By Joanna Bastian
Max Judd looked out the window and ran his hand over his brow and through his white hair, his fingers thick from years of working the soil. His gaze fell on the hillside across the river, as if to find words among the yellow and red leaves in the trees.
I had just asked him how the valley had changed since he moved to Carlton in the late 1950s. We sat at his dining room table.
“The winters have been so easy these past few years. People forget and become too relaxed in preparing,” he said. “One year — when they were putting in the telephone lines up the valley – there was no snow and the ground froze so deep they had to dynamite just to put in the telephone poles.”
Max was not sure which year the telephone lines were blasted into place in the valley, but he was certain of the year it became so cold the apple trees started exploding: the freeze of 1968.
“You could hear the apple trees going off like rifle shots all night long up and down the river,” he recalled. “Split the trunks wide open — 30 below, 40 below, and then 50 below. The weather station in Mazama recorded negative 52 that day. It was so cold the horses started bleeding from their noses. The cows seemed to be all right, but the bulls all became sterile. Froze their [bits] right off. Come spring, the cows all developed emphysema because their lungs had been damaged in the cold winter.”
Prior to the deep freeze of ’68, the economy of the valley was completely different. Most every orchard up and down the valley grew a “premium late keeping apple,” meaning that the apples could be harvested later in the season and kept longer throughout winter. Premium late keeping apples did not need refrigeration.
Shortly after 1968, controlled atmosphere (CA) storage became widely used and changed the apple economy forever. CA would have eventually ended the apple boom in the Methow, but the freeze did it in one swoop.
Max and his wife, Wanda, often came to the Methow Valley from the west side to help his brother who lived at the end of Texas Creek. Max and Wanda lived in the apartments across the street from the Carlton General Store, now called the Carlton Mall. Within a few years, they bought a home and an orchard in Carlton and started farming.
The Carlton Mall sign is rather misleading, as this building had apartments in the front — one upstairs, one downstairs — and a cold storage locker on the back of the building. The locker walls were insulated with sawdust and people would bring in their cream to sell.
As Max was talking about the cream he started to laugh. “Some days I’d be so tired, I’d go to sleep milking our cow,” he said. “The cow shed was insulated and warm and a couple of times I fell right off the milking stool. I was real glad when our kids got old enough they could take on the milking chores.”
Longtime Carlton resident Abbie Miller remembers, “Max was always on the cutting edge” in the valley for farming technology. Max had grafted 22 varieties of apple on one tree. “I’d use the Macintosh for the trunk, it was weather protective and then graft on whatever variety I wanted,” Abbie said.
Max was once named farmer of the year for his varieties of apples. I asked what year that was, and he replied, “Don’t remember, but I got a hat. A real nice Stetson.”