our
good roads has been going on for the past thirty years. A long time
we had a good many places that was clay and very difficult to get
around so far as doing any heavy hauling was concerned. There's been
mobile homes. There has been considerable...
W: Would you describe what the roads were like when you first came to
P: Well, they were just graded, sand roads as far as that was concerned.
W: When did paving, asphalt paving, begin? Can you recall?
P: That's been going on for thirty years or more, and today they've
got good roads all over this country.
W: Do you recall how citrus growers were involved in the road improvement
programs in Lake County?
P: No, I couldn't answer that question.
W: All right, when you first came to Lake County, do you recall how
the various ways that citrus was marketed?
P: Yes. Some shippers consigned their fruit to receivers in the all over
the U.S., and some sold at auction in the larger cities like New
York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland and Pittsburg.
W: Were most of the growers associated with cooperatives?
P: No, not until 1909 when the Florida Citrus Exchange was organized.
We had no cooperatives.
W: Where have some of the major markets for your fruit been? In the
United States and other places, too?
P: Well, we sold it from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland,
Denver, and throughout the United States and Canada.
W: What about some of the foreign markets?
P: Yes, only Canada.
W: Let's talk a little bit about how citrus was grown and cultivated
when you first began in the business, and how it's different from
P: All citrus groves were cultivated by hand with a plow and a mule.
We had no discs, we had no tractors, until in the early '30s.
Then we began to use tractors and discs and discontinued plowing,
and we began to plant more trees. Since tractors have become
available, all grove work is done with tractors, discs, harrows, and
spray machines, where a good many years we had to walk and spray the
trees. But I would say twenty-five or thirty years ago, there was
a speed sprayer invented which would carry 500 gallons of material.
One man sit in this machine and done the whole job, sprayed one side
of two rows at a time. Naturally it was an improvement, considerable
improvement. And they are every year getting new material. They
have an excellent experiment station at Lake Alfred where they're
experimenting daily on different materials and different ways to use
it and different mixtures to use, trying to grow citrus as economical
as possible. I can recall not too many years back when you'd talk
about what's your production cost. If you said over fifty dollars,
why, people would think you was nuts. But now some of these groves
cost as high as $500 for your fertilizer, spraying, cultivating,
and so forth, not including your picking or hauling. It's a hell
of a jump, but that's just what has happened.
W: What is this rise in cost, what has that done to the average grower?
P: Well, you'd be surprised. It looks like, though the cost has gone
up in production, the prices of your finished product has gone up
about the same level. You think, well, God, they're going to have
to jump that thing a quarter a box or fifty cents a box, but it's,
the growers are getting about the same return for his fruit today
that he was when he was paying fifty dollars an acre. That sounds
crazy, but that's what's happening.
W: What is the capital cost of these machines?
P: Oh, they go so high I just don't know.
W: How have they affected the grower, the small-time grower? Haven't
a lot of the smaller growers not been able to afford these things?
P: Most of the small growers have joined some cooperative that has
a production department and the cooperative takes care of producing
his or her fruit as well as marketing it, but small growers are very
few as compared to twenty-five years ago.
W: So the rise in capital cost has forced the small grower to either go
to a cooperative or maybe forced him out of the business, right?
P: That's right, done one of the two. Just forced him out of business
or he's had to join up with some organization to do this work because
the capital cost there of this equipment is so great he couldn't afford
to buy it.
W: Can you tell me why trucks have largely replaced the railroad as a
major means of transportation for citrus products?
P: Well, yes. Trucks have taken the place of transportation of railroads
largely because of the convenience. That's, in fact, we would save.
When you were hauling fruit from the grove you put it on the truck
at the grove, you unload it at the packing house. When you have your
fruit processed, whether it be in cans or in fresh form, it is largely
put in trucks and delivered to the consumer's warehouse. Therefore
the consumer does not have to go and unload the rail car and put it
on a truck and unload the truck, in other words handle it about
three or four times where on the truck they handle it once and some-
times twice. It's been a matter of convenience.
W: Convenience and efficiency, too.
P: And efficiency, yes sir. You take a load of fruit that we load at
Lake Region and it goes to St. Louis, we'll say. They haul it
right up to the consumer's door.
W: The supermarket or the warehouse.
P: Yes, the warehouse, wherever they want it, it is hauled right up
to the door and they take it right out of that truck and sack it
right in there, the pre-cooling rooms or wherever they want to put it.
W: Mr. Prevatt, could you describe some of the promotional and cooperative
organizations in Lake County that you know about during your lifetime?
P: Well, since I come to Lake County, which was in 1925, up until that
time the only cooperative group was the Florida Citrus Exchange houses
or affiliate houses, but since '25 there's been quite a few cooperatives
set up in one way or another. Some has been in, one cooperative fer-
tilizer plant in Leesburg which puts out the Foremost brand and that
was largely promoted by A. S. [Herlong] PW and Company.
W: And was Mr. A. S. [Herlong] PW the one who started that?
P: He was the originator of it, yes. Of course they had to get so many
outside growers willing to form the cooperative. But that's one of
the new cooperatives that's been set up.
W: And what exactly did they do, this fertilizer cooperative?
P: They distributed fertilizer to all the growers who were members and
they sold fertilizer to non-members. They could sell a certain percent
on the outside. The Golden [Gem] Growers has a cooperative fresh
fruit house and a canning plant located in Umatilla. That was headed
by Bob Flippo, as president. I can't tell you who all the others were.
That's the only cooperative canning plant. However, there has been
another cooperative plant just across the line in Orange County, at
Plymouth, which puts up some of the Golden [Gem] PW Fruit. They have
members in Lake County which consists of only Lake Region Packing
Association and the Mount Dora Growers. They have other members, which
is the Brooksville Citrus Growers, which is not in Lake County, and
the other members come from the east coast, mostly around Vero Beach.
All that fruit is packed down in Plymouth and is one of the larger
citrus cooperatives. That fruit is sold through the Citrus Central
W: Citrus Central?
P: Yes, fruit is sold through Citrus Central Cooperative which handles
quite a lot of other fruit from different cooperatives. They're
located just across the line in Orange County.
W: Who was involved in that organization, Citrus Central? That wouldn't
be the Chases, would it?
P: No, [Rip] PW Graves of Vero Beach was president when it was organized
and, so far as I know, is still president and he is also president of
the Plymouth Citrus Products Cooperative. Now those are the only new
cooperatives that's come into existence to my knowledge.
W: Could you describe for me who some of the leaders of the cooperative
movement have been in Florida during your lifetime? Of course, there
was Dr. Ross, J. H. Ross, when you first began, I assume.
P: You could go way back in there to Dr. Inman and Mr. Ross and this
gentleman that I gave you, Mr. [K.M.] Wakeland, was very instrumental
in cooperative marketing.
W: How about the Chase family?
P: The Chase family has been in and out as a cooperative. They've been
members of the Florida Citrus Exchange at one time or another. Dr.
Phillips has been a member of the Florida Citrus Exchange. During
my time in citrus, during my fifty years in citrus, more or less
all of the bigger shippers and older shippers have joined in the
W: Why were the growers receptive to the idea of a cooperative?
P: Well, back years ago there's been a lot of hard times in the citrus
business and a lot of the shippers, I'm not going to mention a name,
but a lot of the shippers were financially in need of help and in order
to get help they had to join the cooperative so they could go to
the cooperative banks and borrow money. They couldn't get it as an
individual. So that, that caused a good many shippers to join in the
cooperative movement. When they got their feet on the ground again,
so to speak, they pulled out and went their way. However, there's
others that's come in. Some of those have stayed and at one time or
another over this period of time most of the shippers in this state
has been members of the cooperative movement.
W: Could you tell me approximately what time period it was, because of the
hard times, that many of the shippers joined the cooperatives?
P: I just couldn't tell you what years it was. We had so many of them.
W: What about during the Depression?
P: Well, it was during Depression years, but just what year that the
majority of them come in, I don't remember.
W: But generally during the Depression was a time when there was a
tendency to join the cooperatives...
P: Yes, yes.
W: ...because of the conditions. Okay, let's talk for a few minutes
about the Land Boom. Could you tell me what effect the Land Boom
had on the citrus industry here in Lake County and generally in
Florida, specifically in terms of the price of land?
P: Well, during the Land Boom most any good piece of citrus land was
sold at a good price. I say a good price and I'm talking now any-
where from $500 to $1000 an acre when prior to that time we could
buy a good piece of citrus land for $35 and $50 an acre. But times
change, and a good piece of citrus land went right up. In fact I
bought some myself with $25, some for $50, and I bought some for
$750. I sold some for $750. It was a matter of time that developed
W: Was that just within a period of a few years that the price of land
increased that much?
P: Yes, I'd say it was. It happened over a period of, well, I'd say
a period of three or four years. But right now I don't know what
you'd have to pay for a good piece of citrus land. In fact I don't
know where any good citrus land is. Most of it has been bought up
and planted in citrus groves, and about fifteen years ago or eighteen
years ago I bought, and know of quite a few other people that bought,
some big blocks of citrus land for $200, $300. I don't think you could
touch that land today, if it was available, for anything like that.
W: During the Land Boom, what happened to the number of growers? Was
there a dramatic increase in the number of people who were growing
citrus in Lake County?
P: I wouldn't say that the present owner was going out and buying this
land. It was mostly new people that was coming into the state and
planting groves. But not older people that was already in the grove
business. That wasn't the people that was doing it. It was people
that was coming in here from the North. Mostly they was looking for
a place to put some money. They was looking for a place for income
tax purposes. I personally know of several. In fact we planted some
groves for some northern people.
W: Who were some of the more important people who came here and invested
money during the '20s?
P: Well, they were chain store buyers mostly that was buying fruits and
Vegetables that wanted a place to put some money. I know of some
lawyers, Jew lawyers in New York, that bought probably a couple of
thousand acres, wanted them for income tax purposes. They needed a
place to put some money. Now when they got these groves into pro-
duction I happen to know that several of them sold. They didn't
want to income. Do you follow what I'm talking about?
W: It was a tax write-off, in other words.
P: Well, I'm not an income tax man, so I don't know just what position or
how they done it. I don't know that because that was a statement of
why they wanted them, and when they got to making money on them, they
sold them. Now what the position was tax-wise I do not know.
W: How about the amount of citrus land under cultivation during the
'20s, how did that change?
P: You mean in volume?
P: Percentage-wise, I wouldn't venture a statement, but any guy with a
piece of land that was available that was citrus land now, there was
no problem to sell it. There was a market, yes. Percentage-wise I
wouldn't know how many, but...
W: Was there a lot of marginal land that was sold for the purpose of
P: I wouldn't say that there was a great deal of that type of land that
was sold for citrus, but naturally there was some. I might say five
percent, I might say ten percent. I doubt if there was more than
ten and probably five would cover, because most of the people, they'd
go to the old timers and some real estate man was trying to sell them
a certain piece of land, they'd go to the old timers to find out what
the condition was. And if it was cold in this section and...
W: If there was water around.
P: That's right. For instance right here where I live it's twelve
percent colder than it is in Tavares fifteen miles from here. All
right, they got water protection, they got Lake Harris, Lake Eustis,
which is two big bodies of water. I have none out here. I've
checked my thermometer a good many times at twelve o'clock, two
o'clock, four o'clock, called Tavares to check in at my production
department, which we had men standing by to fire groves if necessary,
have them to go read their thermometer. And I don't think that I
ever asked that there wasn't as much as twelve degrees difference
colder out here than in there. All this land behind us here, which
I understand that there was, at the time it was planted, about 600
acres was frozen out, and right now approximately 150 acres are left
and that was up on the knoll, that's all. The rest of it was frozen.
And when it was planted, we had several years of warm winters, fairly
warm winters and got by. No reason to ever plant to start with.
My opinion is when they bought the land, which they bought it, about
'20 or planted it at about '20, they might have bought it several
years prior to that, I doubt if they paid over $5.00 an acre for it.
W: Who was this that bought the land originally? Daniels?
P: Yes, Mr. Daniels, yes. He bought it. And as I understand, that the
Chase National Bank or Mr. Chase of the Chase National Bank of
New York was the president of the outfit. I didn't know him. I
don't know that this is an actual fact, but from what I have been
told I think it's pretty, pretty accurate, yes.
W: Would you tell me how William J. Howey was involved in the Land
Boom, and other citrus growers in this area such as him?
P: Well, now, so far as I can tell you about the Howey deal, and this
is hearsay, he made a deal with the Arborgast Land Company for so
many thousand acres of land in the Howey, what they call the Howey
section, that X number of dollars per acre, and what that was I do
W: But compared with the price of land later on it was pretty cheap,
P: Very cheap, very cheap. It would surprise me that if he give as much
as $5.00 an acre for it and, again, I have been told that he paid
for that when he sold a grove. For instance if, when he got his
customers down, which I have referred to, if he sold 100 acres of
grove or 200 acres of grove, when he planted it, he paid for the land.
This still is all hearsay and it's all been told to me by people
that I felt knew what they was talking about, was responsible people.
I don't think that he himself had any money in it until when he sold
the grove and planted it. Then he got money from the buyer. Then
he paid for the land.
W: So he actually didn't have any of his money and borrowed...
P: That is my understanding, that he actually had none of his money
W: So there was really no risk to him.
P: That's right.
W: How was Mr. Howey attracting these customers to Florida? Could you
P: I have no way of knowing, not a bit in this world other than what
kind of a sales talk he gave them, he had--again this is hearsay--
that he had offices in several of these northern cities like Chicago
and maybe Cleveland. Chicago principally.
W: He was from Chicago, wasn't he?
P: I think so, and what kind of a sales talk they give these people I
do not know. But I do know, as I have referred to, that he would
get so many on the train in a particular car, and bring them to
Tampa, unload them there in private car and bring them to the Howey
Hotel. That's as far as they went and that's all the people that
they saw was the Howey salesman. When they go through with them they
returned them by train to Chicago or wherever they come from.
W: So they were under their noses the whole time they were in Florida.
P: That is the way I understand it, all the time that they had no, they
had no, no access to anybody else and nobody had any access to them.
W: Would you describe the work that you did for Mr. Howey and the way
he used the...
P: Well, the only work that I ever did for Mr. Howey was to pick and pack
some of this fruit, and at that time Lake Region was selling their
fruit through the Florida Citrus Exchange located in Tampa. We paid
them about eighteen to nineteen cents a box to advertise and sell a
box of fruit. And whether it was Mr. Howey's as a member of Lake
Region or whether it was Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, it made no difference.
It was all handled the same way, but naturally it was kept separate so
we knew whose fruit it was. And they were paid according to what the
fruit brought, less our cost of handling it. The same as any other
cooperative. They all handled it the same way. Naturally every
cooperative don't have the same cost. Neither does every independent.
Some of them can do it cheaper than others.
W: Would you describe the way Mr. Howey used the records of your work to
promote his land?
P: Well, I can recall one small grove of oranges that Mr. Howey had that,
and I don't think there was more than five or six acres in it, and I
picked and sold the fruit for him. And my recollection is that it
netted him between $4.00 and $5.00 per box.
W: Which was a very good return?
P: Very good return in those days. He had the photostatic copies made of
that check, also the returns, the statements. He used that in his
advertising brochures, he used it on his billboard in his office in
Florida, presumably the same thing in the North. And if all of his
fruit or all of any grower's fruit at those days could have been sold
for that price all the growers would have been rich. But I happened
to hit the market at the right time and early in the season before
the market was glutted and consequently got him a real good price
W: So this was an unusual circumstance, this particular return.
P: Yes, sir, and in thirty days after that a dollar might have been as
much as the market would have been paid.
W: But people who were coming down here to buy land from Mr. Howey didn't
realize that, did they?
P: They did not know anything about that, and I'm sure wasn't told any-
thing. They had the facts there in black and white, that this fruit
was sold on a certain market at a certain date and here is the amount
of money it returned, and that's as much as any buyer knew.
W: So they naturally concluded that would be their returns. Could you
tell me what effect the collapse of the Land Boom had on the Lake
Region and generally to the citrus industry in Florida?
P: I can make this statement to you, that during the collapse of the
Boom practically every grower member that we had in Lake Region was
indebted to us because of the poor prices that we were getting them
for the fruit. Now we was getting the market. We was getting as much
as anybody else was getting, but we still wasn't getting them enough
to pay them any returns for the finished product. We had a condition.
I recall paying an orange pool off for thirty eight cents a box, net
to the grower, and they couldn't possibly produce it for that. Now
that's what the Depression done for us. Grapefruit was a lot lower
than that, so the grower that was selling his fruit on the tree and
the buyer who was speculating on it, that grower wasn't doing any
better money-wise than the grower in the co-ops, if they was in the
proper co-op that was handled properly. Every co-op in the state, and
I'm sure this is true in any state, they're not all handled properly
or as economically--let me put it as it should be or could be.
W: How about growers who were involved in land speculation, how were they
affected by the collapse of the Land Boom?
P: I don't know if I could answer your question other than to just tell
you that they had their money tied up in land or whatever they might
have had it tied up in. We had this slump in the market, whatever
kind of market you might be in. They were all affected alike. Every
one of them. It didn't make no difference. When it hit one, it hit
them all, and...
W: Can you recall any specific examples of growers who had invested a lot
and speculated in land who lost a lot of money?
P: No, not offhand.
W: All right, can you recall when some of the more severe freezes have
been during your lifetime and the time you've been in Lake County,
the ones that have really done a lot of damage to the groves, and
what exactly their effect on the citrus industry was in this area?
P: Well, I don't know that I could give you anything that would help
you any. You just had conditions that you had to face, and when you'd
get these freezes and you'd have groves that if they were properly
taken care of, properly fertilized and properly sprayed and all, when
you had these freezes they come through much better than one that was
not being taken care of. It's be the same principle as if you had a
bunch of cows or horses or something out there that wasn't properly
fed and cold weather hit them, they're not going to stand up under it
like the ones that is being taken care of. Neither will a citrus tree
stand up and produce and come back as quick.
W: Can you remember any specific years when freezes really did a lot of
damage? I know '62 of course, was one when there was a very severe
P: Well, we had many of these damn little freezes during my time. As
to the fruit fly I wouldn't say that we had much damage to the grove.
Of course when it hit the fruit we had a lot of fruit that we lost
because of the fruit fly.
W: That was in 1929?
P: About that time, yes. But so far as it actually damaging the trees, no.
I wouldn't say it did.
W: Do you recall what was done to eradicate the fly?
P: Well, to get rid of the fly they had crews out all over the state getting
rid of a lot of plants and wild plants that was very susceptible to this
W: Didn't they spray?
P: Yeah. I know there was a lot of work done and it took quite a while to
eradicate the fly. I think the biggest thing that bothered them was
such things as wild persimmons and fruit like that that grow wild around
the state. They had an army, men in different sections and they just
covered the certain areas until they covered that whole area where the
fly was found.
W: What, the persimmons, they provided sort of a nest or a breeding ground
for the fly?
W: How much cooperation was there between the growers and the people? Wasn't
it Lake Alfred that was running the eradication program, Dr. CArthur
Forest] Camp [Head of Horticultural Department, University of Florida Ag-
ricultural Experiment Station]? How much cooperation was there between
the growers and scientific people?
P: Well, I would have to say that the cooperation between the grower and the
Department of Agriculture, which was headed by Dr. Camp at Lake Alfred,
was very cooperative. Naturally the same as anything else, somebody's against
you and there was some that didn't believe we had the fruit fly and we
couldn't get any cooperation of any kind from them. But generally speaking,
I would say that they was very cooperative throughout this area and, I think,
as a whole over the state.
W: And how successful was the eradication program?
P: Well, to the best of my knowledge it has been successful. They have eradi-
cated the fly. So far as I know there isn't any, anywhere in the state,
to the best of my knowledge. I'm sure that that's true in this section.
It was very successfully handled, very successfully.
W: Could you tell me what other insects and diseases have been serious threats
to citrus production?
P: Oh, I wouldn't know.
W: All right. I'd like to talk for a minute about the Florida Citrus
Commission, and ask you what were some of the reasons why the Commission
P: The Florida Citrus Commission was established mainly for the purpose of
trying to get more cooperation of the growers in this state and to get
the money for promotion, and to do that they had to set up something
that had some teeth in it, so to speak, to where they had a right
to assess every box of fruit that went out of this state. A certain
amount of money was assessed for advertisers, an advertising fund and
a promotional. To promote our citrus, they just had to have something
to do it with, and they had to have a law with teeth in it. Until
we got that we had nothing. We had nothing at all that we could say
to the growers, "Well, let's all pitch in a penny a box or a nickel a
box until we get so much money and we can do this kind of work or that
kind of work." Well, you'd always have some that will go, but they'll
always be some that will drag their feet regardless of what you might
tell them or how hard you might work on them.
W: As uniform and...
P: That's right, uniform, and it's got the teeth in it to where you can
say to the grower now, "This is the law. And in order to set up
something, we got to have some kind of an organization here that will
be effective." And I'd say that was primarily the reason for the
commission. It's been very effective. I know when I was on the
commission, I think about 1947, I was appointed by Governor [Millard
Fillmore] Caldwell for two years, and then I served under [Governor]
Fuller Warren two years. We had very little money at that time because
we hadn't been in existence long enough. I was on the advertising
committee and was later made chairman of it.
W: Could you tell me what some of the goals of the advertising committee
and the program were?
P: The biggest thing, in my opinion, and the most helpful thing during
my time was dealer service. We had only a few men at that time, and
we had to scatter them pretty thin. But we had these men and we sent
them to different cities to put on promotions for different chain
stores. We'd give out prizes and premiums in later years. It was
tremendously helpful. Now when I was on there, we didn't have very
much money to spend, but in latter years they have built up, I don't
know how much, but they built up quite a good fund. They've got a
pretty good size dealer service crew now, I think in the neighborhood
of probably sixty or seventy men. I think when I was on there we
had sixteen. But in my opinion that was the best money and is still
the best money that the commission has ever spent so far as adver-
tisement. Another good program that they have had in the last few
years is this young lady, Anita Bryant. Her program I think has been
very effective. I've talked to receivers on the other end, not in
the last few years since I retired, but when she first joined up with
the commission and everyone that I ever talked to, without an excep-
tion, felt that her work was very effective and was doing this industry
a world of good. I think the gal has done a hell of a job. I think
she's still doing a hell of a job.
W: So we talked about promotion. Could you tell me some of the other
changes that the citrus commission brought to the industry? Of
course there were regulation and standardization of grades and things
P: Well, another thing that made the commission very effective was that
when we'd have freezes, we'd have what we considered maybe an over-
supply. We had something to call on for help to say to these shippers
in this industry, "Well, you've got to do this in order to cut the
supply down." After all it's the old law of supply and demand that
controls every commodity in my opinion. I think that's a very true
statement, and the commission, if we hadn't a had the commission that
we could fall back on, lots of things like that we have been able to
handle, we'd have had nothing to handle it with. We couldn't control
it. We didn't have nothing.
W: So they provided information.
P: Yes sir, they had information that they provided for the industry.
W: Could you describe what effect World War II had on the citrus industry?
Some of the changes that occurred because of the war?
P: Off handed I couldn't. I know that we had better markets. We got
more money for our fruit.
W: Why was that?
P: Well, the government was more or less controlling it, yes.
W: Were they also purchasing a large amount of processed fruit?
P: Well, naturally when the government got control of it and they put
a lot of this juices into the army, they put a lot of it into the
schools, they handled a lot of it that would never have been, we had
no place to put it if it hadn't have been for the army. Let me put
it that way. If we hadn't have had the war, I don't think we'd have
had a market for the surplus.
W: So they created new markets.
P: They created new markets, yes. I think they created new markets,
which is hard to think about. Well, we got to go to war to get some-
thing done, but it actually happened.
W: What changes have occurred within the citrus industry because of
frozen concentrate processing?
P: Well, regarding the canning industry, if we had not come up with some-
thing to put this fruit in cans and created more markets, which we did,
the citrus industry would have been dead. There is no question about
it. We could not market, in a fresh fruit form, the amount of fruit
that we were growing in this state, if we didn't have a twelve months
market, if we didn't have different forms in putting it up. There
just was not way with the amount of fruit we were producing. There
was just no way to sell it. We still go back to the old law of supply
W: So the concentrate industry has opened up a lot of new markets.
P: Oh, there's no question about it. It's opened up a tremendous
number of markets. Concentrate has opened them up in not only in
our country but in foreign countries. I guess most all these foreign
markets, I imagine, is having it. As far as I know they are.
W: Could you tell me generally what the effect of these large corporations
such as Coca-Cola and Tropicana has had on individual growers and
shippers and packers?
P: In regard to Minute Maid or Coca-Cola, whatever you want to call it,
and Tropicana and others, has absorbed a lot of growers in this state.
What I mean by absorbing a lot of grower's fruit, they depend on them
to handle their fruit for them 100 per cent, and they don't think about
going to a fresh fruit house with it.
W: Haven't a lot of growers been bought out by these large corporations?
P: Well, there's been quite a few growers that's been bought out.
W: Minute Maid, for example, has purchased groves and leases considerable
P: I don't know what Tropicana's position has been.
W: Donald Duck? How about Donald Duck?
P: Well, Donald Duck is a cooperative and handles under contract, the
same as we have here at Plymouth. It works on the same basis. But
I was thinking of the cooperative over at Dade City.
P: Pasco. Lykes PW Brothers, for instance, has bought a lot of groves,
which has taken a lot of fruit off the fresh fruit market. Coca-
Cola and Minute Maid first started out. They leased a lot of groves
in order to get enough fruit to do what they wanted to do. To the
best of my knowledge those leases have expired and, to the best of
my knowledge, they are not leasing any more. They have planted or
bought groves to where they have a reasonable, let me put it this
way, a reasonable supply, and if they need additional fruit they go
out and buy it on the open market. They've been a big factor in help-
ing this industry. A lot of growers, when they first come in here,
was very bitter about Coca-Cola. Well, they're going to absorb this
industry, they're going to push the prices down, they're going to do
this, but I think they've been a help. In my opinion I think they've
been a big help to the industry. They not only handle a lot of fruit,
they do a lot of advertising. They put a lot of fruit on the market
and they put their money in there to help move it after they get it
there. I've said this so many times, if advertising wasn't good,
God knows Coca-Cola wouldn't be spending the money they was spending,
and they've got a product that's sold, I guess, all over the world.
And Lord knows how much money they're spending.
W: Millions of dollars, I am sure.
P: Yes, and they are, they are. They have not only bought fruit, bought
groves, put their money in it, they didn't stop there, they put their
money in advertising to move it after they got a hold of it. Now
that's a little farther than some of them have gone. They got the fruit,
some of them. They bought it, then put it up and sold it to somebody
else and it got into the chain stores and well, on the shelves. It
was up to the chain stores to do the promotion and advertising. Minute
Maid has gone, or Coca-Cola has gone farther than that. They've put
it up and then put their money behind to help move it out of the way.
W: So their promotion has helped the industry generally.
P: I don't think any question about it, that it has helped the industry.
W: Would you describe what the effect of the development of central
Florida, especially since the beginning of Disney World, has had on
the citrus industry of this region?
P: I wouldn't know. I couldn't tell you that. It undoubtedly has.
Disney World has had an effect, a big effect, on this state as a
whole and I'm sure that it has helped move a lot of citrus that
wouldn't have been moved if it hadn't have been for Disney. There's
been a lot of people that's visited that has got oranges and they've
got orange juice and they've got grapefruit and grapefruit juice,
that never thought about it at home. In the whole I think Disney's
been a real asset to this whole state and the citrus industry. Yes,
I think it's been a very, very big help.
W: What about the absorption of citrus land by Disney World and by urban
areas that have surrounded Disney World and the Orlando area?
P: That I don't know. I don't know. I don't think there's much left
there. Now where Disney is there's nothing but flat woods. You
ever been down there? Well, I was raised down there at Kissimmee.
I never worked cattle right where Disney is, but almost. Drove cattle
right along there. Back in the days when we had lots of rains, which
we'll have again, back in the days before we had all the canals dug
and the drainage, I've seen where Disney is today under water. So it
isn't citrus land where Disney is by any means. So far as where
Disney is located it didn't take any citrus land.
W: Not directly anyway.
P: No sir.
W: Would you comment on what you see as some of the future problems facing
the Florida citrus industry?
P: Oh, I would hate to make any comments. I've been asked so many times
by growers what's going to happen to the grower with citrus, and
would you buy a citrus grove or wouldyou plant a citrus grove? And
my answer has been this, that citrus has been better to the people
in Florida than, citrus and tourists, than any other thing. You have
your bad years with citrus, yes. But you have the good ones, too. You
don't get, you can't get it all. You have to take the bitter with the
sweet, and I don't know anything. If I was a young man, I don't know
of anything--if I had the money--that I wouldn't do just what I had done.
Every time I got a dollar I bought a piece of land with it. I planted
an orange grove. I never was, I wouldn't say, a big citrus grower.
I was as big as I could get with what I had to get it with, and I
think if I had to live, if I could go back over it from right now,
and had the years and had the money, I think I'd do the same thing
again. I don't think anything would pay off any better over a period
of years than citrus. I really don't. It's proved itself up 'til
W: Okay, I have just one final question. I want to know where you got
the name Babe?
P: Well, I've had it all my life. I couldn't tell you. My daddy used
to call me Jack and there's very few old timers left down around
Kissimmee, but I go down there now, and I happen to run into one,
I may be called James by one, and fifty of them would call me Babe.
Well, I've had it all of my life.
W: Well, why did they call you that?
P: I don't know. I couldn't tell you.
W: Is there any particular reason?
P: My daddy always had a nickname for all the children. We had six
of us, three girls and three boys, and he had a nickname for all of
us. He used to call me Blackjack and then he called me Jack. I don't
remember his ever calling me Babe, but it started out, I'd say, after
I quit school. When I was in the ninth grade I quit school and it
started then, and practically everybody, well, very few people in the
industry know of anything else but what that's my name.
W: Well, that's all the questions I have. I want to thank you very much,
P: Well, you're perfectly welcome. I hope I've helped you a little bit.
W: And I want to tell you that in exchange for this interview, you will
receive a transcript from the University of Florida, and you'll have
the right to check this transcript for any mistakes and also if there's
any part of the interview that you don't want to open up to the public,
you also have the right to close that off. You understand that?