Columbia Fruit History
(last update 2017; written by Jim Wade)
J.M. Wade first came to the Wenatchee Valley in the early 1900's as a cash buyer for a Philadelphia Produce company. While here, J.M Wade formed a partnership with A.Z Wells. The Wells and Wade fruit company bought apples for shipments east and then also purchased packed as well as loose fruit for their own packing operation.
J.M Wade’s brother, Ike Wade came west after World War I and enrolled at the University of Washington. He married in 1921 and moved to Palisades to operate one of the Wells and Wade orchards. He became a father in 1925 to a daughter and then had a son, Jim Wade, in 1926 that would later became an important figure in the history of Columbia Fruit.
In the summer of 1937 J.M Wade and A.Z Wells had a disagreement and the partnership ended with Wells and Wade solely owned by A.Z Wells.
J.M Wade Fruit Company was formed in 1937. Most of the key personnel from Wells and Wade moved to the new company. During this time Jim Wade started working for his dad during the summers in the warehouse and during apple harvest.
In 1945, Ike along with Tom Balmer purchased Riverview Ranch, 100 acres of orchard with a packing operation.
In 1946 J.M Wade advised his people he was closing his Wenatchee operation. His former employees, Ike Wade, Bob Shultz, Rollie Cranmer, Walter Cox and growers John Grubb and Elmer Cranmer formedColumbia Fruit Packers. J.M gladly leased to Columbia Fruit his warehouse and they began packing cherries that summer. After a successful cherry season they were looking forward to apples when J.M decided he would not close his Wenatchee operation and asked everyone to come back to work for him, however they all declined and made arrangements with Schons Fruit to rent their warehouse for cherries. This meant no place to pack apples, though.
In March 1948 Columbia Fruit Packers was incorporated. They became the leading cherry packer in Wenatchee, packing about 1/3 or 800 tons of the cherries in the valley. During the winter months, Columbia Fruit sold packed apples and pears as brokers for other packers. Without an apple packing facility the company was unable to grow.
In 1949, Jim Wade purchased ½ interest in a 50-acre orchard in Wenatchee with Jake Kriebel. The orchard had a small packing line and they tried to pack some fruit for outside growers. It was not a very successful venture.
In 1965 property was purchased on North Miller Street which included one 60x100 cold storage building, an office building located in a dry storage area, and a 50x100 common storage building.
Throughout this time, Columbia fruit also purchased orchards in Manson and part of Ike's orchard in Brewster. There were also some turnovers. Ike Wade retired from the business and his son, Jim bought his stock in Columbia Fruit. Rollie Cranmer also decided to move on and his interest in Columbia Fruit was sold. This gave Jim Wade complete ownership in Columbia Fruit and some of the Orchards. At this time Doug McDougall came to work for Columbia Fruit as the operator of the various orchards and this started Columbia Orchard Management.
By 1973, the growth of Columbia Fruit had caused a need for new capital and they formed a corporation with Stadlemen Fruit in Yakima. Chere Best, Inc. was formed with three stockholders: Stadlemen Fruit, Jim Wade, and Jack Tuckton. However, this arrangement did not accomplish what it was set out to do and in 1978, Jim Wade purchased all of the Chere Best stock and renamed the company Columbia Fruit Packers again. During this period property at Olds Station was purchased for possible future expansion.
In 1979, Jim Wade’s son, Mike came to work with the understanding he would one day become manager. Since then he has done a great job with the company and its growth is in great part due to his efforts.
In 1981 a packing and storage agreement was made with Lucky Badger Orchard to for 7 years. At this time it was decided that the best way to pack apples was to Pre size the fruit into bins and then later put them into their final containers, so they leased Cascadian Fruit and ran a night shift.
It became obvious that to increase the return to the growers Columbia Fruit needed to improve its market ability. One of the best in the area seemed to be Beebe Company in Chelan, who was currently being purchased by Dole Fruit Company. Jim Wade was able to convince Beebe’s export and domestic sales managers, Nick Buak and Glady Bellamy, to form a partnership with him and this became the Columbia Marketing International (CMI).
Throughout this time, Jim Wade was aware of the success that Columbia Fruit was to have. He continued to develop the property at Old Station in order to one day make the move over there.
Finally in 1997, Old station was ready to become the home of Columbia Fruit Packers, Inc. The employees relocated to the new building and have been there ever since. In 2008 Columbia Fruit celebrated its 60th year anniversary and looks forward to our 70th in 2018.
Columbia Fruit Packers has continued to expand and improve its packing lines. In 2014 the cherry line at the Euclid facility was completely rebuilt to include a new Compac electronic optical sizer and sorter. At the Pangborn airport facility, a new apple line is being installed to be operational Fall of 2017.
Throughout the history of Columbia Fruit, we have gotten to know many people and have had wonderful employees and growers who have helped us become what we are today. We now have one of the finest apple and cherry packing operations and look forward to the future and all the changes that may come.