In Pine Grove, the Pick of the Pears 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

August 27, 2005

Mariah Herman arrives at 6:01 a.m. One minute late — again.

And she, like the other four, is holding a paper Starbuck’s coffee cup. It’s early, she smiles. Too early. And she’s been keeping this schedule for too brief a time to adapt to it.

She purchased the coffee yesterday, refrigerated it and microwaved it this morning. “Because there’s no way I’m waking up any earlier,” Herman says. Buying the coffee the night before is a tip Herman learned from her more experienced co-workers. But it’s not foolproof.

“That’s why we are late,” says Mallory Thomsen. “We had to heat up our coffee.” Thomsen, 19, has been working on her father Chuck Thomsen’s orchard since she was 12 or so. Her cousin Lindsay Ewald has spent summers out here for five or six years now. These high school and early college girls are who determines how each pear will get packaged.

“I tell them: ‘We grow this fruit all year and we have one chance to make the distinction between canning and packing pears,’” Thomsen says. “‘And then at 2:30, you can do whatever you want.’”

On Aug. 13, Thomsen’s Bartletts ripened, triggering a frantic and anticipated effort to take them from the tree and put them in grocery stores and canneries. Thomsen hired 70 pickers for this occasion. And he figures he’ll have them all picked by tomorrow or the next day. The picking began four or five days ago.

The girls’ job is to ensure the pickers are separating the big pears from the small ones and eliminating those that suffered puncture wounds. The big Bartletts are going to the grocery store. The small ones will end up in a cannery. Making that distinction is a task the girls and the pickers themselves make with a “ring” — a piece of PVC pipe. If the pear is smaller than the ring, it goes to the cannery. If it’s bigger, it goes to the grocery store. The pickers themselves are supposed to separate the different-sized pears into two different bins.

“It kind of varies depending on how tired they are,” explains Mallory. “As the day goes on and it gets hotter they want to quit. Saturday and Sunday were really hot.”

If Mallory or Lindsay or Mariah find four punctured pears in the picker’s bin, they have to warn him. If they find eight, they tell the picker he has to sit out for an hour. If they find 12, the picker goes home.

By the end of harvest, Thomsen’s orchard will have produced 1,800 bins of Bartletts, at 1,100 pounds each. For their part, the girls earn about $8.50 an hour, which they save for college, for shopping and for a car.

24 hours, 24 weeks

Each Saturday through Dec. 24, Hood River News is pausing somewhere in the county — for an hour.

“Around the Clock,” looks at what happens over one hour’s time in a variety of settings around the county, in 24 vignettes. The series began July 16.

So far, starting at midnight “Around the Clock” has stopped at 9-1-1 dispatch center, Relay For Life, Chevron Station, Hood River Care Center, Hood River Post Office, Pistil hats, and, this week, Thomsen orchards in Pine Grove.

In the next two weeks: breakfast greetings and welcoming a newborn.

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