Just that thing happened this year to my nearest neighbor, and to several neighbors; while the nuts on this ranch opened better and husked easier than ever before in the whole course of its thirty years of almond-growing. The result was, that our pickers earned a dollar and a half a day picking at half the cost per pound incurred by our neighbors, whose men earned a dollar and a quarter a day.
The nuts are knocked off the trees with long poles. Where they have opened nicely they are allowed to drop on the bare ground, and are husked as they are picked up. The picker's delight, if he is working by the bushel or box, is to see the ground covered with nuts that the stroke of the pole and the impact against the clods have completely husked, so that he has nothing to do but throw them into his basket. He is lucky indeed if half of them come out that way. Those that do not are husked with the fingers. The new paper-shell above described is one of the freest, and its drupe often falls off spontaneously before the picking season, leaving the naked nut hanging to the tree. But the nut so free from its drupe clings tightest of all to its tree, and is often quite hard to knock down without injury to the branches. Otherwise the saving in its harvest expense would be quite an important point in its favor.
In the best of seasons there will be a large part of the crop so badly opened as to require a different process. A canvas is spread under the tree for the nuts to fall on. When all are knocked down, the canvas is rolled up and with its load of nuts carried to any spot near by where it is convenient to heap together the harvest of several trees. A simple table of loose boards is made, and around it gather the pickers. One of the party rubs the nuts to loosen the drupes, and the others husk. The rubber is an extremely simple machine, exactly like a washing machine in principle. Practically it is two old-fashioned wash-boards rubbed together. In appearance it is a flat-bottomed pig-trough, six or eight feet long and open at one end. Across the bottom inside, pieces of lath are tacked an inch apart, and thus the lower wash-board is formed. The nuts are scooped into it, a few pounds at a time, and a shorter board, likewise ribbed crosswise with lath, handled like a flatiron or a plasterer's trowel, is rubbed over them by hand, loosening their husks and pushing them along to the open end of the trough, where they fall into a box and are heaped on the table, to be now easily husked. It is a cheerful thing to see the assembled pickers seated under the shade of a tree, making their fingers fly and heaping up their boxes with the precious harvest. The damper on the meeting is the fact that almost invariably the pickers are Chinamen. Their gay chatter might as well be that of monkeys, for all the sense you get of it.