Sid Long recently had a serious health scare.
The long-time Ceres resident and overseer of the Superior Fruit Ranch blacked out at a recent gathering and fortunately someone was there to catch his fall. The 80-year-old went to the hospital where he learned that the upper and lower chambers of his heart were not in sync. A week after he was given a pacemaker - I had no idea he had just had it installed when I called last week to see if I could interview him.
Sid Long was his usual self and back on the job.
As we talk, it's obvious that health issues - of his grandparents - have played critical roles in the way Sid's life turned out. Health problems of his paternal grandmother are what brought the Long family to California for Sid's eventual birth in San Francisco on May 18, 1936.
His father Sidney C. Long, born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in New York, "had to move west with my grandmother because she had respiratory issues and living on the coast was beneficial for her health," explained Long.
Sid's father was a journalism major who worked for newspapers in Marin County and in Santa Cruz around the time of Sid's birth and the birth of his brother Steven. Mr. Long had also worked in the publicity department of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios in the early 1930s.
Sid's mother was Margaret Moffet Long, daughter of Fred Moffet who helped founded the Superior Fruit Ranch.
Coming to Ceres
Their time in the Bay Area was short but Sid remembers riding an elephant at age three at the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island. He also remembers coming to Ceres when his maternal grandmother, Byrdelia Hall Moffet, started having health issues. Sid doesn't remember what her specific health problems were, only that she passed away in 1949. Byrdelia was the offspring of Merrit J. and Rhoda Hall who came west in the 1850's and met and married in Columbia in Tuolumne County. The Halls moved to Ceres to grow wheat. Byrdelia eventually married Fred Moffet and gave birth to Margaret Moffet Long, Sid's mother.
When the Longs moved to Ceres they were living with her parents in the two-story Moffet home where the present-day My Garden Café sits. The house was moved in the 1960s to make room for the Richland Shopping Center. The old house is on Mitchell Road and now home of La Cascada Mexican Bar & Grill.
"In high school my ag project was the eight acres (behind the Moffet home) in almond and walnut trees so I rented that from my grandfather," said Long. The ranch was about the size of the current shopping center.
The Gondrings lived right next door, approximately where the Modern Urgent Care facility sits. The Gondrings were an influential Ceres family. The Ceres library was named after one of the daughters, Florence. Their dad was Judge John Gondring but Sid doesn't remember him as he died in 1933. A son, John M. Gondring Jr. was a Ceres postmaster in the 1930s.
"They had a dry yard right next door to us. The Berryhills had the dry yard right across the street."
The Berryhill's Ceres Dehydrator employed just about half of Ceres back then, Sid said.
"During World War II, half the town worked here where these buildings are, cutting sheds," said Long, pointing outside of his cinderblock office at the ranch on Whitmore Avenue.
Dried fruit and cutting sheds ended around the war time. Now the ranch's peaches are grown for canneries.
"We had a labor camp here that housed 300 people barracks style."
Superior Fruit Ranch gave most people their first jobs before there was an influx of Japanese workers in the 1920s. Problems brewed on the ranch when the Japanese laborers were harassed by Americans. Moffet had to hire security guards.
"They were Japanese and they were ‘enemies.'"
Sid attended school at the brick school house on Lawrence Avenue, now the site of the Ceres Unified School District headquarters.
"In my seventh and eighth grade is when they built the buildings on Sixth Street."
He's referring to the junior high that is now Walter White Elementary School.
Some of the classmates Sid remembers include Elvis Lane, the Welborn brothers (who had a plumbing company in Modesto), Andy Cipponeri, Bob Earl and Myron Anderson.
"I think the time that I grew up in Ceres was probably the best time that youth in general will ever experience. You could always get a job. You could do some hellraising to an extent and that was just young guys growing up. There was just opportunity."
He admits that he "probably wasn't in the group that was most studious." For example during pheasant hunting season, he said he and a couple of friends would "go to school three days a week and go hunting two days a week." Hunting opportunities were abound with all of the open ranches in the area.
Long remembers slipping down to Yori's Grove southwest of Ceres on more than one occasion during the fire department or police department balls.
"Most of the community was out there supporting that and they'd buy a drink and set it on the framing of the building and go out to dance. We weren't old enough to buy anything but we could go along and pick a few off the wall."
Once on the way back to Ceres from Yori's Grove, Long and friends were stopped by a Ceres police officer. Long remembers the officer asking where they had been and Sid confidently said "Like every good citizen we've been out patronizing the dance at Yori's Grove." When asked if they had been drinking Long replied, "A little bit." When asked where they were headed they said they were going to Wendell Keener's house on Fifth Street just north of Whitmore Avenue. The officer insisted that he follow the boys to the Keeners' house and ordered "when you get there, you better make sure that that's where you stay."
The boys did as instructed, honored that he would handle them so generously.
"That would never happen today."
For a time Sid's father was part owner of the Ceres Courier and also sold insurance and industrial real estate. His office was at 2936 Fourth Street, the former home to Carlin's Plumbing shop for decades.
Sid remembered that Ceres was a solid tight-knit community made of people whose families lived here a long time and were invested in the town's welfare.
"With the growth that we've had - and nothing against the people who've moved in - a lot of them work out of town. All they do is come home and eat and sleep here and a lot of them don't have the time or they don't have the desire to make that commitment to be involved in the community. It was everybody's choice but when it was 3,500 to 4,000 people when I was young, the majority of the people were involved."
While attending Ceres High School, Sid played basketball, football and baseball but considered his game "just average." Sid graduated from Ceres High in 1953 when Dr. Nicholas Koshell was principal.
Love of outdoors
While a teen he developed a lifelong passion for hunting. Twice to three times a year he continues to travel to Idaho for hunting and fishing. He also enjoyed Alaskan expeditions with Ceres resident Larry Berryhill leading the way. He's hunted doves on the ranch and participates in a family pheasant hunt near Oroville the weekend before Thanksgiving. Sid liked to travel to the Delta for duck hunting and also down by Hilmar. He's also hunted pheasant and duck hunting in Iowa.
"I love being outdoors. I enjoy seeing the wildlife and in duck hunting I enjoy the challenge of decoying or calling them in. One of the best parts is, if you've got a good hunting dog, is watching the hunting dog perform."
It was the health of his maternal grandfather, the late Fred W. Moffet, that guided his decision to take over the 320-acre family ranch, where he has been ever since college days.
"He was on the board when the first Don Pedro Dam was constructed," said Sid. In fact, Fred Moffet's name was on the plaque when the dam was dedicated in 1922. The dam was superceded by the larger earthen dam finished in 1970.
Moffet suffered a stroke in 1955 as Sid was weeks into ag classes at Modesto Junior College.
"Even before then, when I was young, if I didn't have to go to school he'd let me ride with him. I'd come out here. He was involved in a rose nursery business over in Gustine. I just enjoyed being out."
His grandfather knew that his ranch wasn't being well managed.
"I was six weeks into the second year. He called me in and told me that he knew things weren't progressing the way they should out here so I had a choice to either quit school and come out here and try to make a go of farming or the ranch was going to be sold. I decided to quit school the next day."
Schooling came in form of real-life on-the-job training.
"I always enjoyed farming. It was just something I thoroughly enjoyed. I think when there's something you thoroughly enjoy you're a much better student than if you're pursuing something that maybe your whole interest level isn't in."
Ranch a way of life
The community and ranch became a total way of life for Sid and family. Traditions formed such as when his neighbors, the Vosses, and Longs got together to host an end-of-harvest barbecue on the second Saturday of October. The tradition ended in 2006 when the ranch celebrated its 100th anniversary. The barbecue ended because Voss had passed away and by then the ranch was growing more almonds that pushed harvest later into the year.
Two-thirds of the ranch is now planted in almonds and a third in peaches. The change came about because of stricter pest control laws, pure economics and a greater global demand for almonds.
"Peaches are more labor intensive than almonds. In peaches you've got to prune and you've got to thin and hand harvest. We do have a machine but most canners still prefer to have handpicked. In almonds you've got some pruning and everything else is done mechanically."
When Long started farming, he said about 60,000 acres in California were in production, producing about 900,000 tons annually. Now there's less than 20,000 acres producing approximately 320,000 tons. There was also less regulation to deal with and more time for farming. As an illustration, Scott walks in the office to prepare a new electronic weathervane to insure wind conditions are right for any future spraying.
California used to export its crops overseas but now imports more from nations such as China and Greece.
Long got acquainted with the Berryhills when he and Clare Berryhill both served on the Growers Harvesting Committee. The purpose of the panel was to recruit an adequate labor supply during harvest.
He was friends and neighbors with the late Henry Voss who was director of the California Department of Food & Agriculture.
Sid was elected to the Ceres School Board in 1959 and served for eight years. He also sat on the Ceres Planning Commission.
Sid decided to become a director on the Turlock Irrigation District board of trustees - just like grandfather Fred had - at the prompting of childhood classmate Phillip Short as well as Steve Vilas who was stepping off the board. Long served four consecutive terms starting in 1985. Long and Short served on the TID board for 16 years together, laughing about being the "long and short" of things.
Having been a part of the farming community which knows the grave importance of water availability, Long said he can't understand the antipathy that state legislators have in building new water storage projects.
"This year is a classic example. Nothing has been done in 50 years since New Melones and think of who much water was lost just in the events of the last couple of weeks that could have been captures."
He's also suspicious of the state's proposal to flush up to 40 percent of flows of the Tuolumne River to the Delta, feeling it's just a move so that the state can build the twin tunnels to suck up the sacrificed water and pipe it to Southern California for urban uses.
"I cannot understand how legally they can override the water rights that we got in the Raker Act. It's going to end up a welfare project for the attorneys."
A 27-year marriage to Linda, which ended in the 1980s, resulted in three children - Scott Long who helps run the ranch today, Krisi Thornton and Pamela Speed. He has since married Carol Clifton, a former classmate that he previously dated.
For now it looks like the three-generation family management of the ranch could be coming to a close when Sid is gone and Scott retires. None of the grandchildren appears to be interested in farming.
How long will Superior Fruit Ranch be around? Not even Sid knows but he's hopeful that the green buffer zones created in talks between Ceres and Hughson city officials means it will always be there for future generations to enjoy the fruits thereof.