PHOENIX — Nearly two years since the hum of the production line was silenced in the former Associated Fruit packinghouse along the railroad tracks, signs of life slowly are reappearing.
On Monday, a small crew of newly hired employees for Dinsdale Farm SO (Southern Oregon) assembled boxes to be used for a production run of green Bartlett pears.
With a little luck, the solo run could jump-start long-term use of the landmark building.
Dinsdale Farm, a Silver Lake operation with ties to Grants Pass and the Applegate Valley, has leased the building for one year to take advantage of its cold storage facilities and to pack a two-and-a-half-week run of Bartlett pears beginning Oct. 15.
Once a major employer in the city, the 70-plus-year-old Associated Fruit was forced to downsize after a combination of hard economics, land-use changes and bad weather.
It concentrated its operations on its orchards, sold off some land and stopped packinghouse operations in 2010.
Dinsdale Farm owners Sam and Alice Dinsdale purchased 170 acres of pear orchards from Associated Fruit last year. In mid-August, they secured the lease for the packinghouse and partnered with Central Point orchard expert Jerry May and his wife, Wendy, to create the new arm of Dinsdale Farm.
"This is kind of an experiment," said Dinsdale Farm SO general manager James Dinsdale. "We just had an opportunity to get it for awhile and see how it would work out for us. Two-and-a-half weeks is what we're projecting.
"We don't want everyone to get too excited and think we're here to stay, because there are no assurances of that at all. The bank owns it. We're just trying it out."
Gold Hill resident and longtime packinghouse worker Donna Silva said even the short-term situation was promising for local orchard and packinghouse workers.
As supervisor, Silva is hiring some 40 packinghouse employees in addition to existing orchard crews added by the company.
"It's nice to get some more jobs in the valley, even if it's just for a short time," said Silva, noting that former Associated Fruit workers had applied for some of the Dinsdale positions.
"And it's nice to see people who worked here before get to have their 'home' back."
Silva plans a swing shift for employees who have other jobs but possess packing and sorting skills the Dinsdales need.
"There are people who are good at what they do and you want people who know how to do their job," she said.
"I wanted good people but I couldn't make them quit their jobs when we're only going to run two, two-and-a-half weeks. A lot of girls will use this money for Christmas and extra bills they have to pay off. They'll have two jobs and just be really tired for a couple weeks."
Phoenix Planning Director Dale Schultz said interest in the packinghouse has been high.
"Everyone has been really curious about what's going on over there. It's exciting to see it in use again," Schultz said.
"In my opinion, expensive equipment sitting like that is not good and it's properly zoned for industrial, so, from that standpoint, it's nice to have a business come in and fix up the equipment and have it running."
On Thursday, Silva could hardly wait to see the plant in full operation with 40-pound boxes of pears being prepped for cold storage.
"It's going to be exciting to see fruit on the lines. We've seen it run, but not with anything on it," she said.
"There's a certain sound, too, that when fruit is being sized you just hear the cups and the motors are going and you just know there's stuff happening. I think everyone is really excited to see this place being used. We really hope it's successful."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at email@example.com.