Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part I: “The Way it Was”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

Few people know this: Silicon Valley wasn’t always its name. Nope. It used to be: “The Valley of The Heart’s Delight”. Nothing to do with printed circuits, web pages, iMacs, Google, or the Cloud. No – it was the apricot capital of the world.

I moved there in the 70’s, with my family, just when it was slowly acquiring that new appendage – Silicon Valley.

SV_ApricotsUntil Hewlett and Packard started doing electrical things in their garage in Palo Alto, the Valley was a giant apricot orchard. You see, the Valley is a bowl, surrounded by the Santa Clara Mountains on south and east, and the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west. While San Francisco, 50 miles north, is cold and foggy, the Valley, protected all year long by the hills, is 20 degrees warmer than SFO, and sunny – in short, the perfect apricot climate.

Ringed around downtown San Jose, the Valley’s hub, companies like Dole, Libby, and Heart’s Delight had huge canneries. Empty 6 months of the year, during the summer and fall when the ‘cots were ripening, they came alive. With the harvest, thousands of migrant workers came in for the picking. The canning and packing was done by mostly local help who worked part time for those months of the year. And the factories spewed out train loads of canned, dried, preserved and juiced apricots.

In the spring, the Valley was beautiful. The trees started blooming, and everywhere you looked there were gorgeous blossoms. Places were named after them: Blossom Hill Road, Old Orchard Drive, and even a town: Blossom Hill. It was odd driving the roads and even the expressways. Here would be a tract of houses, and there a huge apricot orchard. Even the streets in the housing developments were often lined with apricot trees, making for a slippery walk when they were falling.

But – Wow – what a wonderful place to be in the spring. We lived at the far north end of the Valley, but close enough to enjoy it all.

How many apricots? I have no clue. But I do know that a few miles from my home, on the mud flats of San Francisco Bay, there was a charcoal factory. I couldn’t figure that out. Why build a charcoal factory where there aren’t any forests? Well, next time you eat an apricot, notice that half of it is in the seed. Little fruit, great big seed.

So, if you ship out 100 tons of canned apricots today, what do you also have? 100 tons of apricot seeds. You can’t eat them. Can’t throw them out, else the Valley would be awash in pits 3 feet deep. So – since they’re fiber – you dry them out, roast them, burn them in a kiln, and press them into charcoal briquettes.   And, you need a giant factory down on the mud flats to do it. Here’s a fact: for every pound of apricots, half a pound of charcoal. But then no one really wanted it known as “Charcoal Valley”. (Sound like a bluegrass song title?) So the factory sat a few miles north on the mud flats in Alameda County, and garden of beauty remained beautiful.

But like the Eden of the Book of Genesis, big changes were afoot. Man was coming. Binary man, AC/DC man, silicon man, logical man, and program man. They were on the way and nothing could halt the tide.


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”