During the 1940 Maine potato harvest, the Town of Caribou bustled with commercial activity. It was an agricultural boomtown, the largest potato shipping hub in the world during the first half of the 10th century.
Caribou had been a sleepy backwater until the arrival of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in the 1890s. Potato farming took off in the surrounding Aroostook County, and other industries sprang up around it — like the starch factory pictured above. U.S. Farm Security Administration photographer Jack Delano noted there were almost 50 trucks in the line. Some waited 24 hours for the potatoes to be graded and weighed.
During the 1940s, Maine produced more potatoes than any other state. Today Maine ranks eighth.
Andrew Mooers grew up on a Maine potato farm. He remembers what it was like to pick potatoes. He writes in his MeInMaine blog:
Picking potatoes was every kid’s entry level job. The one where the kid buys his own winter jacket. Takes better care of it because he does.
Maine potato harvest means getting up in the dark. Listening to the local radio station to see if Farmer Bass, Smith, Fitzpatrick, Winship is picking today. When the harvester crew is suppose to show up ar Corey Farms. Studying the weather forecast. Putting on long underwear because you can see your breath as the sun rises. But by early afternoon, you’ll be peeled down to a t-shirt.
Schools in the area didn’t open until the potatoes were harvested.
During the harvest season the field hands worked from sunrise to sunset. Delano’s caption for this photo reads, “Digging potatoes on the Woodman Potato Company farm eleven miles north of Caribou, Maine.”
Not all the potato farms were large. Above, a family harvests potatoes on a small farm six miles north of Caribou.
Some farmers still used horse-drawn potato diggers in 1940, though many used tractors.
In Aroostock County, noted Delano, the farmer speaks of his potatoes in terms of barrels rather than bushels or sacks. Above, barrels of potatoes are loaded onto a truck to be taken to a storehouse.
Above, a French-Canadian potato farmer waits with a truckload of potatoes at a starch factory in Caribou for his potatoes to be graded and weighed.
Here a worker hoists and dumps potatoes in a storage barn on one of the farms of the Woodman Potato Company.
Inferior graded potatoes ended up at starch factories like the one pictured above.
The better ones may have ended up here!
Photos courtesy Library of Congress.