PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Sixth-grade students at Presque Isle Middle School recently got an education on how potato farming used to be, thanks to a visit from Richard Rand of Presque Isle.
Rand, a former mathematics teacher at Cunningham Middle School and the University of Maine at Presque Isle, brought his 1946 Chevrolet farm truck with him to the school.
“This was bought new in Presque Isle by a man named Edmund Beaulieau on the Chapman Road,” Rand said. “His son, Guy, also drove this truck, and I bought it in 1990 from Allen Kelley who lived on the Parkhurst Siding Road.
“This truck was used to help harvest potatoes and to haul potatoes to the potato house,” he told students. “In the summertime, it was used to pick rocks and hay. The tires on the back are military tires because in 1946 — when the truck was made — there was a surplus of all-weather tires, so this truck has the original military tires on the back.”
Rand’s farm truck often is seen in local parades.
To give students an idea of what old-time harvest practices were like, Rand placed potatoes on a section of lawn at the school and had students pick the potatoes, place them in a basket and dump the potatoes into a barrel.
He explained how each picker filled his own barrels and marked them with his own tickets.
“What they do after they fill the barrel up is put a ticket on it,” Rand said. “The tickets were then collected and put in the ticket box, and at night, the farmer would count up all the tickets and pay the pickers accordingly. When I was younger and picked potatoes, I got paid 20 cents a barrel.”
The sixth-graders also assisted in showing how potato barrels were loaded onto trucks to be taken to the potato house.
One student rolled a filled barrel over to the farm truck where Rand used a hand potato barrel grapple to lift it onto the back of the truck with the help of another student who pushed the barrel from the bottom.
“This is the way they did it back in the 1930s and 1940s,” Rand said. “After the truck was filled with potato barrels, they were taken to the potato storage house, emptied, and the barrels were then taken back to the field to be filled again.”
The students enjoyed the presentation.
“I thought it was pretty interesting; I didn’t know how to do that kind of stuff,” said Lacy Condon. “I’ve never picked potatoes before. Hand-picking sounds a lot different than from today. It was probably a lot harder. I learned that workers had to fasten a chain on the side of a truck to keep the barrels from falling off.”
“I learned from Mr. Rand how they used a grapple to lift the barrels on the truck,” Marielle Shaw said. “Digging potatoes with the old equipment was probably a little bit more work than it is today, but it seems like it would still be fun.”
Marianne Lafland said she would like to be a potato farmer one day.
“It sounds like a lot of fun, and my mom told me about the stuff that she did the old-fashioned way. For fun, at the end of the year, they would collect all the weird-shaped potatoes and then they would paint them in funny ways and set them up for other people to look at,” Lafland said.
“My neighbors are farmers, so I see farm equipment all the time. This morning when we were waiting for the bus, we saw a tractor go by,” she said. “It’s neat. I’d like to be a potato farmer someday.”
Rand said he was pleased with the students’ enthusiasm and enjoyed his visit to the middle school.
“I like to demonstrate old farm equipment and old tools,” he said. “I enjoy using them, and I collect them, and I like to show younger people how they’re used. They were very interested in what I had to say and seemed to want to do the stuff I asked them to. There was no shortage of volunteers. It was fun.”
Rand’s visit came at the urging of Gail Hagelstein, library-media specialist at PIMS.
“The County is unique in the way it used to harvest potatoes,” said Hagelstein, who has lived “all over the country.”
“For the people who grew up here, it’s their heritage and I don’t want them to lose that,” she said. “I want the students to understand how unique The County is because it’s one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever lived. It also ties in with the curriculum as many of the students have been studying potatoes and the harvest. It’s important that we preserve that heritage.”