Tuesday, October 7, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt six)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

The main direction of research in harvesting seems to be toward getting rid of human pickers. With the rise of concentrate, orange-tree plantings are multiplying, but the picking force is diminishing. Florida used to depend on the supplementary help of offshore labor—pickers mainly from the British West Indies—but the Department of Labor is making it increasingly difficult for these workers to enter the United States. So, with a sense of considerable urgency, citrus men are hoping for the development of a mechanical harvesting machine. The citrus business is looking for an Eli Whitney, and many candidates are applying themselves to the pursuit of the fortune that would settle upon the inventor of what might be called the orange gin. One is Fred D. Lasswell, Jr., of Tampa, who draws the comic strip “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.” Lasswell’s entry is a big set of whirling flexible fins, which are pushed up against a tree so they can snap the oranges free from the twigs that hold them. International Harvester once tried to develop Lasswell’s fins, but apparently without great success. William Adams, the nurseryman I visited, has something in a back room that looks like a giant version of the conical spring that fits behind the batteries in an ordinary flashlight; spiraling through the branches of a citrus tree, it is supposed to disengage the fruit with gentle force. Another inventor has tried sucking the fruit off the tree by using a kind of vacuum cleaner, more or less turning the picker into a janitor.

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