In the early 1950s we grew tomatoes commercially. Here are two versions of that story, one from my brother who was just a kid then, and one from Dad, who had to put up with him.
The favorite in the fourth race yesterday at Del Mar was Toomanytomatoes. She went off at 5/2 ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on the one mile turf course. She was prepared by Mike Mitchell who is the all-time leading trainer at Del Mar. It wasn’t enough. Toomanytomatoes finished out of the money. I didn’t bet on her because of a premonition based on a childhood experience. Watching the race brought back memories of my first run-in with too many tomatoes – some 60 years ago.
In 1952 my father and Otto Eickhoff took our baseball/football field out of action by planting it in tomatoes. Dad had the property and Otto had the farming experience. He was a good friend and the manager of the Guymon Peach Farm about 2 miles away. When the tomatoes ripened they put my sister Jean and me in roadside stands to sell them. One spot was along Magnolia Avenue near the Wagon Wheel restaurant and another was on Woodside Avenue closer to Lakeside. There was no Highway 67 there back then and all traffic would pass right by us. Apparently we did quite well and the following year Dad and Otto decided to really cash in by planting twice as many tomatoes. But just when Jean and I were starting to do our sales magic a representative of the County Health Department stopped at our stand and cited us for not having access to bathroom facilities. This “cease and desist” order eliminated both the sales outlet and the cheap labor upon which the tomato dynasty was based. Not much more was picked from the field and Dad vowed to never again grow a tomato plant on the property. Too many tomatoes finished out of the money.
But the neighborhood kids didn’t consider the farming effort as a complete waste. We would choose teams, much like we did for baseball and football when we possessed the field, and held tomato wars in the rocks below Kepharts. Everybody had a bucket and would load up in the tomato field. One team would hide in the rocks and the other team would attack. When that battle ended, meaning the buckets were all empty, we would reload and swap positions for the next engagement. It was good fun but not clean fun. No clear winner emerged and the war was only ended when the tomato field ran out of ammunition. Naturally we were all disappointed when no ammunition was planted the next year – or, ever after. Jerry Kephart, who anointed us all with nicknames (Strider, Bonehead, etc.) referred to me as “Tomato” from that point forward.
Tom “Tomato” Claycomb
August 5, 2013
Now here is Dad’s recollection of the Tomato Saga written in the 1980s.
Tomatoes on a Big Scale 1952 & 1953
In one our great get-rich scheme we planted 1000 tomato plants on Feb 1, 1952 on the front of our then 2 1/2 acre lot. We being the Eickhoffs and the Claycombs. All expenses and receipts were to be split. We planted in curved rows so we could irrigate from one place in each row. We hot capped all plants. When we picked our first tomatoes the stores grabbed them up – the first local tomatoes on a 5×6 pack we got some where around $14.00 per lug. This price didn’t hold for long. We sold many lugs of bulk tomatoes for 50 cents each. We built a shade packing shed above the monkey cage. Harriet and Flo sold to the store and along the road. Otto hauled to the wholesale produce market in San Diego. We made some money this first year.
The next year, 1953, we planted 2000 tomato plants on the adjoining, north 2 1/2 acres which we had bought. We hired a Mexican National to work, named Leo, he slept in our old barracks shop building. This year our luck with weather, prices did not hold for us – the tomatoes did not ripen early. The prices were much lower and the vines deteriorated quite early. We lost money this year.
It was a good experience, lots of fun, but was our last attempt at tomatoes for profit. Quite a bit of our profit was used for tomato fights.