What kinds of jobs are available in the Salinas Valley in the 1930s?

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In Salinas Valley in the 1930s, most of the jobs were based on ranches. Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men work as itinerant ranch hands, and some people (very few in number), such as Curley, own the ranches. Other people are employed at different tasks on the ranch,...

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In Salinas Valley in the 1930s, most of the jobs were based on ranches. Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men work as itinerant ranch hands, and some people (very few in number), such as Curley, own the ranches. Other people are employed at different tasks on the ranch, including as a blacksmith, who creates objects from iron. Other characters in Of Mice and Men are employed as "swampers," (such as Candy) who do odd jobs such as mopping out the bunks where the men sleep. Crooks works as a stable hand, taking care of the horses, and Slim, the person everyone respects, is a jerkline skinner. That means he is the head worker, and he drives the mules on the ranch. There are also people who cater to the men when they go into town to blow off steam; these people might include people who own or work at restaurants and bars. 

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In the Great Depression, not many jobs at all.  Remember that Lennie and George go to the Murray and Ready's employment agency and got work slips for the ranch.  These were companies that you gave money to and they located a job for you, or employers requested workers and paid the company to find them.

In the Salinas valley of California, the work would be overwhelmingly agricultural jobs, working seasonal harvests (notice Lennie and George are migrant farm workers), orchards, strawberries, barley, etc.  These jobs in those days were intensely physical, a lot of picking, tending, digging, cutting, harvesting, carrying.  Tough work for $50 a month.

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To this day in Salinas—home of John Steinbeck and one of the wealthiest cities per capita in the United States—has an area surrounding it known as "The Salad Bowl of the World" with a $2 billion agriculture industry.

Migrant workers in the 1930s picked fruits such as grapes, peaches, figs, and apples. Vegetables such as peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, and celery grow there as well. During the Depression, jobs picking these vegetables and fruits were often performed by women and children, as well as men.

In addition to these fruit and vegetable workers, there were farm labor migrants who rode the rails and harvested wheat and barley all the way from Texas to Canada in the first quarter of the twentieth century. But much of the harvesting of grain in California was performed by men who migrated from within the state.

The characters on the ranch in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men resemble these men who work one ranch, then go to anotherThe economic collapse in the 1930s stopped the production of mechanized combine harvesters, so the work was done with horses or mules and laborers. In Steinbeck's narrative, Slim is the muleskinner, and he is quite skilled. Crooks is the stable hand, who takes care of the mules. He is involved with their feeding, hoof care, and shoeing. He also takes care of the tackle: the halters, bridles, reins, harnesses, jerk line, and so on.

The other workers are much less skilled. Candy, the old man who is called a swamper, does odd jobs around the ranch. He sweeps out the bunkhouse and mops and cleans it. The ranch hands work in the field, loading the bales of hay that are made, or they load the bags of barley. In chapter 3 Slim notes that Lennie nearly killed his partner loading the barley. "There ain't nobody can keep up with him. God awmighty I never seen such a strong guy," one of the others remarks.

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John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a depression-era story of two friends who are trying to make their way in the world without much education and just some blue-collar work experience. Most of the jobs that such people in this situation held were physically demanding, low-paying, and often temporary.

Early in the story they manage to get work at a ranch in Salinas, California. The title of their low-level job was “bucker,” which means one who carries, lifts, or shovels. In their case, they were “bucking barley” that was grown on the ranch.

The position held by Candy was that of “swamper.” In that setting a swamper was someone who maintained a specific area. Candy, due to an arm injury sustained in a work-related accident, could no longer be a bucker, so he kept up the bunkhouse for the other workers.

Crooks, the disabled African-American character, was the “stable hand.” He worked in the stable taking care of the horses.

Slim held a somewhat higher-level job known as “jerk line skinner.” This was the man who drove the mule team used to move heavy loads. Apparently the job was more difficult than it sounds because it earned Slim a great deal of respect among the other men on the ranch.

Any of these workers might also be referred to using the more generic term of “ranch hand.”

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