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Packing Out History


Chris Fairchild stands in front of the Fairchild packing house, on the east side of Highway 35 just south of Odell.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
Chris Fairchild stands in front of the Fairchild packing house, on the east side of Highway 35 just south of Odell.

Nearly complete is the slow unlocking of a time capsule that is a historic agriculture building near Odell.

Inside are numerous old tools and farm equipment, stacks of 70-year-old Spencer-Stadelman wooden fruit crates, and signs from the old Fairchild fruit stand across the road, operated in the mid-20th century by the late Oleen and Nona Fairchild. Their grandson, Chris, unveiled it this summer.

The second floor of the three-story building contained a surprising piece of Trump memorabilia. Nothing to do with the U.S. President. It’s a 70-year-old piece of farm equipment made by Trump Enterprises, a Canadian farm equipment firm defunct since the 1970s.

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Inside of the Fairchild packing house, just south of Odell.

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The Fairchild Fruit and Cider Stand stood until 1974 on Highway 35 just south of the current Packer’s Place fruit and cookie stand.

The structure is a familiar one, sitting on a hillside overlooking Highway 35 where Masse Grade and Whiskey Creek roads intersect. The property is the long-vacated 1903 Fairchild packing house, one of the county’s first; in its heyday, the farm specialized in the Fairchilds’ famous strawberries.

The packing house for the last five years has been attended to by Chris of Chatfield, Minn. His aunt is the current resident, Shirley Fairchild.

The structure has been mostly idle since 1975, and most of the items untouched between that year and 2009, the year of the last Fairchild “sibling reunion,” according to Chris Fairchild.

His father, Mike, died that year, and when the family met up, “we all had siblings who didn’t know each other.” It was a happy reunion, but “everyone went separate ways and everything has just sat here.

“I’m the only one who does anything with it,” Chris said.

This summer it had been five years since Chris came, and when he opened the ground floor garage door there was his accustomed chair and bucket-as-table still in place, where he left it.

But this summer the barn saw new life as Chris has spent weeks clearing out most of the contents: discarding, selling, or shipping to Minnesota. And Chris and his wife, Colleen, took their wedding vows on Aug. 6 on the ground floor, in front of a row of the apple crates formed in the shape of a cross.

The pride of the collection was two pieces of farm equipment: a 1968 Massey Ferguson tractor Chris revived, and the mid-1950s girette made by Trump Enterprises of Oliver, British Columbia. Girettes were three-wheel portable lifts used to move along orchard rows for pruning and other tasks.

The packing house was built by the Massey family and later sold to the Downs, who sold it to the Fairchilds in 1947. Most of the old fruit boxes are dated 1946 or 1947. The Fairchilds, who died in the 1990s, ran the fruit stand from 1947 until 1974, when it closed because the state widened Highway 35.

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The “Trump” girette, c. mid-1950s.

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Rows of items found in the barn are arranged in 1940s wooden fruit boxes.

The July 11, 1974, Hood River News article on the fruit stand closure called it “the only stopping place of its kind for a snack or cold drink between Hood River and Mount Hood …”

Artifacts include remnants of the fruit stand days, and harvests and ag maintenance of yore: a Dr. Pepper clock in the shape of a bottle cap, “No Cars” and “Walk Here” canvas signs, a Homelite Grand Prix outdoor motor, a 100-year-old Murphy bed, hydraulic oil dispensers, a wooden picking ladder, a Putnam stove that used kerosene to keep chicken drinking water from freezing, and a spark plug cleaner. Chris points out two items fashioned by his grandfather: a glass jar turned into a fuel tank, and a tiller with a jerryrigged wheel. One of the odder items is a multi-slotted box with upper and lower compartments: a nail sorter for making crates. “My cousins remember making them,” said Fairchild

“There is a lot of cool stuff in here,” Chris said, showing off the pallets his grandfather turned into utility carts on the second floor, and the attic with its wooden-peg door closures. To give an idea of how large the attic is, artifacts include an old football and two basketball hoops nailed at each end. Chris also removed a badminton net.

“The girette is the thing the family remembers most in the building,” Chris said. It is equipped with a 1954 Pontiac engine; he still has the girette saws and other accessories.

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