With huckleberry season in full swing, there is still controversy around huckleberry picking rakes. To help folks decide if rakes are a good option or not, the following is a short history of huckleberry picking rakes and how we began selling them.
Early Discovery and Use of Huckleberry Picking Rakes
One of the earliest mentions of picking rakes was recording in the USDA booklet: A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest by Rebecca T. Richards and Susan J. Alexander (page 8)
Northwest tribes made special combs of wood or salmon backbones to strip huckleberries and blueberries off the bushes (Derig and Fuller 2001,
As the huckleberry industry grew in the early 1900s, ‘labor saving’ mechanical devices were used by commercial pickers (USDA publication, page 29-36):
The “labor saving devices” that Hammatt referred to were essential to the industry’s efficiency. To make labor-intensive harvesting profitable, huckleberry pickers and contractors had developed specialized huckleberry harvesting technology. Historical records indicate that the first commercial huckleberry contractor as well as the “father” of this new technology was the gyppo ogger in Noxon, Montana, Clifford Weare….
By the early 1930s labor-saving devices for commercial huckleberry picking had been developed, such as a beater that gathered 50 gallons a day versus 5 (gallons a day) by hand or 12-15 (gallons a day) by scooper, and a new cleaner that used wirebottom troughs, replacing the blanket. (McKay 1994) …
Carl then brought out an old picker carved from wood, including tines, attached to a tin-snipped oil can. On the back of the picker was an inscription
that read that it had been made by Carl’s father in 1937.
Moving Forward to the 2000s
The International Wild Huckleberry Association was originally a project between the University of Idaho Extension Service and the Clearwater Resource Conservation & Development Council. The original name was the Western Huckleberry & Bilberry Association. We (Malcolm and Sandy) were active in the formation, along with several other people — including “Dr. Huckleberry” Dan Barney, the leading researcher on western huckleberry species. Due to reduced funding, we took over the organization around 2008.
At the time, we were heavily involved in the huckleberry industry through selling and producing products. The idea occurred to us to help the industry and other huckleberry lovers by introducing huckleberry picking rakes.
In 2007 and 2008, we purchased and field-tested every model of huckleberry (or blueberry) picking rake we could find — nine different rakes! Some of the early styles look very much like the picture above from the USDA booklet. Along with testing them ourselves, we loaned the rakes to amateur and novice huckleberry pickers to see which one worked the best, was easiest to use and was gentlest on the huckleberry bushes.
To the best of our knowledge, no other organization did as much study and field testing as we did in those years. With the input and testing of Dr. Dan Barney, the huckleberry expert at the time, we brought the current picking rakes to market.