The Short Handle Hoe

Thinning sugar beets...

Thinning sugar beet with the short hoe

During the "Bracero" Program the short handle hoe was widely used. The "braceros" still remember the all day long bending, thinning sugar beet fields with this tool. The use of the short-handle hoe is now illegal in most of the states, although you still find farmworkers using it specially in south Texas and in New Mexico.

The following is from a book published by the UNM:

It was a dirty, miserable job that gave real meaning to the term "backbreaking" labor. The work was done with two "instruments of horror" designed by the devil, according to one worker. One was the infamous "short shoe," which had a handle twelve to eighteen inches long. A regular long-handled hoe could have been used, but it was considered harmful to the plants. With the short hoe, there was less margin for error. However, the modified hoe required the user to work in a bent over position and crawl along the dusty rows of beets for ten or twelve hours a day. At the end of the shift, it was nearly impossible to stand up straight. For young bodies, it eventually meant assuming a partially stooped position and suffering painful backaches for life. The other tool, more rightly called a weapon, resembled a razor-sharp machete with a mean, semi-curved, three or four-inch hook riveted on the end. Short hoe...Working at breakneck speed to pick up the beet with the hook and slice off the top in one swing was dangerous work. It was rare to meet a betabelero (beet worker) who had not lost a finger or did not bear the scars of his trade.

DECADE OF BETRAYAL, Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

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