Interviewee: Eugene Gollnick, Bart Wood
Interviewer: Unlisted [I]
I: We have two real Florida crackers in Vero Beach and Indian River County.
They have been here more than fifty years. Bart, you are actually my dad, but I
will call you Bart. How long have you been in Vero Beach?
W: We have been here about fifty-five years.
I: Just what year was it that you came in though?
W: I came back to Vero in May, 1913.
I: But, you had been on the east coast of Florida the year before that?
W: I had been up and down from Fort Pierce to here. There was nothing here but
just a flag station, you see. There was no agent over there, and just a post
office was opened up around mail time.
I: Gene, just how long have you been here?
G: It would be fifty-one years now, see, that I have been here because we come in
'17. This is '58, so it would be about fifty-one years.
I: Your dad, though?
G: Well, he came in 1913, and he bought our holdings that the family owns today.
He bought all of that, except maybe a piece or two. He bought those in 1913,
and I think everybody still owns all the land, except one piece that has been sold.
It is still in the family.
I: Was any of the land he bought underwater at that time?
G: Oh, well, all that he bought was about underwater. You see, the canals had not
been cut. Actually, the way he bought the land, he was taken over the land in a
boat, and they poled the boat. Had about four feet of water over the top of all
that land where we live now. It was about four feet underwater. They poled all
over this land, and they would take up samples and look at it, and that is the way
he bought that land, and on the strength that they were unloading the drag line
off the flatcar at the railroad and were going to start to dig these canals that we
have today. That all went on that long ago. Then, my brother come here in '15,
and settled, and he has been here. Then, the rest of our family come in '17.
That is when I come here.
I: Talking about that drag line, did you run that drag line?
W: One of the drag lines that dug down his way was a Bucyrus. Those machines
that we worked on, the crane construction company had two. They were really a
kind of a homemade affair but had powerful engines in them. See, he bought
the swings and the hoist and the Fairbanks Morse engine--the fly wheel was
seventy-two inches. But, the Bucyrus that dug down on Lateral B that went
down through what Gene was talking about, had dug later, you see, after we
went on up, that come in there and started later, and I know just which one.
That probably was something he was unloading, maybe.
I: It seems to me like you had mentioned once that you dug the main canal out
W: The main canal.
I: And was that the first one that was dug in Indian County?
W: Yes, absolutely. They had to dig the main canal. That was the only outlet they
had, you see, and you see it does not follow on a land line. They tried to keep
up with that Mocking Bird Creek. It went in that direction. Where my grove is
now, the old timers (before I was here) said that they had never seen that but like
they could run a boat anywhere in through there. Well, that was Horseshoe
Cypress. My grove is right in the Horseshoe Cypress, and water stood there all
the time. See, that water did not come out of that. We cut in to let it out
through that way.
I: Just where did you run into this water? You were digging this canal, and you
were going to drain the marsh all out there. Just how far out was it that you had
to go before you struck all this water that you drained?
W: The marsh, real sawgrass, started in there where Kings Highway is, you know,
where the __ is. Just about there, well, just a little bit east of it is where we
tapped in through that main, where the floater dug out a place out there. It went
as far as it could go on dry land and dug out a hole and built up the floater and
went on out, you see. That is the kind of place there that they would dig in, you
know, where there was plenty of water.
I: And how far had the floater-it is a dredge that you are talking about when you
are talking about a floater-how far had it come when you went...?
W: That dredge went on up through there from that place, and it went on west to the
end of it and then hit a turn north and it had got up north of 60, where 60 is now,
a little bit. Before we tapped it, they had to put in another dam there--see, they
had to hold water a few feet. To have tapped it, and let them... they [would have
been] right down on the bottom. They had to put in a dam there to hold the water
up so they could keep digging, because they have to have water, and we cut that
off in there.
I: Just about how far did the water drop when you tapped into the place that the
floater had come to?
W: Well, I still say it was about ten feet. More or less, that suggests it. I did know
at the time. The crane's contract called for a fifteen-foot ditch across about
where the bridge is along there. Fifteen-foot deep, and it had to be, I think it
was, a sixty-foot bottom and a one-to-one slope. You can see, when we dug up
there, right on up, it seemed level. It was, you know, to when we get there and
hit that and bring that water up. You could take a six-foot crowbar and hold it up
there just ahead of us and turn it loose, and the weight would carry it down the
full six feet. That is how deep that muck was in there.
I: And, Gene, when dad tapped into where the floater had come to, was your land
drained then, or the land that you have now, was it drained then or did it depend
on this other canal?
G: Of course, it took the surface water off, but then they had to dig these
sub-laterals which were dug into these larger canals, and a lot of those were dug
by hand. We had, in this country, two old contractors, old John Burke and I
cannot remember the other name. They were colored contractors, and they had
maybe 150 people digging with shovels. They would throw it up and throw it out,
dug lots of these sub-laterals by hand. At one time, they lowered lateral B two
feet where it goes south by my house. They lowered the bottom of the canal
two feet by hand. Now, nobody hardly believes that they would get down in that
canal, in these days with modern machinery, but they had at least 150 people in
that canal. One would shovel, pick up the shovel of dirt and move it over, and
another one would pick it up and move it right up on the bank. That is how they
lowered that whole canal, about two miles of it, by hand.
I: How long did it take to do that?
W: Oh, well--several months. But, that is the way they done things in those days.
They would grub palmettos and palm trees the same way. We had no
machinery. Everything was done by hand or done by horse and mules and such
as that. Even the roads were built by hand. They used old slip pans and what
they called rollover dirt carriers, see, and that was all pulled by mules. Even the
overhead bridge down here, between here and Fort Pierce, as late as when that
was done, that Shin Construction Company built that with mule power. All that
sand up there was hauled up there with horses and these old roller pans. It
does not seem possible now, but it certainly was like that.
W: Just how long has that overhead bridge been up?
G: I am kind of poor on dates on that. I rather would not know exactly the date
because I have not paid too much attention, but the reason I happen to know it
was done that way was when they piled up all the machinery and it was all left
there. That was the machinery that built that overhead pass.
W: All mule power and horses.
G: That is right. When we come here, that is all we had. Actually, my brother, who
is older than me, bought the first two Fordson tractors that came to the state of
Florida. He worked them in here, but that was long after the first of it was.
Then, he bought an International tractor, and those were the first three tractors
brought into this end of the state of Florida at all. They worked them. They
used to wheels made out of cleats and stuff four feet wide to stand up on that
muck. It took at least that much. Like he said with a crowbar, you could just set
it up and the weight would carry it right on down. So, you had to have a lot of
flotation. That went on for years like that. I remember when we had mules to
work it. They used to take them and make a big ball on each one of their feet
out of burlap and tie it on with wire to give them flotation where they could stand
up in that muck. That is how they cleared it, and that is how those early groves
were all planted, in the muck. Then, Mr. Sexton brought in the Spalding plow.
That is how he came to this country. He was an agent for the Spalding plow, the
Spalding Plow Works. That is how he happened to come here. In the early
days, he and some others, old Grubb Owens and them, they done contract
work. One time, there was quite a little peculiar thing happened with it. Mr.
Sexton and Mr. Owens grubbed the wrong forty acres. [Laughter.] And, they
had quite a problem over it. So, they had to switch titles around so he could get
his money for his grubbing.
I: And that is where he got the name, Grubb Owens.
G: That is right. That is where he picked his name up, was that, see. It was not
near as easy in the old days because of the fact that everything was done by
hand. There just was not any machinery, hardly. Drag lines were a thing that
were developed [over the] years, but they were very cumbersome and clumsy
according to the ones today, but they did work. They done an awful lot of work.
But, you would be surprised how much was done by hand all of the time.
I: You have quite a number of groves now, quite a large acreage of groves. Was
that the first thing you planted, or did you plant something else first?
G: My people, my daddy and them, the family, tried vegetables, and they did raise
vegetables. They raised even a crop of cane. Originally, a fellow by the name
of Lindsay was in here and brought a cane mill in here and was going to make
sugar and syrup and such as that. It was located right down here where
Seward's and McDougal's old place was, where they had this construction
company. They were going to harvest the cane, make syrup and all that, but it
never did amount to too much. We were just troubled with transportation. You
could not haul it. Hauling it on wagons from way out there into the mill was
unsatisfactory. It just took too long to do it, and we did not have the roads. All
these were nothing in the world but sand trails through the woods. I am sure
when Mr. Woods first came here, No. 1 Highway was nothing in the world but a
sand trail from going around one palmetto head into a sand point and into
another and connected all up. They were all like that. I remember when they
marled the road between Fort Pierce and Vero and it was just as crooked as it
could be, but they hauled marl in on it. They hauled marl with mules and wagons.
I: Is that what they call the new highway now, or is the Old Dixie Highway?
G: That was the Old Dixie, and it was nothing but marl. It was a dirt road and very,
very poor. It took all day long to go to Fort Pierce and come back, and way into
the night, before you could get back. Times you went to Fort Pierce and could not
stay there, you had to turn right around and come back, and then it would be way
into the night before you would ever get back. It was a long day.
I: I imagine it was if you were going by wagon.
G: That is right. It seems strange now, but I know two families that come down
here from Indiana. They come down here in wagons. All the way from Indiana,
they come down here. And I imagine, Mr. Woods, you remember Barker and
Mr. Cones? Both of them come here in wagons. Even as late as when they
I: How long did it take them on that trip, do you know?
G: Several months. Several months! [Laughter.] It was a lot different. You know,
comparing prices and things that get done today, we used to have an awful lot of
grubbing done. The fact of it is, we owned a big plot of land down here where
Rockridge is, and we had that all grubbed. It was thick trees. They did not get
much money for hand labor then. They used to get these people come out of
Gifford, and they would grub them with a grub hoe and an axe and cut a tree in
three pieces for seven cents a piece. They would walk all the way from Gifford,
clear down there and back in the evenings. And the mosquitos were thicker
than anybody could imagine. I do not know what they made a day, somewhere
around fifty or seventy-five cents a day. That was about all they would make.
Of course, that went a lot further than it does now. It sure would not amount to
W: It sure would not amount to much now but, back then, fifty to seventy-five cents
was not too bad, was it?
G: Well, no, it was a fair wage in those days. It fit everything else. That is all the
money there was. You give more than that away, you did not have any left.
[Laughter.] That was a balance.
I: Now, we will go back to this grove business. You tried the cane and what have
you. When was your first grove planted?
G: I think about 1919, they put in the first grove. The land had gotten drained to
where they could break it. The old home grove that we planted in the beginning
is on Glendale and Kings Highway there, at corners in there, and that grove was
planted in 1919 in that muck. Some of it still survives. It is not too bad. It is
not too good but then, after all, it is quite old. They spread out from there. I
think my daddy had about 200 acres planted by the time he quit planting groves
and decided that was about all he could do and retired on that. If he had the
machinery we have today, he would have planted most of Indian River County, I
think. With as much ambition as he had and as good as he liked to work us
boys, I think he would have planted about half of Indian River County.
I: Well, apparently, the transportation of getting it to market was a little easier by
the time you planted that.
G: By the time then, the Model-T Ford trucks come out, what they call a one-ton
truck, and we got one of them. Lots of other people had them by then. I
remember that some people come all the way from Palm Beach. A big load of
fruit was twenty-eight boxes that they hauled, and they thought that was a
tremendous load of fruit on a truck, twenty-eight boxes.
W: Now, it is 100, is it not?
G: Now, oh yes, a truck, an equivalent thing, holds 150 or 160 boxes and your big
semis, 350, and your bulk fruit, 500 and some boxes to a load, see. It is quite a
I: Well, now, you started in to grow. I am talking to my dad [Wood] right now.
When was your grove planted? It has been planted quite some time, I think, but
not quite as long as Gene's has.
W: No, that was planted in 1928, my first grove.
I: It is about forty years old, then.
W: Right at it, and this tableware is forty years old.
I: About what is the average age of a grove when it gets to where it is no longer
economical to work it and get the profits?
G: Well, that depends. If it is on a sour orange root, sour orange stock, it will last
much longer. The soil then and the care makes it. But, there has been groves
that was bearing profitable for much longer than fifty years. In fact, I heard of
one grove that was 100 years old bearing pretty good. But, they do not last that
long on lemon root. They have not found anything that lasts quite as long as
these sour oranges. So, I have been adding to that ever since and every now
and then, I plant a little more and so forth.
I: A long time ago, I can remember when I was really young, which was quite a
while ago though, I saw a whole lot of pineapples down here on the ridge. Did
either one of you try growing pineapples?
W: When I came down here, we will say, from about where the south relief is clear
on down to Jensen, that was all that was on that ridge there, was pineapples.
There was some citrus between here and there. The Reames brothers and also
the Harris boys had a small grove down there, and the Wildes had a small
grove. But, there was not but very, very few groves here then, at that time, but
the pineapples, you could go down there and they would give you all the
pineapples that you would want because the ripe ones that were thoroughly ripe,
they could not ship them. So, people would just go down there, and you could
go out there and walk through the patch, pick you a pineapple when you saw a
good ripe one. When they would see you, they did not mind it. When we was
at Fort Pierce when I first came down here, I worked on the railroad. We would
get on the switch engine, go down there to those big fields and just get off that
way, and go out through there and get all the pineapples we could bring out.
The owner did not care at all because he could not handle the ripe ones, you
see. He had to get them just to a certain stage to ship them. There was not
any citrus shipped by carload lot along then. When I first came down here, it
was expressed or a local shipment. They would put it, maybe, in the freight car,
and the local freight would pick it up and carry it around, carry to Jacksonville.
W: The pineapples had to grow on the high ground, on the ridge as they called it.
G: Yes, and the pineapples were the main the crop. From all down this side of Fort
Pierce and on down in there to Jensen, it was just almost a solid pineapple patch
out there. Later on, they began to plant some citrus up on there on the ridge,
like Halstrom down here.
I: And you did not have any pineapples either because your land was out there
where it was low land.
W: That is right. No, no pineapples would grow out there--oh, they will grow a little
today. You can have a little patch, and they will grow, but they are different
pineapples than they used to raise anyway. That was the old Cuban Queen,
and that was an entirely different pineapple. It was sweet, and it had a very,
very nice taste. But these that they raise today are pineapples that they ship
and, they are kind of like a watermelon, if you have got to ship it a long way, it
has to be good and tough, so it will make it.
I: So, it is tough rather than sweet.
W: Yes, tough and not so good.
I: You were one of the charter members of the Methodist church, were you not,
W: That is right. That was organized in November, 1914, and it happened to be
that my name was the first name on the book. Rosa, my wife, was the second
one of the Methodist Church, and I think--I am positive--that it was the first
church organized in the city of Vero Beach, where it is now. The Antioch down
here was up on the island at the time, up there on John's Island, and later on
they moved down here. They built down here and just moved the church as a
whole down here.
I: It was actually older than this one, but yours, the Methodist Church, was the
oldest in Vero Beach.
W: It was the first organized church. Now, later on, the Baptists organized, and
they built the first building. See, the Methodists used the school building across
the railroad there when it was organized, and they used that for quite a bit until
they built down here on 19th Street and 16th Avenue, around the corner. That
was built in about 1917, I think. I am not sure just when, but we could get the
record and find that for you.
I: I know you did not have electricity when you first came down, but how long did
you have to do without electricity, Gene?
G: We in the country, we had to do without it, it seemed to me like, forever. But,
here in town, why, they used to have one down here right where the drive-in
bank teller windows are. An old outfit had a one-cylinder engine down there that
pulled a generator. I do not know exactly how far many lights they had around
town but not too many. I think Bart would know more about that light plant than I
W: I do not believe that was put in until about 1919. It might have been a little bit
more before that, but it was in there in 1920. They just had a little dynamo run
by a Fairbanks--pulled by a Fairbanks-Morse engine, and Farr was the first
engineer to run that thing.
I: That is Mr. D. A. Farr?
I: And didn't he work in an electric plant before he came to Vero Beach? Is that
the reason he had that?
W: He knew something about electricity. I do not know just what he did before he
came here, but he knew a whole lot about electricity.
I: Well, now, that was about a mile from your house, or a mile and a half or
somewhere like that, because I know that your house is still in that same location
now as when you first built it. Did you have any electricity from that plant?
W: Well, I am pretty sure it was 1920, Farr lived right close to me, and he came in
there and wired my house and cut that electricity in there, and I got it earlier than
I would [have] any other way because he lived just about a block...
I: ...just about a block further west...
W: ...and just as a neighborly deed, he come in and wired it and turned on the
electricity. He was chief engineer up there, you know, and he could turn it on.
I: Well, since you started, now, have the electric rates gone up or down? How
much did you have to pay for electricity then?
W: That would be kind of hard to say. I do not recall just what it was at that time,
but I think we get it at a lesser rate than we did to begin with. But, that part is
just something I do not recall.
I: Well, our time, I think, is just about up. We are going to have to cut this short.
It has been a lot of fun listening to the old times, and we may have to have you
two in again sometime later because we did not begin to cover it all. But, our
time has just run out. We have had two real Florida crackers at this time. We
have had Gene Gollnick who came down here way back there in 1917. His dad
came in 1914. And we had Bart Wood, who has been here in Indian River
County in Vero Beach since 1913. He came into this region in 1912, but he
came to Vero Beach in 1913. That concludes our little discussion for this time.
[End of the interview.]