When my mom was a kid, she went on a tour with her school to the Dole Cannery, where workers packed and shipped pineapple.
She vowed never to work there.
And she never did — though many of her friends and classmates spent their summers in the cannery, working long hours for little pay.
Working at the cannery is undoubtedly a generation thing. (Cannery operations closed in 1991.) But everyone, regardless of age, has had to work tough, grueling or just plain boring summer jobs to make some money and avoid summer school.
I know students who spend summers bussing tables, bagging groceries, cleaning fish tanks, washing dishes and doing telephone surveys. Even scooping ice cream for a five-hour shift can be tiring.
I’ve been lucky: though I’ve worked continuously since I was 14, I never had an absolutely intolerable summer job. I’ve worked at a summer fun, an answering service, a flower shop, in many offices and in retail — all of which weren’t terrible. I didn’t come home smelling like pineapple or without feeling in my feet.
Anyone got memories of working a bad summer job — or better, working at the cannery?
Working in the pineapple fields it up there on the list. Trudging through the rows of pineapples, picking the semi ripe ones, removing the crowns and trying to keep up with the boom operator. Wearing the long sleeve shirts and canvas chaps in the hot sun so you won’t get poked by the pineapple leaves. Wearing the wire goggles to protect your eyes from the spines. Think that was worse than working in the cannery.
That sounds bad… What was the pay?
First year. $1.29/hour. The last year I worked there $1.61/hour.
Remember this was in the mid 60’s
My brother-in-law picked pineapples one summer, and even way back when my dad was a kid in Utah a lot of people (and his brothers) would come pick pineapples. It definitely sounded like a really hard job and my brother-in-law always talks about how strong his hands are because of it.
Yeah, I heard stories. I was glad to work in retail!
During HS I would go to Summer School, but as soon as I started college, I’d come home and have to go to work… one summer it was as a manual laborer on Coconut Island… I actually helped rebuild the caretaker’s house ON THE ISLAND… until I smashed my toe and couldn’t work anymore… Then working at Marukai 99 cent superstore at Windward Mall, peeps asking “how much is this?!?!”— dude, it’s the 99 CENT STORE… But I got out of working summers when I’d go to summer school at UH, took a lot of interesting classes during the summer, got my World Civ out of the way, took a Holocaust Germany class, and a Math 100 class… I loved those days as a student at UH, lunches at Taco Bell, cute, single girls, and shooting pool at the Campus Center… it was awesome!
Me, too, actually. College was the best. Life seemed so easy back then… And I could eat more.
I worked in the cannery in the late 1950s. The work was hard and the pay was cheap. The worse parts were the long overnight shifts, the pine rashes, and the boring sorting of pine slices into tin cans. Ugh! But, back then, almost all the teenagers in Kalihi and the surrounding neighborhoods worked in the canneries and we considered ourselves lucky that we got summer jobs. All of my older siblings had summer jobs in the cannery and all of my high school friends worked in the cannery,too. We all knew we would be working in the canneries as soon as we came of age. No more carefree summers. It was like a rite of passage, a coming of age thing.
Pine rashes???? I don’t even want to know!
Took a cannery tour first trip to Honolulu in 1985. No way you’d take the job unless you were paid well. Growing up in the south the worst summer job was working in tobacco, you smelled like a tobacco plant for a while after the end of summer. But it paid better than mowing neighbors yards!
What did you have to do on the tobacco farms…?
It all starts with seeds that are planted to grow the little guys, next these are planted. They grow to a point where the seed (flower) grows on the top which are covered with bags, next you by hand remove the flowers, already got the seeds, next the plant matures from the bottom up, green to yellow to brown and you pick leaves in the morning and barn them in the afternoon depending on how many people are involved. This goes on until all the tobacco is picked. Of course you are moving stiff around in the barns ensuring proper curing of the leaf. Like most tobacco farms in NC the one I worked had pigs and hogs so when there wasn’t much to do with tobacco we fed hogs, cleaned up after them, moved them from one place to the next, tagged the little ones ears which involved a lot of squealing, and running down the ones that got loose. actually pulled a ‘hamstring’ chasing this big pig once. Once they take off in a direction they are hard to convince to go anywhere else. Not even a 2X4 influenced them. It was hard work, started at 5:30am, lunch from 12:00 to 2:00 finish up at 8:00, head home to try to extract the stench from your clothes and skin. It was six days a week. Sundays never came fast enough. I will say this, they spared nothing to make sure you were well fed, unreal how good the food was because it was all fresh… and I do mean all. We took breaks, always had cold water, and if you were worn out you’d take a couple to get your breath. But damn did you stink when you left, two months after the end of the summer I could still smell tobacco in my clothes and I didn’t smoke.
paid well? when i worked at the cannery in the mid 80’s it was minimum wage to start. I think the people who came back from previous seasons got a little more, but I was at 3.35/hr (I think). work all day and come out of it with twenty five bucks. that was if you were lucky, too, because, if there was no pine delivered, there was no work and they’d send you home early. at pau hana time, everyone would stream to the bus stop and get on the bus. this was before all the buses had reliable air conditioning, so I can only imagine how we all smelled to those patrons who were already on the bus or those who got on at a later stop. for those of us who were cannery workers, though, it was all good. our nasal passages had been blasted by 8 hours of pineapple juice and other smells and we couldn’t smell a thing.
to this day, I refuse to eat pineapple, even though my whole family loves it.
$3.35! My student workers don’t know how good they have it at $8 an hour!
i just looked it up and it was 3.35. translates to 4.80 in today’s dollars.
pine rash was the acid burns you got when pine juice splashed on you and you didn’t wash it off.
I worked at the Dole cannery during my high school summer vacations. The first couple of weeks were tough since they put all the newbies on the night shift and some of the bosses were tough as they tried to shake out the slackers. If you made it through the first couple of weeks without your hands cramping up, it wasn’t too bad. You learn the balance and rhythm of handling the pineapple and the job got a lot easier. My only disappointment is that they separated the girls and boys on the assembly lines. Boys handled the knives and girls handled the cans and the groups never really got to talk to each other.
I worked at the cannery and caught the bus – never occurred to me until later when I no longer worked there and then experienced the pineapple smell when all the workers entered the bus. The pay was good though – too bad kids nowadays can’t experience this.
Mine is kinda minor but here goes…first summer back from college I didn’t go to summer school so my mom made me sign up with a temp agency to earn spending money. Most of the assignments were alright, computer related data entry stuff and other office jobs, but one of ’em stood out as the worst job I ever had. Me and a bunch of other temps were hired by a certain local healthcare provider to STAPLE all day. Talk about being bored out of my mind. We had to match stacks upon stacks of claims with invoices or something like that and staple them together. I remember we were in the part of the building that wasn’t facing the window and it was all fluorescent lights at the desks, kinda dark and depressing. The full-timers there seemed to reflect the environment too. Thank God it only lasted a week or so. It was cool to get a security badge though, never had that before. Anyway the next summer I went to UH summer school and got a job there. I even got my job back at the same office when I came back to Hawaii to attend UH full time.
In the summer of 1970, I worked as a trayboy at the cannery. At $1.60 an hour it was hard work, long hours, and I smelled like pineapple when I got home. It was a good time…. I was fortunate to make a number of friends and in particular, my best friend. This year we will be celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary.
I worked at Libby’s during 2 summers… late nite shift, on the double seamer machines, hot line (crush and concentrate)… pay was better than minimum and we got a premium if you went over the estimated production. A lot of my friends worked there too. Since we were busy working during the summer, never had time to spend the money, which was used during the following school year. Met lots of good people there, from all different locations on Oahu. Sometimes was so tired, would fall asleep in the bath tub, waking up like a prune. Good memories.
I never had a bad summer job. I was not always good at everything I did, but I always worked hard. For example, as a youth, I did just about every job you could do in a restaurant from dishwasher to general manager, and I was much better in the kitchen than I was at waiting tables. I was actually a very good restaurant cook at one time. None of the restaurants I worked in even exist anymore.
There is one thing though, people say that how you apply yourself to your first job is a good indicator of how you will apply yourself to all future jobs. One example is that punctuality is something of a personality trait. I have found this to be true, and I am hoping that my children will be a bit more diligent in their first paid employment than they are with unpaid chores at home. One of the two kids I am worried about.
interesting story: according to my dad, my mom worked on the line at the cannery for a day. but, she kept cutting the fingertips off her gloves (while cutting the pineapples), so they moved her to a desk. they probably didn’t want to worry about a worker losing fingers. i always wondered if she did it intentionally.
in high school, i worked for my dad and did work that: (1) “built character”, and (2) taught me that i definitely did not want to do manual labor for a living. we cleared land, constructed football field-sized greenhouses and potted orchids, all summer long. it’s probably fun if you grow orchids as a hobby… but that was completely exhausting. the worst part… straight sun, no A/C.
CAT: Started at cannery at age15 working the nite 3PM to 3AM, depending upon the workload. Remember working OT till 4AM a couple of times. Fortunately, lived with Grandma and Grandpa during that summer and it was a short walk to the cannery. Was able to take a furo bath to ease the soreness of the muscles. Tough work but enjoyed the experience. I remember falling asleep in the furo, my aunty pounding on the door to wake me up…Funny how things come back. Now I am working just a block away from where I started.
I mentioned this before; “helping” out at my grandfather’s baboyan (pig farm) in Ewa when I was 17. It was stink, dirty, hard work. Did I mention it was stink? I used to come home smelling like a pig sty. All this hard work and what was my pay? Nothing. It was expected of all us cousins to work there and help out. There were a lot of good memories too; working alongside my grandfather who immigrated to Hawaii in 1920. He had a lot of stories to tell; maybe one day I’ll pen his memoirs.
Not all cannery operations are closed, there are still a few canneries in Oregon that I know of. I’ve never worked in one, but I’ve heard the horror stories for sure. The worst job I’ve ever worked is blueberry picking. I made 30 cents per pound which came out to about $3 an hour for an 8 hour work day. I was pretty upset about the pay, and this was in 2010! Another really difficult job is housekeeping… especially in a hotel. But at least you make min wage!