The Boom Has Started
Two manufacturing enterprises begun with good
prospects for several others
Source: North Manchester Journal, September 7, 1893
The Canning factory had advertised that Tuesday of each week would be set aside for making cider and contrary to all expectations nine wagon loads of apples had come in before eight o'clock Tuesday morning. The men at the factory were taken by surprise, not thinking that so many would come during the season. The "entire failure" so generally believed will have to be put off until another year.
The Canning factory last week received a car of three pound cans containing 56,800 cans. The factory began work Friday merely to get things in readiness for continuous business. John Miller informs us that much loss has been occasioned to the tomato crop by rotting which, if it continues, will shorten the supply. Simon Frantz has charge of the engines and Levi Smith is again the boss processor.
Source: North Manchester Journal, January 14, 1897
The growing of fruits and vegetables is becoming an important industry among a certain class of farmers who find a market for their products in North Manchester. They have learned from happy experience that "truck farming," when intelligently and energetically pursued, pays better than the old method of working the farm, while the labor involved is light in comparison with that of former years. The presence in North Manchester of a canning factory has stimulated "truck farming" very materially, as it affords an excellent market for tomatoes and other products of the garden and farm. The North Manchester canning factory has established a reputation among the leading jobbers in canned goods which makes its product very popular. The canned tomatoes of this factory has established a reputation among the leading jobbers in canned goods which makes its product very popular. the canned tomatoes of this factory are quoted gilt edged by the jobbers and find ready sale when other brands are "a drug on the market." The North Manchester factory also manufactures a superior quality of cider and jellies which are quoted "A No. 1" by the jobbing trade and find ready sale.
The officers of this important enterprise are W.L. Brookover, president; John Miller, vice-president; Charles Comstock, secretary, and Daniel Sheller, treasurer.
All of the gentlemen above named are prominently and actively identified with the business interests of North Manchester. They are liberal, progressive and public-spirited and their connection with any local industry means its success.
Source: North Manchester Journal, April 4, 1901
FACTORY WILL COME
If nothing turns up to block the arrangements the Snider Preserve Co., of Cincinnati, will take control of and operate the canning plant in this city. Since a number of the business men joined hands last week and leased ground to put out about 100 acres of tomatoes the required number of 400 acres have been secured. Mr. Metcalf, who has been here for several weeks at the expense of the company, working up the business is now engaged in making the contracts with the parties who have agreed to plant tomatoes and deliver the seed.
This appears to be one of the best things for the cost that has ever fallen to this city and the credit for securing it is almost entirely due to Jonas Grossnickle and Mr. Metcalf, whom the company sent here. They have worked hard to induce farmers to take hold of it but had the company not wanted to locate here very badly they might have given up in despair, the work went so slow.
We understand that in ample time to take care of the crop the company will remodel the plant and put in the large amount of machinery necessary to handle the immense crop of tomatoes they expect will be raised. Farmers should begin to study up on the raising of tomatoes so as to get the largest possible yield for the company contracts to take every ton delivered and the more tons the more money there is in it. It will not pay to slight the crop and get only an ordinary yield when a larger one could be had as well by paying attention to the best methods of tomato culture.
THE CANNING FACTORY
by Orpha Weimer
Any story of the custom canning factory that was here in this town would almost be a story of the Weimer family, because for the thirty-six years that the factory existed, it had been started, it was managed and it was owned and controlled by the Weimer family. It existed from about 1912 to 1948 when it burned. As Ramona has said, I came here in the spring (April) of 1922, sixteen, fresh out of high school and I had been promised a place to teach that fall, so I had to have a teaching certificate. Now, many of you will remember that back in those days, that was the last year you could teach in Indiana without having had a year of training. So, by entering at mid-spring term I could get in half a year of teacher’s training. That fall I taught 49 children in the first three grades. I came back the second summer to do pretty much the same thing and to finish up and get my first year normal license. Many of you will remember that Manchester did not grant any kind of certificate, or any kind of license unless you had some Bible. I worked mine out by teaching Bible class down at Central for about three weeks for second graders and then I served as college Sunday school superintendent the rest of the summer under Dr. Andrew Cordier.
I learned a little bit about the town that year, I’d been too busy almost the first year to get that in. I taught again that winter, came back the third summer, the same sort of a thing, only this time I learned to know some of the people here in town. As I was one of the older students by this time, and as I had taught two years, I was allowed to room outside of the dorm. I roomed over at Aunt Mary Winger’s. Now Aunt Mary was a very dear soul, but she had two remedies for all ills. One of them, first a dose of castor oil and the second one was to go and talk to Otho. Now, I really wasn’t quite ready to do either one of these, but I got into the classes of Dean Schwalm, he was dean at that time. He said, “You are wasting your time, fiddling along here doing grade school teaching, you ought to head for high school and get a high school license because that’s where the money is.” Well, I kind of listened to him, but yet I wasn’t exactly satisfied because, you see, I like teaching in grade school.
I went ahead and decided I was going to get my second year normal because I was well aware that teaching requirements here in Indiana were on the upbeam and it wasn’t long until everybody would be needing some more work. However, I did give up my school and decide to come back to college that particular fall. Now it so happened that I was brought up Baptist but decided to turn Methodist because R.C. Plank was then pastor of the Methodist Church and had been one of our home town boys. He was a very ambitious soul who wanted to start a young peoples department of college young people, as well as college age local people. My roommate and I were invited down to the Methodist Church to help with a party for Halloween. The local young people were making pumpkin faces and just as we got to the kitchen door of the old Methodist Church, there was the most hilarious burst of laughter that you could just imagine. We stepped up to the door. Some of you will remember a young fellow around this town by the name of ___ Speicher, later he became, for 30 years, a chaplain in the Air Force. But Toby, as most of us knew him, had been helping to make the Halloween faces and he picked up a double hand full of this seedy, gooey stuff from the inside of the pumpkin and gave it a toss to one of the companions that was helping him and it was ridiculously funny. That stringy, yellow stuff streaking down over his face, all you could see was two beady, black eyes through that yellow mess which made him look like a yellow hared sheep dog. That was my first introduction to Harry Weimer.
Now the young folks department, there were about forty of us, really thrived that winter. We were out at the Weimer home because those people were rather ardent church goers, as well as ardent Methodists and we were invited out to the old canning factory. It wasn’t so old then because we had a lot of rumpus parties there. We went up to the Gamble farm north of town which had been Mrs. Weimer’s home area, then there were always cars there that would take us to other visiting churches, to conferences, etc. We had a hilarious time. But you know what? Come spring, it all ended and it was then that I found out everything played second fiddle to the canning factory.
There were some other interesting things about this. My family and Harry’s family said no getting married during college time – well, we didn’t. I went summer and winter, though, to school so I got out first. I was teaching in Elkhart and I had to kind of wait for Harry and then he graduated in 1929, we were married the next day. We started west on our wedding trip, we got as far as Flagstaff, Arizona and there was a telegram. It said, “The season is opening earlier than usual, you are needed back home.” So, we turned around and came back to North Manchester. That is the way the canning factory and the Weimer family got around because everybody worked and when the season was on the entire family pitched in.
The canning plant itself (now maybe I’ll bore some of you because I know there are a lot of people here who formerly worked there at the factory)…Just for the heck of it, how many of you did work at the factory – at any time? Oh, I see about half of you but maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit and some of you, maybe, don’t want to put your hands up. At that time, there were only two places here in town that you could get work, and that was at the Peabody factory and out at the foundry. That did not include the women and it didn’t include teenagers either. We employed a tremendous lot of both women and teenagers. The fact is, there’s one or two people here in this group tonight that I know started in when they were about twelve or fourteen, because frequently Dad Weimer would have to (when the inspector came around) say, “Oh yes, these are my boys and they are helping out.” Maybe one of them you might have known by the name of Chuck Koller who was in this particular group.
The canning plant itself was sort of like a big, old country kitchen – a huge, huge building. The windows, or at least that’s what we called them (we didn’t have fly problems then) were closed by shutters which could be pushed up, the air could circulate on the warm days. They could be brought down on cool days to keep out the rain, etc. and it was a convenient way. Now like most big country kitchens there were various occupations went on inside this building. Along the south side there was a bank of about seven faucets, I should say, and a huge zinc trough that would take a small tub to slide along because everything had to be washed through three waters. Now it didn’t make any difference if you thought it was clean before that. Dad Weimer wasn’t very far away so you washed it between three waters, because it had to be clean.
Then on down a little farther were the scalding tanks, well maybe that’s what you called them, anyway they were for blanching. We would put the clean product into those big 100 pound sugar and salt bags, we had plenty of those, then Marjorie Coe, one of the key women, had charge of this and she had her bank of alarm clocks so that everything worked by alarm clocks, not bells. She would blanch the vegetables, put them into huge dishpans, and then they were filled by hand on four big, zinc topped tables.
This is the place where you did the greens and where you did the green beans, where you did beets and tomatoes, and what have you. We didn’t do fruits, we didn’t have time. Vegetables, if you recall, were a little bit hard to can in those days because not many homes really in 1912 had pressure cookers and everybody, more or less, canned in glass. You take a glass can, fill it and boil it for about three hours was really a lot of hard work.
Now then, I’m going to go back just a little bit because not being a native of this town I had to depend a great deal on hearsay for some of the early parts of the canning operation. Actually, the Weimers came in about 1911, they bought several acres of land at the west edge of town at the end of West Main. It was an ideal spot. We had access to the county side, we also had access to the town for water and electricity, for railroad facilities, as well as a labor force. We used unskilled, seasonal labor, many of the people who would like to come earn a little bit during the season. Now remember this is 1912 and at that time women didn’t really go out to do a great deal of work. A lot of them kind of enjoyed getting a little bit of cash occasionally on the side line and this is what I mean by saying we had seasonal labor. It was the only place where teenagers had anything to do. We used quite a few of young folk at the factory in this way.
Usually we began in the latter part of April and then this would last as long as there wasn’t too much snow on the ground. When the snow time came we put down the shutters over the windows, turned up the heat and we would put on extra sweaters. We would can pumpkin, squash, we’d do hominy, we’d do sauerkraut, we’d do vegetable soup, we would do port and beans and we did many of this sort of thing, especially if it took a long processing period. Now then the main thing that we canned, of course, was the corn. This is the one thing that a great many people had trouble canning. Back in those very beginning days, Mother Weimer started with a neighbor. When the Weimers first came in to tow, after they bought their land there, Dad Weimer built a new home. He was a trained carpenter as well as a cabinet maker, he was working for Cox Show Case Company. Mrs. Ball, the neighbor decided to do their home canning and as Dad Weimer would be going in and around he would see the work of the women and it was a little bit hard, even so. He tried to think of as many ways he could to help them out. At first he got a small hand sealer, then he built a little retort that could be processed by steam. He had a small steam engine type of thing he could use to heat this and Harry was put to running this thin when he was around eleven years old.
The factory was a great deal like Topsy, it grew and then it grew some more and it continued growing until 1948, because they even put an extra room on the place in the spring of 1948 which was its last year. The canning factory as it grew we added more people, more things, built in more until finally we were employing around eighty people. We also had a huge steam boiler, a huge furnace, I don’t know what you call it, I’m not a carpenter and don’t know what the men folks called the blooming thing, but anyway, my husband would have to get up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning to clean the flues of the thing in order to get hot water and have steam up. Yeah, what was it? A boiler, OK a steam boiler then. All right! Then we had to have various retorts and I’ve been told I should call them pressure cookers. Well, maybe they were in that they were certainly whoppers. I asked several of the family when Paul Weimer was home a few weeks ago, I said how many of those retorts did we have, those steam cookers. “Oh, about five or six” he said. And then my own son was in about two weeks ago and when I said how many did we have, he said, “Oh, we had at least twelve.” Then I asked Mabel how many she thought and she said around six or nine. So, now you take your choice, they were full most of the time, I will say it that way. There were three small ones, there were several large ones, we had a steam crane, hoist crane, and it was kept busy.
These retorts were put in a sort of semicircle that could be reached with this sort of an animal because some of those crates were pretty heavy. We used iron baskets that would hold about five tiers of cans, No. 2 cans, and each tier would be about 100 cans, so you try to lift 500 full cans and you needed that steam crane.
Now I’m going back again – on the west side of the cannery we had a vacant lot we always called the corn yard because people dropped their corn in and you’d stack it up in a nice neat little pile and on the very top of it you’d place one ear of corn and you would take a card that we provided, you could sign your name to it, (the product) it wasn’t quite as wide as this one. It had a wire at the top, you’d put that around your ear of corn and that always had to precede your corn. A lot of people were a little skeptical of this. Well, they didn’t see how we could keep the corn separate. It was simple, the card went first and woe be unto the fellow who didn’t send that card first. It was just one of those necessities.
All right! Uncle Ora was Mother Weimer’s bachelor brother. He was kind of a queer sort of a fellow but he was a loyal soul when it came to working and he had charge of the corn yard. Some of the boys, perhaps, got into Uncle Ora’s hair but he didn’t mind telling them that a bushel basket had to be filled. The baskets were brought in and put on a small platform between the two huskers, one of them fed to the right and one of them fed to the left. You had to be extraordinarily careful that you didn’t cut off half of the ear of corn, so you cut off only the butt end and the pegs that went back and forth on the husker would tear off the shucks. Then the corn would go out on what we spoke of as the picking table or sometimes we called it the corn table. It was a moving belt that carried the corn down about as far as two of your tables there together and there would be about six women sitting on each side and they had little short bladed corn knives that Dad Weimer would come in to sharpen about three times every day. Their job was to inspect the corn and cut off any bad spots. Then they would move on to what was known as the washer and the silker. From here was another inspection and if the corn was particularly bad, that person would toss out into a basket any ear that had a blemish. Then it would have to go back on the table and run through the line again before it would be allowed to be taken to the cutters. From here it went on up to the hopper. Now, the hopper was just a sort of pit arrangement and from it went a cleated chain belt to the third floor which had cutters. Some funny things happened. Dad and Mother Weimer were always trying to help somebody. I think if any people lived a Christian life, that family did, because they were always trying to help someone.
Young folks around town, several of them who practically lived with us, then usually there was a nephew or two who came in and Young Harry, we called him because they had forgotten that there were three Harry Weimers and so you had to have some sort of qualification to know which one you were talking about. Young Harry came in from Pennsylvania so when he wanted to smoke there was usually something happened to that cleated chain and it broke. That threw the entire line off, everything had to quit until that could be fixed.
Someone reminded me the other day that they had a junkyard back around the boiler that had all kinds of gears, chains, and this and that and the other that they could fix. Remember, that besides being a carpenter and cabinetmaker, Dad Weimer was a pattern maker and worked with iron. We had several things that he had made from this so Young Harry then would have time to scoot out and get his smoke in. Dad didn’t like it very well but it was just hard to say no so that Young Harry would have to stay back in the city in Pennsylvania.
The corn would go up the chute, and again, the ticket went first. We got up to the third floor and this was the cutter which was about a yard long and here you had to be almost ambidextrous. You had to put the butt end of the corn in first. Well, beg your pardon! First you had to put the ticket down the chute to the second floor, then you would put the corn through and the cutters would cut off the corn and spew the cobs out through a pipe that eventually ended up at the silo. The corn from there would go into huge hoppers on third floor and here it was that Martha Metzger, a powerfully built Old Order Brethren lady worked for years there. What Martha couldn’t do I just don’t know what it was. She would season the corn with salt and sugar and she wouldn’t have any help except for somebody to carry up a 100 pound bag of sugar for her. Martha, I don’t know, she was there long before I ever knew the family, and I think she was there at the end. She was a power unto herself. One of the things that I remember when I first came was a steel rod and Martha sharpening the knife, I’d give anything if I could do some of that any ways near as good as Martha did it.
From the corn hopper where it was cooked by live steam it would go down to the filler. The filler was a large hopper arrangement, had four spigots on it and these four spigots would fill a No. 2 can in making one revolution, so whoever had charge of the filler, more or less, had charge of the corn line, because if a can wasn’t full that went down on them. You had to have enough corn so whoever was there didn’t dare to take a nap. You had to also see that the person who was a can setter would take up four cans, two in each hand, and set them into a little moving trough that went around with the filler. This would get a little bit monotonous once in a while and we didn’t have rest periods. We really didn’t need them exactly because each man’s product there was always a little bit of time. You had to be alert although you didn’t really do a great deal of hurrying, the machine did the pacing pretty much for you.
Then the corn went on around the filler and here it would reach what we usually spoke of as the stamper. Mary Geist Rowe was the stamper there for a great many years. Now that doesn’t sound like it would be very much work putting the stamper up and down but I’ll bet you a nickel that Mary’s back and shoulders ached many a night. Anyway, you had to be alert to turn up your stamp to the next number and then be ready to stamp the ticket with the number (waterproof ink) then you stamped every can that came through from the filler so that it would be the same as was on the ticket. Then at the other end there would be someone we spoke of as the off bearer and they would have to use leather gloves because those cans were hot and they would be taking them off and setting them into large crates. It was a very simple process, but you just couldn’t take a nap during work of this sort.
From this area the corn went on to the processing. The family had been trained to take on any of the machines because you never knew what you were going to be doing during the day. Most of the workers had certain places that they worked, but the family was able to pitch in and help pretty much anyplace. Mabel helped her father with the books and she also helped her mother over at the desk, but she could also run various machines just as well as most any of them.
We were having a little difficulty, or at least I was, in trying to pin myself down to what all was going on and I told my son about it. I said I just couldn’t quite remember some of the things. He started grinning and said, “Just wait a minute.” He went downstairs where he remembered his father had stored the old canning factory books. Really they were a godsend because they told me a lot of things and I had a lot of fun reading through and seeing all those names of the various people who worked there. It was from these books that I found out a number of things. One of them was the fact that around 1920 there was a live-in farm worker.
The folks bought the farm to the north where the Manchester Plaza is, where the trailer court is, the veal plant and part of the woods. Then we also had the farm known as the old Schanlaub farm which was directly to the west, back of the Reahard home and back down to the river.
We kept a small herd of dairy cows in the early beginning and they managed to get by with some of those corn shucks and a few things. We had to have a live-in farm worker that was added as part of the family. I also found in this same ledger that we had a live-in housekeeper. Mother Weimer was a very, very busy woman. She sold fresh milk for a great many years and I know was selling milk up into the thirties. I don’t know just how long but after Harry and I were married she was still selling milk.
This housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Hevel from out at Servia, stayed with the Weimers from the early teens, the twenties and on up through 1935. She finally got to the place where she had to retire, either that or her family was putting too much pressure on her, I’m not sure which, but, anyway, she retired. When she retired that job of cooking sort of fell to me. I grew up as an only child and didn’t know a great deal about cooking, perhaps, but I learned – you had to, you learn pretty fast. There were only two things that were required of me and that was you had to have plenty of food and it had to be quick service. You never knew what to cook for lunch as some of our help did eat with the family, I didn’t know if I was going to cook for ten or twenty. Martha always ate with us, Gloria, of course, always did, Toby Speicher, Charles Nixon, there were a number of fellows, Eddie Keller, Dr. Paul Keller’s brother from Chicago was one of us. We had a young Japanese boy, Roy Sugomoto, that was Paul’s roommate when he was down at Purdue. Mother Weimer cooked a lot different from what I had been used to and, of course, there were always hungry folks around. I remember on the back porch we always had a stalk of bananas hanging up, anybody who went past could grab a banana. I had never seen anybody do things like that, but you learn.
We also bought baskets of vegetables like tomatoes and sometimes beets, usually a few baskets of fruit. These, the helpers could help themselves to, but woe be onto you if you got into the wrong basket, one that had a tag to it because that belonged to somebody else. The Weimers were absolutely honest about that and you didn’t even so much as take out an extra tomato.
The processing was Harry’s department to speak of, although he had some help, especially after the season got farther along. John Geist was a neighbor, he was a brother of Mary Geist Rowe’s husband, he was a grand helper for us. Then most of the family could help out. Now this was always late work. I recall back to the days before we were married, Harry would maybe make a date for 7:30 and then he would call up about 7:00 and say, “I’m sorry, but we’re working late tonight and I don’t think I can make it quite that early.” And then very shortly I would get another telephone call and he’d say, “Now really the processing isn’t quite all finished yet and I’m still going to be late.” Honest to John, if he made it by 9:30, we were lucky! I really didn’t mind so awfully much for the very simple reason I was a pretty busy woman myself and so you just learn to live with a few things.
From the processing and the alarm clocks that told – because every vegetable had to be processed differently – then you had to run cold water in, first warm, then cold because the cans had to be cooled in these big cookers or retorts because if you didn’t the corn would continue cooking, especially around the outside of the can and would get much too brown. It had to be cooled to a certain temperature before it could be lifted out of the cooker vats. Then it was taken out – we had little dollys (we called them) I don’t know whether that’s the right name or not, little two wheeled carts. They weren’t so little but they would hold these big cans, they had to have heavy wheels, too, because those crates of 500 cans really got some weight to them. They pushed out then to finish cooling because the product was not stored until after it had cooled.
The storage area was something else – and it was always being extended – that was one of the things that I had remembered that was extended back even in 1948. Many of the younger boys would be working there and we had boxes made that would hold just exactly 24 cans, No. 2 cans at least. The boys would pick up their tickets, then they would find the number on the can that corresponded to the number on the ticket. They would take them back to the storages which were a three tiered affair. We had a code system that you could mark on the ticket whether it was on the front end of the shelf, at the middle or whether it was at the back, and then you also had to tell whether it was the top shelf, middle or bottom one, there were three tiers. Then you signed your name to it, or your initials and at the close of the work period those tickets were brought up to Mother Weimer and filed alphabetically at the office. Then when someone came to call for their product, Mother Weimer did most of the transacting, tickets were brought out, business was taken care of, but she’d send somebody back to pick up the cans and take them out to the person’s car for them. If you couldn’t find a can she never really said very much, she just called the person whose name was on the ticket and she said, “Here, you find it.” Like hunting a needle in a haystack, that was a little embarrassing, occasionally, and you didn’t try that more than about once, you were more careful how you stored the next time.
It was a simple handling of business. As near as I can recollect and from what few records we kept – isn’t it funny you just don’t keep things? I tried to find one of those paper tickets that we had and I know there are some around the house but for the life of me I couldn’t locate them – I’ve been hunting all summer for them. But, we think, as far as my son and I could recollect, that at the beginning you were charged about 5 cents a can for No. 2’s and * cents a can for No. 3’s. Then in the forties when wages went up and prices went up, it went up to seven cents a can and 9 cents a can for the product. Well, I daresay you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a can. Now remember, this is where the idea of custom canning came in. As far as I know, and was able to find records for, I think we were one of about four custom canneries in Indiana. You brought your own product to us to be canned. Many a time someone would come and they’d have only two cans of something, well, it didn’t make any difference whether it was two cans or two dozen, we canned it for you and you had your number on it. Possibly out of your garden you might have two cans of green beans or peas this week or two more the next week and by the end of the season you might have a dozen. Nothing was ever said, maybe it was a bit of bookkeeping difficulties, but we managed.
A lot of people would ask how we knew that, but we had a rule in filling the cans that if it could make up a little better than half a can, or thereabouts, then we filled up the rest of it with a product of our own because we were always running through some of our own things in order to fill in here, so you didn’t lose if you brought in only 1-3/4 cans of peas.
One of the other things that helped out and swelled the volume was the building of the pea huller. We didn’t like to work on Sunday. Dad and Mother Weimer were pretty insistent about this, you went to church on Sunday morning, every last one of us. Then we would usually eat out Sunday noon and Sunday afternoon we just frankly loafed and got away because we didn’t want to face people. There was always somebody saying they couldn’t come through the week and would have to bring it in on Sunday afternoon. Well, if we weren’t there, the only thing on earth you could do was pile your corn or whatever and leave a piece of paper with your name on it, then we would do the best we could. Ordinarily, if a product came in before 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, we guaranteed to put it through that day. If it came in after that you might have to wait until the next day. When the peak season was on for corn we ran two shifts – we ran an evening shift, then occasionally we would work an hour or maybe an hour and a half overtime, then we would make cold meat sandwiches and coffee and the helpers could help themselves.
Simple work and all this – Mother Weimer was a very excellent person, people like her, don’t know of anybody who didn’t. She was as honest as the day is long and frequently, if somebody was dissatisfied, you would tuck in an extra bit of cans from the Weimer product of their own in order to make sure that they were satisfied. We did a bit of commercial work, not too much until along about the wartime then we did quite a few war-time contracts for the government, especially on corn and tomatoes. The season didn’t close until we were too cold or nothing could be brought in. At the close of the season, if you didn’t call for your things by a reasonable length of time and we knew we would have to store things because of cold we3ather, they did have a sale and some of the products that were left on the shelves were sold in this fashion. There were a lot of people who came down especially for the bargain sale.
We also had a product that we canned of our own that could be sold, but again storage problems for the winter were somewhat of a problem. Sometimes we even had to move it into the basement of the house in order to keep it from freezing. Then labeling had to, of course, come along after this because we did sell to some of the stores, South Bend, Fort Wayne, local stores around that had contracts with us. Local farmers, of course, supplied us with corn and tomatoes for this sort of work. One of my boys made the comment, he said he always liked to go with granddad out to bite corn because this was his way of telling when corn was at the right milk stage so that it could be handled.
There were some interesting things – the women at the corn table, for instance, they had the most ornery and dirty job and if you’ve ever handled raw corn and you break the hull, the juice just flies. I’ve seen those women come up with that juice all over their faces and hands until they looked like they’d been in a plaster cast.
We had two serious accidents that I recall while I was there. One of them was the time when one of the steam hoses came off and Dad Weimer got a blast of hot steam across the side of his face and over one ear. If I recall right, I think he lost part of one ear in that deal. And the other one, I’m sorry to say I caused. I really can’t ell you too much about it, but to my dying day I’ll never forget. The corn was particularly bad – I went back to help at the corn table (the picking and cleaning of the corn) and just as I pulled my knife down another lady threw her hand up and I cut her some place along the side of her hand. Now we did carry ample insurance, of course, but you know, I don’t know that woman’s name, I don’t know how serious it was, I really don’t know very much about it, only that she was cared for. The family would never say anything and I don’t think any of the help ever would say anything to me – I was sort of ostracized, I felt – but I’ll never, never forget it. It was a tragedy as far as I was concerned.
Oh, we had a lot of foolish things happen, it was one jolly, big family for many people who came and worked for us for a long time. One of the other things I recall very vividly because it got Dad Weimer so much. At the very beginning we didn’t know whether we were going to be working a full day or just exactly what. We usually worked on the afternoons of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then we would start in whenever there was something in to can. One morning, one afternoon rather, I’ll say, quite a few things came in rather late, so we decided to have sort of a trial run in order to see how things were going to work out. One of the ladies, a Mrs. Hite who lived here in town, worked for us for a number of years, came down to see when the factory was going to start. She said, “Oh, I’ll stay and help this afternoon if you want me to.” Of course, we wanted her, she put on one of Mother Weimer’s smocks and dust caps – I always made Mother Weimer quite a few of those at the beginning of the season. She was leaning over the washing bench, washing some green beans, etc. and Dad Weimer hadn’t been in just then. He came up and said, “Oh, like a warhorse you can’t stay away from the fire,” threw his arm around her, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She turned around, looked at him and it was the wrong woman – it was the right smock but the wrong woman. Immediately, Dad Weimer had business at the back part of the factory where he stayed a good share of the day. That was one of the things that I remember and then I remember, too, that there was another time when a salesman came in and he said to one of the boys working at the desk, “I’d like to see your boss.” The kid looked up at him kind of strange-like and said, “Which one, him or her?” Some of those things you don’t just plain out forget.
Another thing I’ll have to tell you because it means a lot to me at least. At the time when Harry was taking out his work and was working at the Manhattan project, a great many of the young fellows from around town were also serving at various places, it was a little hard to get man help. Dad Weimer was so crippled up with rheumatism at the time that he could scarcely manage, so he would sit on a box, he would direct my ten and twelve year old sons to take the machines apart and bring the pieces to him to be inspected, cleaned and put back. While my sons grumbled a little bit, they are excellent with tools today, and I think they’re mighty thankful that grand-dad was able to teach them a lot about the use of tools. Dad Weimer died in 1945. This was a catastrophe as far as the factory was concerned. I happened to be working up at the cutters at that time. I was too short to reach the trough but Dad Weimer built a little platform for me to stand on. He came up to sharpen the tools in the evening and I noticed he didn’t look very comfortable and I said something to him and he said, “I’ve got an awful headache” and he didn’t seem to perk just right.
My health failed in 1948 and I had to have major surgery, the doctor told us later around Christmas that I could make a trip south where it was a little warmer. We started, Mother Weimer went along with us, and coming back we got to about Urbana when Harry said “There must have been a big fire around here. I smell smoke.” We came on a little farther and got about to where 13 and 114 cross and he said, “Oh my God, the factory’s gone because there’s a light from the kitchen window and we shouldn’t be able to see it.” We came back as fast as we could. That was our first announcement that the factory had burned. A lot of people said “Are you going to re-build?” Mother Weimer said no. She had fair insurance on the place, we think it was an electrical short that caused it. I guess there had been a big wind storm shortly before that and none of the family were in a position where they could carry on. Mabel and her family were almost too young, they were not able to take care of it. Paul had a good job down at Baton Rouge, didn’t want to give it up. Albert didn’t like the canning factory at any time and didn’t like anything that didn’t have wheels to run on. Harry said he would give up his teaching and help her, but Mother Weimer said no, she wouldn’t take that sacrifice from him. Our two boys had been accustomed to staying out of school for the first two weeks in the fall, they weren’t very anxious about it either, so Mother Weimer said definitely, “No, we aren’t going to open up the factory.” To tell you the honest truth, after thirty-six years I think Mother Weimer was quite tired and she had put in a full lifetime’s work. That, as far as I know, is the woman’s side, at least from the factory.
I asked Chuck Koller, since he’s one of the fellows who worked there as long as anybody, if maybe he had some things from the man’s side of view, if he would like to say a few words. “Chuck, do you have something to add?”
I sure do. Orpha covered so much and so well that I’d just like to make a few comments and not take too long. I worked for DuPont Company with a rather prestigious group involved in pioneering research and we had a lot of very innovative people there. I happened to be thrown in with a bunch of engineers once and struggled with them, and after a while my boss said, “Say, for an organic chemist you’re a pretty good engineer, where did you learn all that?” and I said, “Weimer’s Canning Factory.” It’s true, I didn’t learn much engineering there, but I learned to innovate and as Orpha indicated there, when the canning season was on things had to be done, and they had to be done right now. C.C., I’ll call Mr. Weimer C.C. because that’s what we all called him, first name was Cane and I always thought it was pretty neat, he never had a middle name, it was just initial C. and he was known to both of us as C.C.
Chuck Koller speaking – Just to illustrated that necessity is the mother of invention, I remember during the season everyone was busy and the silos were filling up, we had two of them, corn husts were thrown up and they were filling up pretty fast, almost faster than they could haul it away. They had to do something, so Paul and I were assigned to do something about this. We concocted a structure between these two silos and we thought it would be high enough that we could run the pick-up truck underneath and at the end of the day we let the ensilage fall into the pickup truck and haul it away. Well, we struggled with this thing for about a week and if any of you have ever tried nailing native lumber with spikes you know what I mean. You drive about three spikes before you get one to really go in and hold. Anyway, we were given the responsibility of doing this and no one paid any attention to us. We designed it, built it, were very proud of it, the truck went under very nicely and it worked the way it was supposed to. Well, it turned out about a month later there was something slipped, our engineering calculations must have been off, for the load was heavier than the structure could bear and one day the whole structure came down right on the pickup truck. I can still see that Dodge pickup truck with the cab squashed down even with the back on it – fortunately no one was in it. But, we did learn by doing and I think this is a real learning process. Mr. Weimer was a teacher also and he was an excellent teacher, he taught us many things.
Orpha referred to the junk pile out back, that was a spare parts pile because you can imagine when one of the corn huskers would break down, everything came to a grinding halt, and all bedlam broke loose until someone got it fixed. If it was a chain or sprocket everybody went out to the junk pile and grabbed another one and by ingenuity we’d get the thing back working.
We also had another thing sort of a sign of the times. Today Orpha referred to the fact that this place kept growing – every year there was always an expansion – getting bigger and bigger. As a fact of the matter, she neglected to mention, I think, that really in the late thirties, as I’ve tried to recall, we canned as many as 20,000 cans of corn in a day. Now that amounts to about a boxcar load of 1,000 cases of corn, and this got to be quite a sizable operation. In this expansion every year there was always a new addition. In fact, in those days when you put an addition on we were all instructed to do the structure work. Everyone liked everything except when you got to the end, you had to pour the concrete for the floor. Well, you didn’t call up W & W concrete truck in those days. The fact of the matter is, we didn’t have a concrete mixer, it was all manual labor. Now what you do is you pile on a piece of concrete flooring a load of gravel, then you would pour on there about four sacks of cement. Then about four or five of us would turn this over, we were the mixers. That wasn’t so bad until you put the water on and then you had to lift it into the wheelbarrow and haul it off and pour the new floor. We got a lot of exercise doing that.
The last thing I’d like to say is I can’t say enough for how concerned the Weimer family was for people. I recall that when I left for the service, Mr. Weimer wanted to give a present that I could use, had meaning, and he bought me my first slide rule. I think that he sort of pointed me in the way of a technical career and certainly his son, Harry, helped it along later on. Thank you.
Orpha Weimer speaking – There’s one other little joke I’ll have to tell. I mentioned that we didn’t have flies. Well, we didn’t because everything had to be sterilized. If you have ever handled corn or something sticky, you know it had to be washed and washed very thoroughly. The fact is, we had wire brushes that we had to d some of the machines with, then it had to be sterilized with live steam. That had to be done every evening – those concrete floors had to be scrubbed and washed, too. One of the college girls, a German girl, Sabina Heller, came down and she nearly always wore wooden shoes. My sons were so thoroughly enamored with that, Sabina would let them try on those wooden shoes. You know, it was one big happy family in a lot of ways.
A FRIENDLY HAND,
by Mrs. Harry R. Weimer
Mrs. Mary Hevel, a widow lady from out Servia way, had been cook and housekeeper for many years and was generally regarded as part of the family. But Mrs. Hevel was aging and her daughter was putting pressure on her to take life easier. Consequently, when she did finally resign, I fell heir to her job as cook during the summers.
There were several key workers at the cannery who always ate their noontime meal with the family and several young nephews who came to visit and work. I never knew if I might have ten or thirty at the table. No chair was ever allowed to cool off, someone was always waiting, ready to eat and then hurry back to work. My only requirement as a cook was plenty of food and fast service.
We began early, 7:00 o’clock at the factory, but there was a lot to be done beforehand. Two mornings a week I baked, mostly pies and cookies, and the other four days I shopped. I could buy pretty much whatever I wanted and wherever I wished except for the meat. Always the meat had to come from the Lautzenheiser Meat Market on the south side of Main Street. I wasn’t told about this until after I had offended once and even then I did not know why. In fact it was several summers later before Dad Weimer told me his story.
When the Weimer family first came to North Manchester just at the close of World War I, they bought several acres of land at the west end of Main Street, built a new home, and he had accepted a new job. Their third little daughter died. Times were hard for the grief-stricken family. Mr. Lautzenheiser, a very new acquaintance, in his own kindly manner, called on Mr. Weimer and extending his hand in sympathy, also extended credit at his store if it was needed; saying he believed in a helping hand and that God’s mercy would shelter them both.
As long as he lived, Dad Weimer declared a friendship like that should not and could not be broken by any of his family. Three generations have now kept this friendship alive.