Title: Interview with Ned LeTourneau (March 16, 1967)
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00006734/00001
 Material Information
Title: Interview with Ned LeTourneau (March 16, 1967)
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publication Date: March 16, 1967
Spatial Coverage: 12111
St. Lucie County (Fla.) -- History.
Funding: This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00006734
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location: This interview is part of the 'St. Lucie County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: SL 12

Table of Contents
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St. Lucie Tape #j3
Ned Le Tourneau
March 16, 1967

Page 1

. brings to mind an old southern negro who was spending his last

days on our plantation in south Georgia. He was a perfect emblem of a

real old time slave. True, loyal and faithful to the end. He and his

master was a man. .

hard to start back and it's not necessary to tell how they came down

here and You can't hear me. Now can you all. You back there with

your hand behind your ear. Can you hear me? You'll have to crank.

that thing up heavier. How about back down there now? Hear me yet?

Everybody? Can't move up. Well the whole thing about it was that

as you want to know how it started my grandfather, he had a small schooner

and at that time the only way to go south, he'd go out the inlet of

Jupiter. There was one there, not the old orig. inal inlet that used to

drain this country, and the rest of the water came up and went out of

the St. Lucie. Well they went down to Jupiter and from there down to

the Keys. Key Largo to be exact. And down there he saw that people lived

there. There were people living down there Lord knows how long ago. And

they were raising pineapples, loading them on little schooners and they

went from their to Jacksonville, Savannah, maybe Charleston, if the storm'

or something didn't wreck them, and he took, had the notion in his head

that maybe they would grow up there. He didn't know. Nothing else was

growing so he brought them, brought a thousand or so up and trimmed them,

and he thought at that time that the Hutchinson Island was more like Key

Largo and the other places around so he planted most of the plants over

on Hutchinson Island and he had some left and the mosquitoes were bad, I

guess, and they didn't never get around to going over so he planted them

St. Lucie Tape fl IP

Page 2

behind the house, the rest of them.They did the best so then he went over

and moved the rest of them back over to the ridge, started the first

pineapple plantation right back of the house I live in right now.

If there's anything else you'd like to know about the pineapple business,

Lord knows I don't. It's the most miserable job anybody ever had with the

mosquitoes and everything else.

?: What was your grandfather's name?

T: T. Richards. That brings me related to him some way. And there's

plenty of people here who know how the pineapples got to growing after

that. And then before WWI it began to go bad. Up to that time all the

fertilizer used was strictly organic, cotton seed meal, tobacco dust,

that was the main ingredients. And if luck would have

it, at that time using tobacco dust, it was a natural insecticide. Well

then, that was all back in BP, before progress, and then they began to get

and stuff like that from Germany. They went into synthetic

fertilizers. That's all right for a lot of things but it wasn't worth a

darn for pineapples because they had it, like red spider and stuff

tlike that but tobacco dust was a good insecticide and that kept the

pineapples going and then they began to get the synthetic stuff and they

didn't respond to that at all and war came on and now all that stuff

that they used to useo for pineapple fertilizer you couldn't afford to use

it for orange groves now, the mixtures that they had. And then ah, let's see,

there was something else about those darn pineapples. Now don't you folks

get any idea in your head that there's, it was any fun because I had done

the who thing and there was one thing I would not do and that was grub the

ground. But I did everything else, what with planting the pineapples and

putting the money in the bank, but they gradually went out and so far we

St. Lucie Tape \M

Page 3

haven't been able to find anything to take their place along that old

pineapple land. Well, one thing it has played idle so long and the fire's

burned it over from, so it all came up into grass which dried

and would make the worst fires. Trains set them, of course, because they

burned coal in those days and kept burning and finally everything bleached

o ut the soil and through all of it all we have left is some nice pure

white sand, ninety nine per cent silicon. Anything else about those

pineapples that any of you would like to know?

?: ---------_ ___ figures of the pineapples, when

they had the most pineapples in this country, about what year?

T: I would say it was around nineteen hundred, more in there, and some,

you know a lot of people never got anywhere with them. It wasn't something

anybody could do. You had to know a little something about agriculture

and a lot of them came down here, I suppose from banks and offices and

everything else and tried it and they failed it. A lot of them did.

A few of them made a good living and a few of them saved their own, money.

But you couldn't possibly have them right now because the expense would

be terrific paying help a dollar and a quarter an hour and it would cost

you about twelve to fourteen dollars a crate to put them on F.O.B. on the

train. So that .

?: How did you put the pineapples, some here may not know how they

were put.

T: That's a painful memory. You know they were full of thorns and you

had to wear canvas leggings and wade around through the pineapples amongst

occasional rattlesnakes and stuff like. We got used to that. And the

apples grew up out of the center of the plant out of the stem. Around the

base of the plati\ apple, there was generally what we called small plants.

St. Lucie Tape # $^. \

Page 4

Well you had to break two or three of them off and if it was rainy

weather you'd have to take, we used oyster knives and severed the stalk

right at the plant. But if it was dry weather, why, you cou Id snap

it right off. Just like you snap an orange off of a tree. And then

the man that picked them off, he threw them off-there to a man standing

in the path. The bags were about thirty feet wide and put them in

baskets and somebody else carried them up and -eventually they got to

the packing house, put up then rode them on the train.

?: What about the boats?

T: Oh, you want to know about the steam boats? All right, the first

steam boats that operated on the river as far as I know were small,

very small. There was one called the If any of you people

are Irish you might know something about that. And it is

They were the first ones. And then after that came the St. Augustine,

the -Sabastien, the Santa Lucia and the St. Lucie, and then. of course,

t he last boat to run, they tried to revise the steamboats, well, in

nineteen hundred something or other, they had one called the Spawn. She

made a few trips but it didn't pay and she went out of commission. But

one of the old time captains of the steamers was on that, and

his name was Captain Louie. Captain Louie and Captain Fisher and half

a dozen more that most of them lived at Titusville

but the old J.P. and K,W. railroad came into Titusville from Sanford

and then your stuff was loaded. And eventually it got somewhere before

it rotted if the service was good.

?: What did the initials to that railroad stand for?

T: Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West. It was an ambitious project of

some early finance or something before Henry Plant, whatever his name

St. Lucie Tape W

Page 5

was. he was, he took the center of the state from Jacksonville

down and he was going to Key West but he never got there. He got as far

as Tampa and the old, one of the old steamers named the St. Lucie she

ran from Tampa to Fort Meyers for a number of years before the extension,

the railroad was extended to Fort Meyers. And that was the end of her.

There were old wooden steamers, and one old steamer the Santa Lucia, she

used to push barges ehen they built the railroad extension down that,

in the Keys and that hurricane'n 1908 that drowned about a thousand

men down there drowned it, too.

?: On the river, I heard they used to go over to the island and cut

-- _______ wood to get the for the pineapple

fields. Do you know anything about that?

T: Here?

?: On the island, Hutchinson.

T: You heard that? That's news to me. All the fertilizer I ever saw

came in sacks.

?: My father in law told me .

T: Well he could take I never heard of anybody doing it because,

that malpdel would make good firewood, alright. if it's properly

seasoned, but it had the habit of being such a hot fire burning up stoves

and when people didn't use that they'd rather use oak and hickory, that

grew around on this side, but as far as anyone ever, I suppose somebody

attempted it. My grandfather might. He'd try any darn thing. He might

have tried it but it would've taken a heck of a lot of mangrove to make enough

firewood to fertilize an acre of pineapple. Now is there any other...?

?: What's the natural enemy of a pineapple besides you?

T: Any bug or insect that had to live on them, probably. We were only

St. Lucie Tape #fiSk \\IL

Page 6

bothered mostly by red spider. But every year here we'd have a heavy

frost or maybe a freeze and then you wouldn't have any crop that next

year and it didn't pay very well then. If you had five thousand

crates in one year and the freeze came you were lucky to get five

hundred the next. And you were lucky to stay alive until they came in


?: What prices would you say were the pineapples?

T: What prices? Well, generally if you cQould net a dollar and a half

"a crate above all expenses you were doing pretty.well. It cost a dollar

"a crate to raise them and to pick them and pack them and through them

in the frieght cars on the train. That left you fifty cents. After the

commissionmen and the railroads got theirs.

?: Has anyone ever attempted to make wine out of pineapples?

T: That was attempted but it was a flat failure. There was too much

acid in the fruit and it wouldn't ferment properly or anything like that.

?: I know when I was a kid we used to make something we called pineapple


T: And then, well, did it ferment in you or did you ferment it

first? I never heard of that being done. Mr. Saunders, there's one

thing I guess you would like me to talk about.

S: Well, I think they might be interested, and I always have been, is

how they propijagated and how they got the different varieties of

pineapples. You know the little red spanish was the number one. .

T: Yes, and that was the best one of them all in the hard years. But

originally, I think, my grandfather sent the Department of Agriculture

and got, let's say maybe a hundred of these kind of plants now and they

tried them all. There was a red spanish, a hubacca, a sugarloaf, a queen

St. Lucie Tape e 4 \

Page 7

and. did I say We have to have them, too. That's

what they are still raising in the Hawaiian Islands is It's

the best tasting pineapple of them all. If they can ripen right on the

plant, especially with a little shade. You take a ripe pineapple like

that you can cut it open and eat it with a spoon.

It was just like drinking wine. And nobody now days knows what a real

pineapple tastes like because they come from Puerto Rico and the West Indies,

picked green as gourds. They never do ripen good. Where an apple ripened

on the plant would get some almost blood red. Then you had

something to eat. Of course, I don't suppose I ate over five thousand

of those darn things. But the last pineapples I know

out there on the highway. They were and they

brought them to the Queen family and got what they call Black Heart.

The apple was perfect on the plant and ripe. You cut it open and the

heart is all turned brown. And I remember the freeze last week- got

through: with it I don't think there's one left in St. Lucie County now.

I think I've got five plants in the back yard, but I don't encourage


?: Ned, tell why the pineapple industry fizzled out in St. Lucie County.

T: Everybody went broke. And as I said before the fertilizer, the synthetic

was not suitable for pineapples. And you could plant them and they maybe start

off good and then they'd get what they call the wilt. They'd turn-red

and wilt right down to the ground, sometimes never bear. And when their

time was up.

?: How about the nematodes? Did that play a part, too?

T: That is also when the tobacco dust came in and took care of the

nematodes. That was their worst enemy. But them days are gone forever.

St. Lucie Tape { \'V

Page 8

?: About the cold weather, a person told me that he lost seventy thousand

dollars one night in the pineapple business. Is that do you think, correct?

T: Well, a man can't lose what he doesn't have and the crop hadn't come

in. He can call it anything he wants.

?: But you see the farmer figures on a perfect crop. But then, maybe

T: But there was never a perfect crop. Like, a number of years ago,

I think it was 1905, that's when pineapples were really flourishing.

And then they had a hail storm that reached from up and down there and

I know his father's little place was right in the center of it. They

had a terrific hail storm that only beat the plants and everything flat,

the shingles off the roof and broke windows, but if froze the blooming

things down there, because the ice was three or four days afterwards.

And then that was just about the end of all of those pineapples in

that section and they never did make a come back.

?: What time of the year was that?

T: In May. Around the first of May.

?: What year?

T: I'd have to do a little figuring on that. Let me see. It was three

or four some where in there. I had it advanced a little too far. I had

to think about how old I wqs then. And you know, them were long days ago.

Somebody ask a question?

?: My wife asked how old you were but she should have known better.

T: But being old I've run a pretty darn good race. No,

I'm slowly drying up at the age right now of seventy nine. In a few years,

if all the sawdust runs out and seams all burst I'll be gone.

?: -Hele-so beautiful.

T: Oh, gosh, yes. That's because I'm from a long list of ancestors

St. Lucie Tape j L

Page 9

who You ought to see a picture of old Uncle Pete just before

they hung him. Now, Mr. Saunders is there any other question you've

been asked concerning the pineapple business that you'd like me to clear


S: No, Ned, I think you've done pretty well so far. Of course, to me,

the most interesting part of it was and he told you there, and I didn't

know about our government. I always knew that we had all these different

kinds of pineapples, different varieties, but I didn't know that because

we didn't have any of Gainesville in it -------

Different varieties of pineapples.

T: Well, there's a place north of Gainesville called Washington.

S: That was the time.

T: Yes.

S: But I didn't know that the government

and they developed those

T: No, they didn't develop'-them. They had them shipped in. They had

plants of all kinds shipped in from all over the world and all we've had.

For instance the sugarcane in Clewiston. They had sugar, samples of

sugarcane in the thirties from every known place that they're grown. East

Indies, West Indies, South American, Africa and everywhere. And out

of the whole business they may have to squeeze the juice out of them,

analyze it for acidity and all that stuff until we found the one that

wold grow well and furnish the most sugarcane and molasses and sugar and

all like that. I knew a doctor in Clewiston and he was busy

all the time and told them what they had to do. That was back there in

thirty five.

?: Well I was interested and maybe some of you read in this sixty years

St. Lucie Tape Vk \

Page 10

ago in Fort Pierce that Col. VanDoozy came down here and was visitn with

his wife and he was president of the Minnesota Coorperation, I think, they

call it and they said it was the largest pineapple field in the state and

it was.

T: Was that up around Indrio?

?: It was Indrio and in those days there was practically a solid pineapple

field that went from the railroad tracks from south of Vero to Fort

Pierce and to Taylor Creek. It went just to Taylor Creek, dropped out

a little so to Fort Pierce. And then on the east from there

even where the old StL Lucie County Bank is now, there was a pineapple

field right on down east 'of the railroad tracks, right on down to Jetsen

and Stuart and on down a little bit to and on down through

there. then stopped

T: No, they had pineapples, quite a few of them at Blanton and Delray,


?: They followed that, that Delray had a lot of them..'They were

the last ones to give out.

T: I imagine they were.

?: But his industry in those days when .the- county was divided in 1905,

now Col. Van Doozy was here sixty years ago when half of the county was

divided. But the industry, the pineapple industry meant as much to this

area through here than anything we have now. We're striving for industries

all the time. But when the fishing in Fort Pierce started first with a

little bit of fishing and a little of cattle and then when the railroad

moved in it was one of our industries, but it seemed like the people

here knew what to do. When pineapples gave out for some reason or another

some of them had started to raise these citrus. And when the fishing

St. Lucie Tape #1 V

Page 11

gave out they had the citrus and then they caught on with the tomatoes

and that's what we have today. The pineapples still stay here. All of

our industry so far as economy, as we call now, Fort Pierce for its

population of this area is, in my opinion, in as good as shape as it is

right now, just depending on the pineapples. Knowing what it was, I

was surprised pineapples

T: Everybody payed cash in those days and had money in the bank instead

of using paper.

?: They had to use paper for the pineapple.

T: I know, but what they did have wasn't based. That wasn't a monetary

unit of the United States, or paper like they have now. They had some

real money in those days. Some silver, some gold, if you've ever seen

any. It's been a long time, but .

?: Ned, I'd like to say that my father had a pineapple field right where

Pinewood is and the country club between the Savannah and the state

highway there.

T: You mean the old country club?

?:No, not the old one. The one that's here now

T: Oh, yeah. Sure there was pineapples planted up what is now Fourth

Street, eastward along there.

?: That's where, my father had ten acres in there.

T: Yes and who else? Someone else had them right there.

?: had some in there.

T: He did?

?: Yes.

St. Lucie Tape \a

Page 12

T: And then of coursethe acres just belong here a little ways, Dan

McCarty had quite a holding down there. There were pineapples all the

way down at one time to 's Point for that matter along the

river. Captain _, one of the first settlers down there, he had

pineapples and every, a lot of people did and some were raised in Stuart.

But that was about as far as they went, until there was some land

suitable down around Blanton and Del Ray. But it was a toss up down

there because the tomatoes did so well down there and some of the

ginwers made more money on tomatoes than they did on pineapples and

tomatoes were a lot easier to have. You didn't get all scratched, and

wear out clothes-and everything fooling with those darn pineapples.

If there's anything good about pineapples and a way of handling them,

the work or anything else, I can't name it. And I've done it all. But

it went fast when it went.

?: Ned give us some idea of the volume of pineapples. Weren't there

whole trainloads of pineapples go out of here in the pineapple season?

i: Of what?

?: Trainloads of pineapples go out of here out of this area.

T: Twenty loads?

?: Trainloads.

T: Oh! Yes, they used to run a through freight; started down at Miami and

it picked up pineapples at, down at that end. And, of course, it started

out maybe with a locomotor and a few cars but they kept picking them up

down there and then they'd start at Stuart, at the head train, would

pick up these loaded cars. But then they also had another system where

a train backed up frieght cars. went down to Stuart, got down there about

ten o'clock. They loaded all the pineapples that they had around

S Lucie Tape 'f 4

Page 13

Stuart. There's a lot of them raised down there along the St. Lucie

River, too. We called it the pickup train and it stopped at every

packing house along the railroad track. Some people had carloads.

They'd pick that up, too, if it was ready, and then make up the cars

from the packing houses. They had near a hundred crates, or fifty

crates or whatever it was. They'd stop anyway and it generally took

until about four o'clock the next morning for that train to'get to

Fort Pierce. And then it wold start right out again and go back

south, back, round backwards down there and pick up those. I don't

know. It must have been, by the time they got up here it had a least

fifty cars of pineapples every time, for ready, then for the through

freight to pick up what it had gathered belowiStewart. Oh, I guess

they had several hundred thousand crates out every year. Of course

that was alot of pineapples then and it wasn't on

the oranges industry in St. Lucie County. You had more, many more

boxes of oranges out of St. Lucie County than that, and all over the state.

Now, Mr. Saunders for the agian.

S: Well I'd like to thank you, Ned, and I hope that you. ..

T" Oh, you want me to shut up. All right. Wasn'that a nice subtle

way of telling me that?

S: If you would be all right. I hope, we really

appreciated you coming.

T: Yup.

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