A Halloween Surprise

A Halloween Surprise

The only time I’ve ever been busted was at a church student Halloween party when I was a graduate student at Michigan State. The party was at the church’s camp headquarters ten miles out in the woods. The dark, gloomy forest was a perfect spooky setting for Halloween, but our unexpected visitors weren’t spooks or goblins.

We didn’t wear costumes. In those days costumes were for prepubescent kids going trick-or-treating door to door. We dunked for apples and played pin the tail on the donkey.

Just as our leader was beginning a devotional, three cars with their headlights off drove up in the dark. The next thing we knew, police were coming in the front and back doors, even the windows, with batons raised. Everyone just sat and stared. Our leader went up to the officer standing in the middle of the room. “Hi, officer. Would you like some cocoa?” “Cocoa!” was all he could say. Obviously he was expecting something else. The officers huddled briefly, then left without saying anything.

Happy Halloween.

Ebola

Ebola

Does anyone remember mad cow disease? A total of nine infected cows were found in the U.S. and everyone thought the world was coming to an end. Actually the disease had been brought under control through quarantine before the first case was found in the U.S. No new cases have been found in years. Mad cow disease has been successfully eradicated.

Now we have Ebola and people are panicking again. Ebola has been around for 50 years and we know very well how to control it. The main reason for the current outbreak in Africa is that the authorities didn’t follow the prescribed quarantine protocol. It won’t spread in the U.S. either if they just follow the rules. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if we got a handful more cases in the U.S., but an epidemic could happen only with gross negligence.

Why isn’t anyone alarmed over chikungunya, MERS, or other foreign diseases that threaten the U.S.? For that matter, ordinary flu is killing more than the rest. The goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.

The Liar’s Club

Around the Cracker Barrel

Tom brewed coffee so strong it could hold a spoon upright. When he threw the grounds outback the worms grew so big he had to shoot them with a rifle to get out of the house.

That’s nothing. I saw the real one eyed, one horned flying purple people eater in Nevada. It was mutated by an atomic bomb blast. But it couldn’t find any purple people and starved to death.

Yeah. Well, I invented a hair tonic that could grow hair on a billiard ball. But it was too strong. One drop would grow hair a foot long overnight. I threw it out in the creek and the fish all grew hair. I got me a barber chair and all I had to do was yell “Next!” And another fish would jump out. But I had to throw them all back. Without the fish there wasn’t any water left in the creek.

My bantie rooster tops them all. When my chickens stopped laying, my neighbor said “I have a bantie rooster  that can fix them right up.” Sure enough, the very next day they were all laying again. The day after that the cows were giving egg nog. The next day the dogs and cats were all laying eggs. I had to see how he was doing it. I got up real early in the morning, and there he was, flat on his back in the middle of the barnyard with his legs sticking up and a dozen vultures circling overhead. I put my hat over my heart and said, “Poor old bantie, you sure did give it your all.” He opened one eye, looked up at me, and said, “Get out of here. In another five minutes I’ll have me them buzzards, too!”

My Book, Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer

Former ‘chicken engineer’ pens memoir of work in Vietnam

‘Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer’ showcases life, customs, people of 1960s Vietnam

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Author Robert C. Hargreaves narrates his life story as a Vietnam-era agriculture worker in his new historical autobiography “Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer: Toward Understanding the Real Vietnam” (published by Abbott Press).

From 1965 to 1967, Hargreaves worked as an agricultural volunteer with the International Voluntary Services, which is typically regarded as the precursor of the Peace Corps. Hargreaves was referred to as the “chicken engineer” during that time and was tasked with multiple projects for the betterment of various agricultural endeavors. He oversaw the production of eggs for sale and consumption in Vietnam – a duty he sees as essential to the survival of troops and citizens in the Asian country during that time period.

“Most of the writing about Vietnam is about war and politics – an American war and American politics,” Hargreaves says. “Little is said about the country of Vietnam itself.”

Hargreaves hopes his memoir will resonate with readers and provide them with a deeper understanding of the culture, people and political landscape of Vietnam in the 1960s.

In “Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer”, Hargreaves reveals intimate details of Vietnam that are not often heard about in the Western world, to open a dialogue about the human history of the Asian country that does not revolve around its war-torn past.

“Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer”

By Robert C. Hargreaves

Hardcover | 6 x 9 in | 108 pages | ISBN 9781458213501

Softcover | 6 x 9 in | 108 pages | ISBN 9781458213518

E-Book | 108 pages | ISBN 9781458213495

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Robert C. Hargreaves is a retired poultry specialist who formerly worked with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He was also an agricultural volunteer with the International Voluntary Services during the Vietnam War and lat

More Ferguson

My letter in the Bakersfield Californian

Brik McDil’s anatomy (The Anatomy of a Crisis: What we can Learn from Ferguson, Californian, Tues, Oct 7) is a poor autopsy of Ferguson. He claims a mob exploded on any available object: buildings, vehicles, stores, homes, uniformed officers, bystanding others.

This never happened. No mob ran riot, no buildings, stores or homes were destroyed. The only vehicles destroyed were run over by police tanks. Instead, from the very beginning organized protesters marched carrying signs saying “Don’t Shoot”.They were exercising their first amendment right of peaceful protest. The Ferguson police responded with smoke bombs, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

The 30 member Ferguson Police Force weren’t enough to arrest thousands of protesters,so they called in reinforcements from neighboring police departments. Then the governor panicked and called out the National Guard. At no time were the protesters anything but peaceful.

Attorney General Eric Holder stepped in and knocked heads – police heads. The Missouri Highway Patrol was appointed to police Ferguson and attempts to stop the protests ended. The protests continue to this day, as peaceful as ever. The Ferguson police chief has issued a formal apology for the behavior of the police.

I don’t think Brik McDil has ever experienced police who routinely arrest, beat, and jail peaceful protesters. They don’t do this in Bakersfield. I encountered this as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in the 1960s. It’s outrageous that this could still happen today.

He Bought the Farm

 

My father always dreamed of having a farm of his own, a dream that none of his children shared. In the 60s I was amazed at how many people I met who said they wanted to retire to a small farm. This didn’t sound like retirement to me, more like working harder than ever. My ag economics professor told us the average farmer could earn more selling his farm and putting the money in the bank at 6 per cent interest. Obviously farming isn’t just about money. American soldiers in Vietnam used the phrase “He bought the farm” as a euphemism for someone killed in action.

The dream finally came true in the 70s when father was almost 60. He bought the farm, 20 acres near Lamont for $6,000. Just bare land with no water and the water table was 300 feet down. He had a well drilled for $10,000 and bought a Kapp Home for another $10,000.  The Kapp Company provided all the parts with instructions and you built it yourself. This one was a two story house with a basement. My father dug out the basement himself with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. He then dug a roadway down to the basement for a garage and a big whole behind the house that he planned to use for air conditioning. The whole family helped build the house.

After several years the house was far enough along to actually move into. The construction electric cord still came in through the kitchen window. It didn’t provide enough electricity and every time too many appliances were turned on at once the breaker on the power pole would kick off. My father never did get the electricity hooked up. He kept saying something about having to connect the electricity to the gas furnace, but he never did. They didn’t use the furnace. They heated the house with the fireplace in the winter and that kept the house plenty warm. When my father died one of the first things my mother did was call the building inspector and ask what it what it would take to get the electricity hooked up. The building inspector was surprised. “I signed off on that five years ago,” he told her. It only took a week to get the electricity hooked up.

My parents didn’t move into their new home any too soon. The house they had been living in since 1957 was in the Carnation tract and the neighborhood had gradually changed from all white to all black. This was never a problem until they finally became the last white family in the neighborhood. Then bricks started coming through the front windows and there were repeated burglaries. You couldn’t walk down the street without people shouting “Honkey, get out!” My father was a stubborn man. He wasn’t about to let anyone chase him out of his own home. He probably never would have left if he hadn’t gotten his dream farm.

When he got his farm my father was working for Belridge Oil Company in charge of their new soils laboratory. The new aqueduct down the west side of the valley was now providing water for large tracts of land owned by the oil companies. Belridge built a lab to test their land and hired my father at twice the salary he was getting from his job with the county. Five years later Belridge was bought out by a bigger oil company that fired everyone and brought in their own people. That was the last job my father ever held. My mother still taught school as a Title IX reading specialist until she was forced to retire at the mandatory age of 70.

My father planted 10 acres of plum trees with 9 different varieties that ripened from June into September. He also planted a few apricots, persimmons, pomegranates, peaches, and grapes. Every summer he took his produce to the Farmer’s Market twice a week. My mother took the plums that didn’t sell that week, cooked them up and dried them into plum leather. The plum leather turned out to be more profitable than the fresh plums, but the County Health Department finally contacted her and said she had to have a permit with regular inspections of her kitchen to do this. My mother decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and quit.

Five acres was rented out to a man who planted tomatoes. We all had a good supply of tomatoes for our own use until he moved.

An antique Allis Chalmers tractor was acquired that kept breaking down until we traded it in on a John Deere. It was used mostly to disc the weeds down. The biggest problem was thorns from the plum trees. You don’t think of plum trees as having thorns, but we were regularly getting flat tires on the tractor from them. The tractor was a lot simpler than today’s cars, and I got so I could strip it down to the frame to fix. The John Deere was made in Germany and all the nuts and bolts were metric and were hard to replace.

My father got cataracts in both eyes and very nearly went blind before he finally agreed to cataract surgery. The weeds grew six feet tall on the farm. The week before his scheduled surgery my mother had an accident making plum leather in the kitchen and spilled boiling plum juice on him. He was in the hospital overnight and treated for the burns. He still had the cataract surgery as scheduled and recovered twice as fast as normal. The doctor suggested the scalding may have primed his immune system. My father replied he wouldn’t recommend it as a regular procedure. The first thing he said when he came home from having the bandages come off was “Where did all these weeds come from?”

The great flood of 1979 inundated most of the southeast corner of the San Joaquin valley, and our farm was right in the middle of it. The road in front of the farm was impassible for over a month. A big rig became stuck and abandoned just a few yards south of the farm. A half mile to the north the flood gouged an eight foot trench in the road. The grape vineyards across the road from the farm were smothered in four feet of mud. The farm itself was on higher ground and escaped most of the flooding. We could still enter and leave through the back of the farm.

The higher ground of the farm brought a deluge of gophers and ground squirrels escaping the flood. At first father was hitting them with his shovel, but they just scattered. Later he shot at them from an upstairs window. We never did get rid of them.

The winds that brought the storm also brought seeds from the Mojave desert. The farm became covered with sticker grass. You couldn’t walk anywhere without getting stickers in your shoes and clothing. It took several years to get rid of it.

Cataracts

A year ago I was told at an eye exam that I had cataracts. They made an appointment for consultation with a cataract surgeon, but when I got there they wouldn’t take my HMO insurance. I had to go to another surgeon through my own HMO, Bakersfield Family Medical Center. I got the referral, had my eyes examined, and was told Guess what? You have cataracts! Someone will call next week to arrange an appointment for consultation with a cataract surgeon.

Boiling Doll Clothes

 

When I married Marlene McDonald in 1967 she was teaching art and English at North High School in Bakersfield, CA, on a provisional teaching credential, and I got a job as a social worker with the Kern County Welfare Department.  The provisional credential was only good for three years and this was her third year.  With her three years teaching experience she only needed one year of postgraduate study to obtain a lifetime secondary teaching credential.  We agreed that she would go to art school in L.A. for a year, then she could teach while I attended veterinary school.  The art school she applied to in Los Angeles didn’t like her transcripts.  They said they wouldn’t accept her in their regular graduate program but would take her for a probationary year and then decide whether to accept her in their graduate program.  She managed to upset the teacher in charge of admissions and never did get into their graduate program, but the one year still got her a teaching credential.

I knew a social worker in Los Angeles who assured me that L.A. was just as desperate for social workers as Bakersfield, but when I applied I was turned down.  When I asked why I was told that was privileged information, meaning they wouldn’t tell me.  I started a long search for a job and every time I got turned down I got more depressed.  This made the next interview even worse.  When both of us worked in Bakersfield we managed to save one paycheck a month and had enough to live on in L.A.for at least a year.  In hindsight I should have just relaxed and concentrated on the two courses I still needed for veterinary school, analytical chemistry and physics 1B.  But all those rejections were making me feel worthless.  Poultry slaughter house worker, livestock inspector, nursery worker, pharmaceutical representative, encyclopedia salesman – that’s just a partial list of the jobs I was turned down on.

I finally got a job as a gas station attendant with Standard Stations.  They sent me for two weeks training at a gas station in West L.A. where they taught me how to check oil, clean windshields, repair tires, etc.  They still did that back then.  A highlight came when Charlton Heston drove up in his Rolls Royce and I pumped his gas and checked his oil

I was then assigned to the station in downtown L.A. on Spring Street just a few blocks from where we were living.  I was on the night shift from 12 midnight to 8 A.M.  Business peaked every night at 2 A.M. when the bars all closed, then quieted down and we spent the rest of the night cleaning up and getting ready for the next day.  Cleaning the bathrooms was the worst – somebody usually managed to plug up the toilet and there was water, paper and excrement everywhere.

At the end of the shift the manager added up all the money in the safe and compared it with the cash register record.  It was coming up short almost daily.  I wasn’t there three days before someone got fired for it, but the shortages kept coming.  Then someone else was fired.  I figured it must be the assistant manager who was doing it, but realized it was just a matter of time before they would be blaming me.  I found another job in a medical laboratory and made my exit.

My new job paid the same minimum wage $2.50 an hour as the gas station job, but it was a lot more interesting.  The laboratory had expanded into a variety of non-medical testing and hired me for the non-medical part.  We analyzed drugs for the Vernon police department, hamburger for the State of California, tested catheters for sterility. A research scientist at Redi-Whip periodically sent us his new concoctions for analysis for protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc., but when he called for the results he invariably said, “No, that can’t be right.  Do it over again.”  I did it over and got the same results, and he kept sending new stuff to test.

About half of my work was for Mattel Toy Company, testing all their toys for toxicity, flammability and color-fastness.  We fed Barbie Dolls to rats, rubbed bubble soap on the backs of rabbits, burned dolls.  There were federal government protocols for all of these tests prescribing what animal to use, how much to give, and how long to run the test.  There was a special machine for measuring flammability that timed the rate it took the product to burn.  The dolls all passed the test, even though they produced copious amounts of thick black smoke.  The smoke was so bad they moved me to a separate room with a ventilator and closed the door.  Mattel was interested in finding out if their doll clothes were color fast.  They sent me hundreds of different doll clothes to test.  I boiled them in water and measured the color on an atomic absorption spectrophotometer.  Not many people can say they boiled doll clothes for a living.  I saved the doll clothes and later gave them to my daughter.

You should be glad to hear that it’s safe to eat Barbie Dolls, but I wouldn’t recommend burning them.  The only real problem we found was that some of the labels were printed with lead ink, and Mattel was swift to correct that.

I got lucky and was accepted for veterinary school on my first try, and that was the end of my doll clothes boiling career.

Comments on “The Help”

 

The book The Help is a story of a hen party that ignores the weightier men-folk matters of voting and politics and trivializes the effects of segregation.

Perhaps this is necessary to ease the reader into the subject.  The shock of facing the real Mississippi of the time when black churches were bombed on a nightly basis and blacks were routinely arrested and beaten for trying to register to vote is just too much for many readers.

The COFO/NAACP headquarters in Jackson on Race Street was within walking distance of the capitol and most of the events of the story, but one would never know it from the book.  COFO, the umbrella organization for civil rights groups in Mississippi, sponsored a Freedom Summer in 1964 and invited over 1,000 volunteers from around the country, mostly college students, to participate in a statewide voter registration drive.  They also sponsored Freedom Schools and formed the Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the all-white regular Mississippi Democratic Party that publicly disavowed its connection to the national Democratic Party.

The problems of black maids were prominent in the weekly mass meetings.  The maids of The Help were privileged high society maids, earning three times as much as other maids and getting more respect.  Black maids in the rest of Mississippi didn’t fare as well.  For most black women the position of maid was the only job available.  Nearly every white family in Mississippi had their maid.  Those that didn’t were looked down on as white trash.

The plight of the black male was even worse.  Usually the only work available was as field hands, and that for only half the year, in the spring “chopping cotton” (hoeing weeds), and picking cotton in the fall.  The introduction of cotton picking machines was rapidly reducing even that.

The segregated black schools didn’t use textbooks and didn’t teach the needed skills for better employment even if it was available.

One last comment on the alcoholic carousing in The Help:  Mississippi was still on prohibition and all that alcohol was illegal!  No one ever got arrested as long as the sheriff got his cut.

Barfaroni, the San Francisco Treat

 

The memory is still vivid. On July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the start of the American Revolution, I went with my wife to San Francisco to see the play 1776. It was presented outdoors in Golden Gate Park with actors in period costumes. Then we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Half Moon Bay. We all went over the hill to see the fireworks in Hayward. On the way back I was suddenly hit with diarrhea. The car stopped, I jumped out in the bushes, and exploded at both ends. I was better by morning, but now I was itching all over. I had jumped out into poison oak!

My training had taught me this was a classic example of food poisoning, most likely from Staphylococcus aureus. But what food was the staph in and how did it get there? We all had eaten the same food and no one else was sick. Then I remembered – I was the only one to buy a cup of coffee at a concession stand at the play. Coffee? Not likely. But I added some cream from a pitcher that had been out in the sun all day. Cream was the perfect media for staph to grow in. How did it get in the cream? I didn’t follow it any further and didn’t report it to anyone who would. I didn’t seek medical attention from anyone who would report it. I didn’t need medical attention, the illness was over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the United States food poisoning causes about 48 million illnesses each year. This is just a guestimate because, as in my own case, most are never reported. Even if they were, the overworked county health departments in charge of the initial investigation wouldn’t have the time to investigate. They concentrate on more important hospitalizations and deaths. The CDC reports that 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths occur each year from food poisoning. The big three causes are Salmonella, E. coli, and Norivirus. Seventy-five per cent of food poisoning comes from these three.

Only 10 per cent of reported cases are successfully traced to their source. It usually takes a week or more before the incident is reported to the county health department and CDC, and two weeks at the earliest before an investigator starts knocking on doors. CDC has a standard questionnaire asking what foods were eaten and what restaurants were visited. People seldom remember everything they ate yesterday, much less two or three weeks earlier. All the information is fed into a computer that collates the most common foods and restaurants encountered to provide a list of the most likely suspects. Tracing it back to a farm or other source is a matter of luck and good detective work. Rules of thumb are often used, but these have proven to be more distracting than helpful. Salmonella typhimurium comes from mice and rats. Salmonella enteriditis comes from poultry and eggs. E coli H7O141 comes from cows. Norivirus comes from people.

Very often mishandling in food preparation has more bearing than the source itself. Donald Trump once gave a party for 1,000 guests and hundreds came down with food poisoning. The most likely suspect was egg custard. The caterer took a week to make all the custards and never refrigerated them! They never did find the source of the eggs, but egg producers took all the blame.

Undercooked pork can be a source of Trichinosis. My parasitology professor related that whenever he needed a sample of Trichina worm while he was at Berkeley he just asked the janitor for some of his sausage. The janitor had developed immunity. A veterinary student I knew wasn’t so lucky. He licked the knife he was using to cut up the bear he had killed and almost died from trichinosis!

Sometimes an investigation takes unexpected turns. An outbreak of Salmonella enteriditis in Los Angeles was traced to an oriental restaurant. They were making their own mayonnaise and keeping it on the shelf unrefrigerated. The organism was in the mayonnaise. They only had one supplier for the eggs for the mayonnaise, a small commercial egg flock. My department got involved to quarantine them and try to determine how they got infected. The breeder flock they got their birds from regularly tested for SE and all the tests were negative. Fish and Game came out and captured wild sparrows and animals but only found it in one opossum. Then they tested the water in a small stream running by the farm. Bingo! The stream was loaded with it. The stream was coming from a sewage treatment plant – the disease was coming from human sewage! Everyone with the runs dumps it in the toilet, and where does that go? The sewage treatment plant. This plant was 30 years old and handling 10 times the amount of sewage it was designed for. One of the veterinarians then tested water released from eight other sewage treatment plants in the Los Angeles area. Six of the eight were releasing water with Salmonella and/or E coli!

Human sources were finally indicated in a recent big outbreak of a rare kind of E coli in Germany. There are over 1.000 serotypes of E coli, but only seven cause disease in people. It took over two months to finally track it down to a sprout farm. First they blamed it on cucumbers. They found E coli H7O147 on a cucumber, then on lettuce. But the causative organism of the outbreak was E coli H7O104, a different culprit. They finally traced it to a sprout farm and decided the infection came from workers on the farm.

Most people are surprised to learn that the majority of foods involved in food poisoning are raw vegetables. Properly cooking meat and eggs kills the organisms, but nobody cooks cucumbers. How it gets into the vegetables is still poorly understood.

Tremendous efforts have been made to remove food poisoning organisms at the farm. “Farm to fork” security has been a buzzword for over 40 years. E coli O147 incidence has been cut in half, but Salmonella remains a big stumbling block. Salmonella food poisoning has been actually increasing. The big three, Salmonella typhimurium, newport, and enteritidis, have been successfully eradicated from commercial poultry farms. Improvements at the slaughter plant have reduced levels of other Salmonellas by 90 per cent. But people still keep getting sick from Salmonella. Back to the drawing board.

Interest has been rekindled in irradiating meat and produce to kill food poisoning pathogens. The technology was developed in the 1950s but met stiff consumer resistance to anything involving radiation. The process doesn’t make the produce radioactive, but you can’t convince some people of that. Some people are still opposed to pasteurization of milk, developed in the 1920s. When I was in Vietnam in the mid 1960s the U.S. military PX sold unrefrigerated irradiated milk with a shelf life of six months. Irradiation not only kills pathogens, it reduces the need for refrigeration and extends shelf life before spoilage. I tried some and never glowed in the dark. Researchers are also looking at using microwaves to kill pathogens.

Better control at the farm level accompanied with irradiation would greatly reduce the incidence of food poisoning, but it can’t completely eliminate it. Food can still become re-contaminated by infected food handlers, dirty water, and poor sanitation. The bugs have outwitted us so far. The experts still say the one biggest step in avoiding food poisoning is washing your hands in the kitchen.

 

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