By Reggie Ellis

There could not have been a more fitting backdrop to celebrate the coming week of Orange Blossom Festival than the dedication of Lindsay's newest mural last Sunday.

More than just a picture of Lindsay's past and present, &#8220Decades of Quality Citrus” pays homage to a family, community and an industry that have again weathered a tough winter when freezing temperatures threatened their way of life and have come out of the cold with a renewed sense or pride.

Bill Drennen, former city manager and current chair of the Lindsay Mural and Public Arts Society, talked about the dichotomy of the mural painted by Roger Cook of Sandy, Ore. On the side of Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co. at the corner of Oxford and Tulare Road. Split by large, luscious oranges in the middle, both scenes feature Elephant's Back hill in the background.

The right side of the mural illustrates the citrus industry in the teens and ‘20s where workers packed oranges into wooden crates and hand-loaded them onto horse-drawn wagons as a smudge pot burns to keep the trees warm during freezing nights. Most orchards had a barn, such as the one in the background bearing the name J.J. Cairns. Cairns developed the first irrigation well system in 1892 and is credited with having the first commercial orange grove in the Lindsay area which was primarily growing more draught resistant wheat that relied only on rainfall.

The left side of the mural illustrates the citrus industry today, where oranges are still hand picked and placed in crates, usually made of hard plastic, but are loaded by forklift onto diesel tractor trailers with over 600 horsepower and windmachines now keep the trees warm by bringing air down from the inversion layer above the trees. The tractor trailer in this scene bears the name Jim Austin's Trucking.

&#8220The mural was supposed to be a surprise for Jim but he died shortly before it was completed,” said Drennan, who added that Jim was able to see a sketch of the mural before he died of a brain tumor in November at the age of 71.

Jim's oldest of four daughters, Terri Guzman, said her father first went into the trucking business with his brother, Gene, as Austin Trucking in 1970. Jim then bought his own truck and started his own company in 1972 off Highway 137 west of Lindsay. The company eventually grew to nine trucks, before Jim decided to scale back to the three the company owns today. Terri, who did the books for her father, is married to George Guzman, who took over the business after working for more than 30 years with Jim.

&#8220Jim taught me that you can't give up in the bad times,” Guzman said while on stage in front of the mural. &#8220You have to stick it out. I want to thank the City of Lindsay for allowing us to represent you and the Griffiths because Jim thought of Suntreat as family.”

The Griffiths referred to cousins Dwight and Dennis Griffith, co-owners of Griffith Farms and Suntreat Packing where Jim Austin got his first job in Lindsay in 1964. Guzman said Jim Austin's Trucking has had a business relationship ever since.

Dwight's and Dennis's fathers, John and Harry Griffith, came to California on a boxcar in the 1930s and began building homes in Southern California. Much of the land they built on was former orange orchards, and eventually they began farming oranges near Strathmore in the 1950s. Eventually Griffith farms grew from 800 to 2,300 acres of productive land and the brothers were invited to become part owners of Suntreat.

After his uncle John's passing in the mid 70's and his father Harry's passing in 1981, Dwight Griffith took over operational duties at Griffith Farms and at Suntreat. After Dwight had a stroke six years ago, Dennis became more involved in the family business.

&#8220We are very conscious of our people in good time and in bad,” Dennis said. &#8220We have several second-generation employees working here. This is a reminder of all of their hard work and dedication.”

Suntreat's Director of Operations Randy Scheer, who has worked in citrus for 35 years, said that this January's freeze was not as bad as it could have been. He said the packinghouse has cutback to 75% of production and staff. About 2,100 of Lindsay's 10,000 residents work at one of the town's seven packing houses.

&#8220History is so important,” said Mayor Ed Murray. &#8220Sometimes we forget how things began. I think there is a lot of hope in this mural.”

The mural, Lindsay's 19th, also commemorated the 10th anniversary of the start of the mural program in 1997. Lindsay's first mural, &#8220Discovery,” shows an exposed portion of brick revealing a theatrical scene featuring Clark Gable, who had stayed at the old Mt. Whitney Hotel, and Hispanic actress, Linda Crystal, that symbolized the coming together of the city following the 1990 freeze and the closure of many of Lindsay's largest employers throughout the 1990s. &#8220Decades of Quality Citrus” is the first mural to be painted outside the downtown area.

Seth Wollenman, plant manager for Suntreat, organized the mural project and handed out prints of the mural to all those who helped make it happen. Anyone interested in purchasing a print should call Seth at 805-9455.

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