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Smudge Pots   
Friday July 22, 2005
By Dawna Curler

Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson

By the early 20th century, the orchard industry was a mainstay of Southern Oregon's economy.  Endless rows of fruit trees spread across valleys and lined surrounding foothills. Springtime was especially beautiful when tender blossoms dotted tree limbs like popcorn puffs, but for orchardists (OR-char-dists) it was a tense time when a sudden cold snap threatened disaster for the crop.

To ward off the evils of the frost, smudge pots-little smoky oil burning stoves-were lit among the orchard rows. These burners usually produced enough heat to keep the infant fruit from freezing. Early models produced vast amounts of thick sooty smoke that blackened the sky. Cleaner burning models, widely used in the 1950s and '60s still emitted some pollutants. Though smudge pots are still used today, they have partially been replaced with overhead sprinklers and wind machines.

Pear growing, still a viable economic force in the Rogue Valley, is celebrated in the city of Medford through the "Pear Blossom Parade and Run" in April and an art fair in May. As part of the "Art In Bloom Festival," dozens of rusty old cast-off smudge pots are now transformed by artist into whimsical sculptures and displayed in tribute to the area's rich orchard heritage.

Today's episode of As It Was was written by Dawna Curler, the program engineer is Raymond Scully.  I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org

Sources:
Watson, Stu. "Smudge Cloud Used to Be Blacker," Mail Tribune, April 21, 1977; Ullrich, Cathy. "Orchard Heating in the Rogue River Valley," college paper, Southern Oregon University, Spring 1995.

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