Home / Spring Table of Contents / Profile of Vincent Couper '38
Y UNCLE ELMER KIMBALL and his wife, Elizabeth, had been going to Florida for a good many winters, probably
since the early thirties, because I remember his telling about getting stuck in the mud in Georgia, and having to get pulled out by mules. He liked the sun, so he wintered in the Miami area.
Uncle Elmer did not just bask in the sun. He had to be doing something. He first bought land in Opaloca, where he planted an orange grove. I remember going out to the area in the late forties or early fifties, to see how things were going, and they were not going well. He had three caretakers living at the grove, Lutz, Suggs, and Hobbs. What characters! Just like their names.
Uncle Elmer was interested in farming in the area, and he got to know Henry L. Cox, who had a fertilizer business on Allapatah Drive near Homestead and a potato packing house on U.S. #1 in Princeton. Uncle Elmer had to hire all the work done in growing the potatoes, and one year he asked me if I could help him. He bought a tractor and a truck, and I headed South with the load of potato machinery.
In the forty-acre patch we planted when I first went south, the rows were one quarter mile long. There were no granite boulders to interfere. The rows are all straight as a die, and the roads are all straight lines too, usually North and South. There are no hills to speak of. I used to go out of my way on Eureka Drive occasionally just to go up on a rise that might be considered just a meager grade at home, maybe ten feet, and there was also a curve on Eureka Drive which was very unusual in South Florida.
To go to the geology of the area bit, a South Florida, a million or so years ago, was simply an underwater ocean. As the water receded, it left pockets of marl and muck, and the rest was coral remnants, which were higher. Now the muck is sometimes two or three feet deep over near Lake Okeechobee, where the marl in Homestead is probably not more than twelve to fourteen inches, but it grades off into finger glades as they are called. Mr. Sheridan of Littleton had his potato operation in one of these finger glades which extended perhaps ten miles west of Biscayne Bay. The marl soil of the area would be considered like clay up home, and not suitable to grow potatoes, but they do very well in South Florida.
When I first went to Florida with Uncle Elmer, I stayed in a private home in Naranja, and the following year we went to the Naranja Cabins, which was owned by a Swiss couple, the Graesers. Mr. Graeser enjoyed poor health due to a heart condition, and he went fishing a great deal, and often took me. Mrs. Graeser did most of the work. Mr Graeser told me about drilling the well for the cabins in the early thirties. He sharpened a length of one-and-a-half inch pipe. They pounded the pipe into the coral, and as Mr. Graeser put it, "I hold zer pipe, while the old lady, she pound mit der sledge hammer," and when the pipe went in about a foot, they pulled out the pipe and shook out the coral remnants, and went at it again. When they had reached a depth of about fifteen feet, that was the well. They had plenty of good water which was not salty, and the ground level was only about five feet about sea level.
After several years, I allied myself with H.L. Cox and Son and in the packing season, came in and ran the packinghouse. By the time I quit down there in 1975 or so, I had twenty-five winters in Florida. Mr. Cox had bought two hundred acres inland, in the Eureka Drive area, and he was very foresighted in doing so, because it all became valuable building land later on. His son, Mr. Abney Cox, planted a grove just to have it in agriculture, and he asked if I would be interested in staying through the year and acting as a caretaker. But I usually felt as though I had enough in April and always headed back home to continue on up here.
-From "My 25 Winters Farming in South Florida," Volume 6 in Mr. Couper's "Snake Pit Memories," a series of booklets published to benefit the Reuben Hoar Library in Littleton.Why Mr. Couper calls his lair "The Snake Pit" is a story told in Volume 3. The front and back cover art are reproduced at left and right respectively.