Source: Ravelings (1942) Ad:

O.C. Burkhart
Poultry and Eggs
North Manchester, Ind.
Phone 170
South Whitley, Ind.
Phone 82

  Number 1 (February 1991)

O.C. Burkhart Poultry & Eggs
A Visit with Herschel and Mary Ellen Burkhart Merritt
Submitted by Lois and Merrell Geible

[Photo: Inside Burkhart Poultry and Eggs, an old photograph showing (left to right): unknown, Forest Johnson, Dorsey "Sport" Metzger, Ollie Burkhart, unknown.]

Ollie C. Burkhart began working for Byer Brothers Poultry and Eggs in 1924. Esli Miller operated the business, and Ollie worked for him. Armour Packing Company had it for a while. Byer Brothers bought eggs, cream, and chickens from local people and picked up the produce, but some people also delivered their own products to the firm.

Ollie bought the business from Byer Brothers in 1928. The business was located at the northwest corner of the alley intersection behind what is now 105 North Market Street, and the wooden egg cases were made on the second floor of the building occupied by Tranter Printing and Walnut Street Barbershop. Herschel Merritt went to work for the O.C. Burkhart Poultry and Egg firm in 1938.

When fiberboard cases were made, behind the barbershop, high school students helped make them after school and on Saturday. Tom, Dick, and Harry Ogle, Bob Maxwell, and Jim Grossnickle were the young employees. The day employees would fill the egg boxes made the night before. Chickens were placed into the “coops” which were like cages, with feed troughs under each one.

A truck would hold 147 coops (12 chickens of larger size or up to 17 leghorns, smaller size chickens, would be placed in each coop) and would weigh about 9,000 pounds. These chickens were trucked to Chicago or Detroit to the market. They would be unloaded from truck to store coops. The store coops were twice as big, and the chickens were sorted by weight (above three pounds or under three pounds) and then would be purchased by butcher shops.

Burkhart furnished chickens to many Jewish storeowners. They would be accompanied by a rabbi who was there to provide a special blessing to the chickens (Kosher them). Jewish customers always bought live chickens. They never scalded them to pick off the feathers but picked them dry. They sometimes did the picking right at the store and sometimes caught the blood to take it home to make blood pudding. One Jewish father and son, Pop and Harry, came here to pick up the chickens and always got into lively arguments.

Local people also came to the company to purchase chickens and eggs fresh. Young fryers would last from March for twelve to sixteen weeks. Geese, turkeys, and ducks were included in the business at holiday times. Chicken was primarily a Sunday meal.

In the 1950s and 1960s Burkhart’s picked up eggs from the farmers. They had varying supplies of them, from small to large. Burkhart’s collected money from the farmers for picking them up and putting them on the Erie rail car, shipping them on Friday to New York. The farmers would get checks from New York the next week. At that time about every farmhouse in the country sold eggs, until big operations began to take over and it no longer was profitable for farmers to sell eggs.

[Old photo which shows us the subtle changes along Main Street. O.C. Burkhart is standing by his truck, driven by Herschel Merritt. The owner of the service station, Russell “Mike” Michael, is trying out the running board of the truck. The station is now Mr. Dave’s Restaurant at the northeast corner of Main and Market. Photos courtesy of Herschel and Ruth Merritt.]

We asked Herschel if he had any amusing stories. He remembered that they always sent new kids to McClure’s and all around to get an “egg case stretcher.” They had an employee, Sherman Rhoades, who was easily angered, so one time, when he was getting ready to go on his route, other “friends” tacked the crates fast to the truck bed. When he went to take the crates, they were immovable!

Another time Sherm brought boiled eggs in his lunch. Someone traded fresh eggs for the boiled ones. Lunch time came, and Sherm went to prepare his eggs for eating. He cracked one on the steering wheel, and fresh egg ran down his front. He blamed his wife for not cooking his eggs, which she denied. He realized he had been tricked by those “friends” at work, and his temper flared!

Burkhart died in 1966, and Herschel ran the business for a year following that. He discovered that the business was too much for one person and not enough for two, so the business closed in 1967.