Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Tosh Yasutake Interview
Narrator: Tosh Yasutake
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: November 14, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ytosh-01-0006

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AI: At Minidoka, I'd just like to ask a little bit more because, you did a couple of things while you and your family were at Minidoka. Your dad was still separated.

TY: Yeah.

AI: He was still first at Fort Missoula in Montana and then transferred to Lordsburg internment camp in New Mexico. But in the meantime, I think you said earlier that you had gone out to beet topping work

TY: Uh-huh.

AI: And then eventually, and you worked in the hospital also. Could you say a little bit about both of those experiences?

TY: Yes. Well, when I was working in the hospital in Minidoka and at that time word got out that we could go out, out of the camp to work in sugar beet farms. They were asking for volunteers for that. So couple of us working in the hospital, Victor Izui and Henry Itoi and we can't remember who the fourth, none of us seem to remember who the fourth one was for some reason. I'm not sure why. But there's a fourth fellow. A group of four of us volunteered to work in this one farm and the farm that we were assigned to was a farm in Idaho Falls. And I think I talked about in the group, group interview but we were assigned to this one farm, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan's farm. And how they picked farms for each of the volunteering groups I don't know. But we were given this -- unfortunately assigned to this one farm that had very small sugar beets and as I mentioned in the group interview, when we got to the farm, latter part of the after-, mid-afternoon, I think it was -- the farm, Mr. Morgan took us out to the field and he says -- we asked him where our living quarter was and he pointed to the far end of the field and there was a big boxcar there. So he says, "That's where you're gonna be sleeping." So we says, "Okay." So we all hauled our duffle bag and our suitcases and walked down across the field and got to the boxcar. And, well, even before I got to the boxcar, I could smell the stench. [Laughs] And when I, when you opened the boxcar we just, the stench just hit our -- it was overwhelming. It was terrible. And we found out that it was used, they had used it as a pig shed. And it was terrible. We had to clean it out. And we took the rest of the afternoon cleaning the place out, scrubbing it. And there was no running water there so they had to haul water in milk cans for us to, so we could clean the place. And after about four hours of scrubbing and cleaning it was already getting dark and we finally got it cleaned. And to this day I can't remember what kind of bed we had. My guess is it was probably just mattress cover with straw in it and just directly on the floor. But, and I think that first night, the farmer, Mrs. Morgan brought our, brought our breakfast for us. As I recall it was chicken. It was very good. And, but that was our living quarters and it was pretty bad. And to make the matter worse, the sugar beets they had were very, very small, unfortunately, and we were paid by the tonnage. And it took us maybe three times as long to fill up a truck and so the bottom line was that we didn't make any money that we, in fact, we think we lost money. [Laughs] We went home with empty pockets. But, that's the way it went. Some of the people were very lucky. They -- as most of people know, the sugar beets are like carrots. They grow in the ground like carrots and most of the sugar beets are huge. They're about this big. But the ones that we had in our, at Morgan's farm was about this small. And so it just took us forever to fill up that truck. It was really terrible.

TI: So the living conditions were really poor, the work was hard.

TY: Extremely hard. Yeah.

TI: Extremely hard. The pay was negligible --

TY: Yeah.

TI: -- or negative. How would you compare that experience with being in the camps? Would you -- were you guys talking about well, it'd be better to be back in the camps versus out there doing that?

TY: Well, no, not really. Because, well one reason is that at night we used to go into Idaho Falls and went to restaurants and eat good food, decent food. And we spent most of the time going to Chinese restaurants. I don't think, as I recall, they didn't have any Japanese restaurants there. But, so the meals were halfway decent because we can go to the restaurant and have our meals. We did do some cooking. Oh, another thing that I remember vividly is that the Morgans furnished the milk for us, fresh milk, freshly milked from milk cows and they brought in great big milk cans and, but unfortunately the flies were so thick that it was just almost impossible to get, take any of the milk out of the milk cans without having some flies go in there or going into your glass of milk that you pour for yourself. But, first couple times we were kind of -- we didn't drink the milk. We'd toss it out and try it again. But after about the fourth day, well, we just picked the flies out and then drank the milk. Kind adapted to situation. Oh, another thing, talking about adapting, I think people have heard that things about adapt or perish, and I think we adapted. [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.