Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 25
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1987 Volume 25 Number 2, Pages 47–58
Club Members Remember: The Man who Came Around
We have a group of men who meet every Thursday morning for breakfast at the Trinity Church in Berwyn. One Thursday, for some reason or other, we got to talking about "the man who came around" to people's homes to sell them things or do things for them.
Chuck Lee was there, and he had a story about a man who came around and sold produce from a wagon here in Berwyn. He has agreed to tell us about him again, to get this discussion started. Then we can all join in, in another in our series of "Club Members Remember" -- the hucksters and other men "who came around".
Years ago there was a huckster who came around Berwyn. His name was Kestler, and he had a voice like a foghorn! You could hear him in Devon before he got to Berwyn. And he was selling his produce to people, and he had good merchandise. He went up and down every street. He would come out in the morning, and he was always finished in time to get to the Philadelphia National League ball park -- if the Phillies were at home -- up on North Broad street. Of course, they played day games then, and I think he was the whole cheering section up there.
He also had a brother who did most of his selling in Devon.
Then there was also a young boy that used to help him out. You may know him: Reds Beaver was his name. He does back hoe jobs and things like that now.
Kestler was always there, and the ladies would get their fresh produce from him.
Then there were others who came around. The scissors grinder would come around from time to time, and we were always glad to see him and hear his bell. As a matter of fact, I would have liked to have seen one about two months ago; I have two umbrellas that are supposed to open up automatically, but one of them opens up and I can't make it close and on the other one I can't push the button to make it open. So I'm in need of someone like the scissors grinder to come around and help.
I remember, as a very young boy, my grandmother had a big bag. When our clothing finally went from clothes to dust cloths to rags -- that was the rag bag. A rag man came around occasionally to take "any old rags" that we had, or any old iron or scrap of that sort. It was a good way of getting rid of old rags.
When I was living at home on the farm we had a butcher who came around once a week. He was Billy Walker. His father was a school director at the same time my father was. He did his own butchering, on his farm down in King of Prussia. He'd come around with his horse and wagon, and he did have the best meat -- it was all fresh meat -- and my mother always bought from him.
Before he started his butchering, as a boy he worked on the farm while he was going to high school. He went to high school at the same time as my brother John, at Paoli. It was only a three-year high school at that time. He'd come in sometimes at ten or eleven o'clock in the morning instead of at nine o'clock when he was supposed to be there, and the principal would ask him why he was so late. He'd say, "Oh, I had too much work to do at the farm before I came to school."
But he was a good butcher. He really had quite a business down there at King of Prussia. A lot of people I know used to go there, to his farm, to buy his fresh meat.
Speaking of Kestler, I remember him. Sam Kestler, another brother, was the one who came to Paoli. In the spring, when he called out "Stra-a-aw-berries" you could hear him down on Circular avenue. He'd just bellow it out. You could hear him on Wistar road! He came to our house too for several years.. He always had fresh shad when it was in season, and he would clean it, of course. And he would tell this little story over and over again -- that shad was good brain food, but that he should eat a whale!
When I was a little girl in Atlantic City an ice man came around. He had a little wooden cart, drawn by one horse. He would chip those huge blocks of ice into 25-pound or 50-pound cakes for the old refrigerator, and then he would put his tongs around the cake of ice and disappear around to the back of the house. Then all the kids would jump on the step of the wagon and would scrape up in their hands all the little chips of ice -- but you had to be careful that you didn't get a splinter from the wooden floor of the wagon, because when he'd chip, chip, chip the ice he'd chip up some of the wood too. When he came back we all had to jump off.
That ice was the best ice you ever ate! We did the same thing on Wistar Road, and it was the best ice you could ever get -- ooh, what a treat!
When I was a little girl in Long Island I remember vividly the horse clop-clopping at about six o'clock in the morning: it was the milkman, delivering milk. He had to go around to the back of the house, and the dogs would all start barking and the whole neighborhood would wake up! That was the signal that it was time for me to get up to take the Long Island Railroad to go in to N. Y. U. I wish we had that kind of door-to-door service today.
I can remember looking out my second-floor bedroom window: from that vantage point I could see our milkman, in his open-front, scarred white wagon pulled by an old droopy-looking brown horse. My special interest was not the milkman, however. It was the horse. In front of the house to the right of ours, the milkman would load in his wooden carrier the milk bottles for three houses. He went first to the house on the right, then to our house, and finally to the house on the left, before returning to the wagon. Meanwhile, much to my delight, the horse would clop-clop slowly along, keeping pace to meet the milkman when he left the third house. I wish I had had the audacity to ask the milkman how he trained his ancient steed; at eight years old, however, I was too shy.
There were also several farms and dairies around here with milk routes. For about 80 years, beginning back in the 1890s, milk was delivered by the Warner Dairy. Its wagons were yellow, and were always a familiar sight in the neighborhood. It was started in the 1890s by Gardiner L. Warner, and in 1918 was taken over by two of his nephews, Clyde and Maurice Warner. Their processing plant was on Kromer Avenue in Berwyn.
Chesterbrook Farm also operated several milk routes, from as early as before the First World War down into the 1950s. The Weaver Dairies, in Malvern, also delivered milk to the door. In fact, we had milk deliveries in Daylesford until about a year ago, from the Bechtel Dairies up in Royersford -- but no more.
We lived in the country, over near Diamond Rock, and the butcher from Phoenixville would come around. It was Mr. Ullman. He had just about everything! Also, if you raised your own hogs and butchered them he'd take your hams and whatever else you wanted to smoke, and he would smoke them for you -- ten cents a piece!
And when they were ready, he would bring them back on his next round. And he always had what we called "half smokes", and my mother would buy them. One day I didn't want to wait until they were cooked, so I ate one of them raw. I got very sick, so for the longest while I never would eat a hot dog!
We also had a baker who came around several times a week, in a horse and wagon. I was playing with my brother out on the road -- of course there were only a few cars then -- and when he saw the horse coming he wanted to pet him. Just as he got to the horse the horse moved towards him and knocked him down and the wagon wheel went right over him and broke his arm. He was four or five years old at the time.
There were other people who came around -- not every, week, but from time to time -- like the scissors grinder man and, later, the Fuller Brushman. And there was a man who came around one day to sell my mother some Wear-Ever aluminum. She said, "Well, I'm still using the stuff I was given when I was married." And he said, "I have something new", and he brought out this thing. It was a cup-shaped thing, and it had a wooden handle on it, and a heavy spring. It's the best thing for making apple sauce I ever had, or for straining jelly, or whatever. I have one today -- I don't have my mother's original one but I have one like it -- and I really use it.
We also had, on Yellow Springs Road, peddlers with packs on their backs. When we were still living in Stirling's Quarters they'd come and go up and down, and they'd show you what they had. It was quite an experience.
Mr. Ullman also came by, and also the baker.
When we lived in Wayne in the early 1930s my mother used to buy all her needles and other sewing notions from a peddler who came around.
I remember a fish man. He had sort of a little school bus, a small one, and he would call out, "Fish man. Bring out your dish pan. Here comes the fish man!" On Friday everybody in the neighborhood would take a big pan out. He had ice in different bins in the bus, and you would walk in and pick your fish out. I used to like to walk in and look the fish over when he came around.
Eleanor Dunwoody mentioned Billy Walker. One day I came home from school and I found part of a cow in our laundry, in the big wash tub. Dad said, "I just got it; it's nice and fresh. It came from Billy Walker's." My mother was supposed to make tripe of it! Do you know how tripe was made? She put lye in -- she had the whole thing to clean! I certainly remember that -- and I could never eat tripe.
My mother often talks about the ice cream man who came around. They called him the "hokey-pokey" man. The one that she had they also called "Lick-the-Dipper", because they were sure he licked all the extra ice cream off the dipper! She never described his appearance, but she always talked about "Lick-the-Dipper". All the kids would run out and line up along the road with their nickels, or whatever it was, for their ice cream cones.
We had the same ice cream man. We used to go out Mill Road and wait for him every Saturday night. We'd take a good-sized vegetable dish, and he would put dipper after dipper in it -- five cents for each dipper, whatever flavor you wanted. We called him "Rudy, the Ice Cream Man". He came from West Chester.
Before frozen foods became real popular in the stores we used to have a truck come around. It was called the Bob-White. The man used to blow a little whistle, kind of like the Bob-White bird, and he always had frozen foods. He had all kinds of vegetables and meats.
When I was growing up in Malvern in the late 1920s and early 1930s we had a bread man who came around twice a week or so. We also had a large German shepherd dog at the time. One day the bread man, for some reason or other, threw a loaf of bread at the dog -- and forthwith found himself beating a hasty retreat. The next day he asked my mother, "How did I get through that gate?" -- we had a five-foot gate in front of the house -- and she said, "You jumped over it." He said, "I can't jump over a gate five feet high", and she said, "Yesterday you could!"
I grew up in Allentown, and we had all kinds of people who came around -- the pretzel man, the egg man, the vegetable man. They all had such a dialect, and in those days we called them "Dutcher". (They aren't called Dutch any more, but they were then.) Later on my oldest son -- he was about three or four at the time -- and I were visiting my mother and father, and he was quite taken with these men and their accents. I taught him a little German poem. Well, one day this big German man who came with the vegetables -- he was big and fat -- came by, and my son went out to him and recited a line from the poem: "Du bist eine kleine blume", which means "You are a little flower". We've laughed more over that!
During World War II, when Leighton was in the service, I lived part of the time with his parents in Norristown and part of the time with mine. In Norristown there were these nice men who would come around and bring you your groceries. Their name was Genuardi. They had a little shop -- really you couldn't hardly shop in it because it was so small -- but you would call your order in and then Frank or one of them would come. And look where they are today, with a number of supermarkets! One of them is in Chesterbrook Village. They started practically with a push cart.
The Fiores also started in Norristown. They had a store across DeKalb Street from our Red Cross office when I worked there. They were just a tiny family store to begin with.
We had an insurance man who came around. He came and collected a dime for each policy every Monday for years. My mother had all these little policies -- they weren't a big policy like would have been on my father-- but just little policies for all of us.
And then all through the Depression we had tramps that came around. I can remember that when I was very young they would knock on the door and ask if they could do some work, or sometimes they just came for food. But on the farm, they would come and chop wood and do work like that.
And in our town we had a rag man who became very wealthy -- put all his children through college -- by collecting rags. We would point him out: "See that man and all those rags? He's a wealthy man!"
Someone mentioned the ice man. We had an ice man who was what today you would call vertically integrated. He threw a dam across the Sanatoga creek, and in the winter he cut the ice and put it in the ice house. Then during the summer he would go by in his wagon, on the way to Pottstown to sell the ice.
When I was a little boy I always thought one of the greatest inventions was that little sign that we put up -- 25 pounds, 50 pounds, 75 pounds, or 100 pounds, depending on how you rotated it in the window. I thought that was terrific!
When I was a youngster I lived in a community in Maine that was somewhat isolated. The nearest grocery store was two miles away. It was a summer community, and maybe that was one reason it was an attraction for peddlers of all sorts. Most of the kinds that I've heard mentioned so far used to come by -- the milkman, the iceman, and so forth, but we also had the fisherman, the lobsterman, and the berryman. They came quite regularly. We also had a grocery man who came around. If you were shut in or didn't feel like going anywhere, all your provisions came to you. And we used to get little goodies once in a while from these fellows, but they dealt mainly with the adults in the household.
And as for the baker, with his horse and wagon, there were several of them running around Schenectady when I lived there, just before we came here in 1956. I don't know how many years they kept up after that. Actually, most of you know the name of one of them there: it was Freihofer. Freihofer's in Philadelphia is the same family.
I lived on a big farm outside of Baltimore when I was small, and we had a grocery truck that came around. I think it came from the A&P.
And we also had an organ grinder who came around frequently.
There is a man who still comes around in places where the people, like the Amish and Mennonites, still have horses, and that's the blacksmith. My son Robbie has a good friend who was shoeing horses for a while, and he had a regular route, where he would go around and shoe horses. That's still today!
Another man who came around -- though he didn't come around to people's homes -- was the lamplighter. When I was a little boy in Upper Darby the lamplighter came around every evening at dusk to light the lamps.
I understand that Sara Nuzum's father, who came to Berwyn in 1878, was among other things the lamplighter for the village of Berwyn.
We had a lamplighter too. He carried a long pole to reach the lights. I wonder who turned out the lights, and when.
Then there were also the street cleaners in Philadelphia. We called them the "white wings". They had special brushes, with long handles and all. They always dressed in white, and despite all the carts going along the street they kept the streets in just about perfect order! I lived at 12th and Spruce Streets, right in the middle of the city.
They generally followed the horses!
During this past week I jotted down some of the men who came around that I remember.
We had a fellow by the name of Malachai Tullise. He was 6'7" tall, I think, and weighed about 250 pounds. I had a Scottish uncle who lived with us. One day he saw Tullise pushing this wheel barrow -- it was the biggest wheel barrow he had ever seen, extra long handles on it -- and he was carrying this grandfather's clock. Old Uncle William looked at him and said, "I wonder why he don't have a watch like everyone else!"
Then there was this fellow Stan Lichtenfield -- we pronounced it "Lechtenfeld". He lived in Wayne, and he carried pots and pans on a great big rope, slung over his shoulder. You could hear him a mile away.
And there was Bill Dougherty. We all called him "Deefie" because he was deaf, but he was an excellent artist. He could do anything in the way of painting in the house, putting up decals, or anything like that. He was a wonderful fellow for that kind of work.
And there was Newt Roberts. Newt Roberts was a scissors grinder, and sharpened all kinds of tools. He married an Indian princess by the name of Rosebud, who went to the Indian school where the Boy Scouts are now, over on Radnor Street Road. He also carried pots and pans around.
Then there were Herman Freihofer and Joe Nugent, ice men, and the grocer was Tom Hopson. Old Bob Hopson, his father, was the mailman who took the mail all over what was rural Wayne at that time.
There's a little book that's the best book I ever knew for how to sharpen knives and sundry things. It's written by "Scissors Sam". According to the publishers, it's a genuine piece of folk art. Sam was a hobo, and he started to write a little about himself and about how to sharpen various things. I don't know whether it's authentic or whether it isn't, but I have a feeling that he really did write this and that it wasn't just trumped up. This was in the 1950s and 1960s. After he left this off to be published, he was going to Britt, Iowa, where hoboes from allover the country meet anually to select a king.
With regard to milkmen, some time ago -- about four years before I was born -- according to an article I read, there was a farm in Philadelphia just outside of Germantown. When the farmer delivered the milk in the morning he would come in with maybe four cows. He' walked them down the street single file, and if you wanted milk he would milk the first cow right there. If one cow got dry, he would put that cow at the end of the row and start on the next one. And that's the way you got fresh milk -- with no problem of refrigeration.
Dale Robb [Note 1]
One hundred and twenty years ago or so, in west central Illinois, there were traveling dentists. They'd go around in a horse and buggy. A young boy usually went with them, to take care of the horse and help them out with their work.
Dentistry at that time was mostly a matter of taking heavy tongs, like pliers, and removing teeth. You just had to be strong and know how to get the teeth out. So these boys would go along and be all sorts of help.
One boy who happened to go along with one of these itinerant dentists was named Greene Vardman Black. He was learning to be a dentist, to set up a practice of his own. So he got an idea: why not save teeth? He figured out how to make a little drill that he could work with two fingers to open out the cavity and clean it out, and perfected a formula for silver amalgam to fill it.
This silver amalgam thing took off so big that a lot of companies wanted the formula. So he invited them all to come on a certain day to his office in Jacksonville. He stayed in the inner office for a long time, but finally he came out of his office and handed each one a sheet of paper. He had hand-copied that formula for all of them, saying that this was no special thing that he should profit from, but that he had discovered how to make silver amalgam reliably so that it made a good filling for teeth -- most of us probably have that type of filling in our teeth today -- and that it should be for the benefit of all humanity.
He later was the founder of the Dental School at Northwestern University. He is the "father of modern dentistry", and his office is now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. But this was a boy who went with the traveling dentist, and decided to make dentistry something else.
I think the interesting thing about all this is that these people were not afraid of strangers coming to the door. In the world in which we live today we lock our doors, we close our windows, we have peep holes to see who's at the door. Strangers -- not even the Fuller Brush man -- are simply not welcome to come to our doors. It's so sad. I think we miss out on communication with others as we lock ourselves in.
I had a shock the other day. I was in Roy Rogers and there was this little girl with her mother. She had a little box with her food in it. Since I have grand-children, I was kind of curious and wondered what was in the box. So I said, "Is there something good in there?" and you know she pulled back away from me. That child was ready to cry! She was almost frightened to death.
There's a book out that I noticed in the book store; Never Speak to Strangers is its title. I just wonder what will take place in a generation brought up like this.
I have a book here entitled The Yankee Peddlers in Early America, by J. R. Dolan. In it are described a number of different types of peddlers that came around in the middle of the 19th century. In addition to tinkers and grinders there were itinerant cobblers, itinerant weavers, itinerant cabinet makers. There were traveling portrait painters and silhouette cutters. There were doctors and dentists and lawyers that came around; itinerant preachers who would conduct camp meetings or revival meetings; purveyors of notions, threads, needles, scissors, things of that sort. There was a wide variety of peddlers, even including itinerant musical instrument salesmen! "Eastern Pennsylvania," he points out, "where thousands of German had settled, produced most of the instrument-makers. A pioneer family that owned an organ had nearly reached the height at which ambition could aim. It would make the home of that family the social center for miles around and the peddler selling organs was fully aware of the strength of his arguments. He would pick out the most prosperous-looking farm around, particularly one where there were growing children, arrange for a demonstration, set up the instrument in the parlor and put on a little concert. Then he would invite the whole family to join in and if this went well he would have them arrange a hymn-sing for the whole neighborhood. He might spend several days as their guest, but you can be sure he sold at least one organ in that neighborhood [before he went on to the next town]."
It was the same with the weaver. He came into a community and made the coverlets that we have and prize today. Many of the households would have a loom, and the weaver would stay all fall, maybe, in one neighborhood and make these coverlets.
"One book puts quite a different perspective on "the man who came around". He was welcomed as the bearer of news, and wasn't really considered as a stranger.
We've remembered a lot more than we did at our Church breakfast! There certainly were a lot of these men "who came around".
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