by Rene Allen
At dusk, Monday, March 24, at a remote desert site in Eloy a semi-truck stopped long enough for a swarm of beekeepers to unload 420 hives fresh from the almond groves of California. Among the horde of alien-looking humanoid figures in eerie white clothing was a newcomer, 62 year-old Dwight, who, in anticipation of impending ownership of 24 colonies, forgot that bees hate black. He, too, had the veil, gloves, shirt and pants that are ubiquitous among beekeepers, but he forgot his socks, the black ones he put on that morning. After being bounced around for 10 hours on the business end of a semi, the bees had an attitude and now they had a target.
Thus are the origins of Allen Bee Company located on the steep, slippery slope of the learning curve. Dwight took forty stings to his ankles, had a flush of hives as the poison entered his circulation, then loaded his bees onto a trailer and hauled them to a citrus grove in Mesa. The Lord blesses beekeepers, particularly new ones. He came home with a story, seemingly no worse for wear.
Every weekend since he has been in Mesa, dividing, re-queening, and adding supers for the bees to fill with orange-scented honey. Each trip has been another step up the learning curve, but nothing comes close to the adventure a week ago when it was time to move the bees to a mesquite grove in Florence.
Dwight had located an old cotton trailer, purchased some kindly used tires to replace the old, sun-rotted ones that had been there for thirty years, and borrowed a heavy duty truck to tow the trailer to Mesa from Higley.
It was Friday afternoon. My oldest son, Grant, was helping his dad. They worked mightily getting ready, but what was supposed to happen, bees loaded and ready to go by midnight or so, did not. In fact, the trailer wasn't in place until 1:00 A.M. And while you may move bees at night, you do not work them at night when they crawl rather than fly which means they are more vulnerable to injury as well as crawling as a swarm onto the beekeeper. Since my son had to be in Tucson in the morning, he drove the truck home and Dwight slept on a cot near his bees. He said he wanted to watch them get up in the morning.
I later talked to Grant about what happened next. He said dad underestimated the time it would take. “He kept saying how he had been wildly optimistic about the job.”
It took an entire day to load the bees. Each time Dwight called home where I was recuperating from knee surgery, I heard the incessant angry buzz of bees as I talked to him. Once, he called to say he was taking a rest but couldn’t take off his bee suit because the bees had followed him. So he sat in a chair in a square of shade and drank water from the hose through his veil. He didn’t have a bite of food until 8:30 that night when the bees were finally loaded. Even then, my father had to drive his truck with Dwight in the back to blow the bees off before he could take off his bee suit. Then, he went straight to Sonic and bought himself the biggest root beer float they made. “I’d been thinking about it all day,” he said. Afterwards, he went to my parents’ house to wait for Grant to come back and to have pizza.
By midnight, they decided Dwight’s small Chevy wasn’t strong enough to pull the trailer, now loaded with 5000 pounds of bees and honey, out of the citrus grove. It was one of the many tender mercies of the Lord that night that my father had purchased a new diesel truck four days earlier and still had his old one parked at the house, a stone’s throw from the bees. Graciously, he gave Dwight the keys and told him to bring it back when he could.
Then began the long journey to Florence. They drove 15-30 mph, stopping every so often to check on the bees and trailer. From my parents’ house in Mesa, it is about forty minutes at 60 mph to Florence. At 3:30 I got a phone call. “Where are you?” I asked.
“We’re in Higley and we need David’s number.” David, my brother, manages 1000 acres of farmland and is a great mechanic. The farm shop is in Higley. “The Lord was watching over us,” Dwight said. “I was on Power Road but there was construction. Somehow I got disoriented and ended up at the shop but it’s a good thing. The lug bolts on one hub have wobbled so much the rim is chewed up and the wheel is about to come off. I have an hour before these bees wake-up and go crazy. Can you give me his number?”
I limped into my office where I found the number. Fortunately, he was at home, rather than on one of his frequent trips to Utah where there is another farm. He met Dwight in 10 minutes, got the blow torch, cut out the old lug bolts, and found suitable replacements. The repair took under an hour. “Now get out of here,” he said, fully realizing Dwight had to get through the town of Queen Creek before the bees started to fly.
They stopped one more time to check on the tires. Grant started to put his bee clothes on in the truck but had rolled a window down and several bees came inside. Not thinking because each time he had checked before it had been dark and the bees had not been flying, he got out of the truck to put on his suit which was a mistake. There was enough daylight for the bees. When Dwight noticed Grant was having trouble, he had already run more than a block to the protection of a service station. By the time he was back in the truck, he was having symptoms of mild shock from the fifty or sixty stings he had on his neck and head. Another tender mercy is that the symptoms passed.
At 7:30 Sunday morning, they unhitched the trailer and returned to Tucson.
Grant had to go to urgent care to treat the massive swelling about his head and neck and missed a day of work.
Dwight had flashbacks all day Sunday about what could have happened in Queen Creek if they had broken down there. “I’ve got some tired guardian angels,” he said. “I guess I was wildly optimistic.”
I bent my swollen knee in prayer and gave thanks.
But beekeepers are like fishermen. It’s more than a hobby or avocation. There’s a passion in them. Dwight went back to Florence yesterday and took 1500 pounds of honey from those hives. Today, after church, we’re going back to return the frames and boxes. I’m staying in the truck with the windows rolled up, a safe distance away. He will put duct tape on his ankles and wear white socks with his other beekeeper clothing. When he is finished, he will climb in the back of the truck and I will drive like the wind to blow the bees off.
Hopefully, we’ll get the job done in an hour or so, but the way things have gone, well, that might be wildly optimistic. I’ll let you know.