My Summer Job Was Picking Pineapples in Hawaii (But Don’t Get Jealous Just Yet)

Sure, it sounds glamorous and exotic, but it was actually hard work.

What-It's-Like-Having-A-Summer-Job-Picking-Pineapples-in-Hawaii-Courtesy-Ken-BushReminisceCourtesy Ken Bush/ReminisceN[d/ropcap]o summer job was harder or more adventurous than the one I had in 1972, when I was 17. My two best friends and I were recruited to pick fruit for Dole through our Boy Scout troop in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Since the only summer job in our area was moving irrigation pipe in the potato fields, pineapple picking on the island of Lanai sounded more exotic, not to mention far from home.

Dole hired us for $1.60 an hour and we 
were issued state of Hawaii work permits. 
The company chartered a flight from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Honolulu. It also promised to pay the return flight for each picker who successfully completed the entire commitment. Those who went home early for anything other than a medical reason would have to pay their own way.

Strict standards of decorum were expected of each picker hired. There was no dating of island girls, no tobacco or alcohol use, no gambling, no fighting.

Because Hawaiian resident workers had the day shift, our group was assigned the swing shift, 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. That left mornings free for us to hit the beach, a treat most Idaho boys had never experienced. We learned to snorkel and body surf. Some of us bought surfboards and took them back on the return flight. (Check out some of the most unusual surfing locations in the world.)

What-It's-Like-Having-A-Summer-Job-Picking-Pineapples-in-Hawaii-253004c-Adrian-BrooksREXShutterstockAdrian Brooks/REX/ShutterstockBefore heading to the fields, we were taught how to pick the fruit: too green and it wouldn’t ripen, too yellow and it would be good only for juice or canning. It was our responsibility to judge whether each pineapple was ready.

Dressing for work took some effort. Because pineapple plant leaves have sharp spurs, we donned heavy denim pants covered with thick cotton chaps. To protect our arms, we wore long-sleeved shirts with denim arm protectors. We had wire-mesh eye protectors with an elastic cinch band that tightened behind the head. A brimmed hat, leather gloves and lace work boots completed the uniform.

Every afternoon a fleet of large open-top trucks would transport us to the fields. These same trucks would haul the newly picked pineapples back from the fields as well.

The picking technique took a bit of practice. We grasped the short, spiny fruit top and with a twist, the pineapple would pop off the plant. Still holding the top, we would snap the pineapple to detach it from its top. Voilà! Both parts hit the belt.

I grossed $800 for the entire summer, but brought home only half that after I paid Dole for room and board. That was the toughest $400 I’ve ever earned.

Originally Published in Reminisce

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