Bruce Summers, SummooseTales, Inc. is a member of the Association of Personal Historians
The Holidays and the start of the new year are a great time to do some exploring or cleaning out… a few recent basement finds – I took a quick look through my parent’s basement during December and the holidays, I found…
- An old piano (out of tune) that we bought for something like $5 from the old New Freedom Elementary School (we had to take the frame off the door and the lid and wheels off the piano, then used the muscle of 5 strong teenage boys and my dad to muscle this piano down the steep outside cellar steps into the basement – it may never come out)
- My grandmother’s sewing kit, a floor mat from my parents for boat – Summers’ Dream, a wicker basket that held toys for children and grandchildren
- A mystery box with correspondence from the 1880s from my great-grandfather (will need to explore that one in more depth)
- My father’s slides from his time as a second Lt. on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War… (I did a voice recording of his narration as we looked through the first three trays of these slides)
A Superfine picture of a can of Limagrands (my family was in the vegetable canning business for 118 years) – See Summers 100 Years
- The wooden wine glass holder that I made for my dad 40 years ago to attach under the basement steps (hmmm… I might need to borrow that for my own home). My dad is still using the same electric belt-sander that I used to make the wine glass holder. It is sitting in the same spot in the basement since we moved in – in 1966 (I remember using this on dozens of school project and to make my own Cricket Bat when I came back from the Peace Corps in 1984).
- Not in the attic but in my dad’s filing cabinet was the original pencil drawn diagram of the Prisoner of War Camp used to house German Prisoners in Stewartstown, PA during World War II… but that’s another story.
I encourage you to checkout what’s in your basement or your parents’ or grandparents’ basement or attic or that bottom desk drawer, then ask them about and record the stories connected to these items and related memories, you’ll be glad you did. (Hmmm… I guess I should call my dad and ask him why he keeps a toy fire engine by the belt grinder)?
This is a second in a series of blogs about basement finds, earlier I wrote… There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…
- I recently recorded a few updates to this mouse story. My mom shared… An exterminator or similar service provider was checking our basement, this was perhaps around 1960 or 61 and said… “Did you know you had a rat in your basement?” Well this was enough for her to promote my older brother to head of the Summers Laundry as a 5 or 6-year-old since the washer and dryer were in basement. I also received a promotion to head of canned vegetable procurement as my mom now trusted me as a 4 or 5-year-old to go down to the basement to bring up canned vegetables for dinner. This was in our home on Singer Road. Note: I recently rediscovered one of the old wooden bar stools from one of my parent’s former houses, I can just about picture my Mom perched high on top of this stool waiting for my Dad to come home to address a mouse or rat issue.
- A bit of back story… My mom explained that our first home on Third Street in New Freedom, PA also had a significant mouse problem… though possibly no rats. My dad’s first cousin had a large black walnut tree and of course black walnuts benefit greatly from being given a few months to dry out before opening. My dad, having been married just a few years, thought that the attic would be a perfect place to dry black walnuts. Well, evidently the field mice, or perhaps they were regular house mice or more specialized walnut mice fairly quickly decided that my father was not really keeping up with his chores, since he was busy with the peak season for vegetable canning at the Summers Canning Factory, so they volunteered to turn the walnuts over each night, while my parents were trying to sleep. My mom was less than pleased to hear the walnuts rolling around in the attic. I was an infant and my older brother was just 2 or 3 at the time, we were not really bothered, I heard on the radio today that “white noise” such as this might even be calming, perhaps I found it soothing as I was taking my many naps during the day and sleeping through the night, though I admit I have no memory of the rolling walnuts. My mother was even less pleased that the mice sometimes got lost on their way to and from the attic and found their way into the interior of the house, this prompting a call to my father. He on the other hand is very proud of the fact that he trapped a record 23 mice in that house in one year. Long story short – my mom perhaps earned her phobia of mice honestly during her first 5 or 6 years of marriage.
The following is excerpted from a 1965 pamphlet celebrating the first one hundred years of the Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Company…
Thomas Mann, the author, said “Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” Here in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, a new century is beginning for all of us who are the Summers Company, and as the mortals most directly concerned we feel entitled to ring a few bells and fire a pistol shot or two in celebration. We feel fortunate in having our 100-year milestone. From its top we gain perspective on the path we have followed, and perhaps will find a guidepost to our 200th year. Down to earth again, we face the right direction, proud of our past, confident of our future.
It all began 100 years ago when young Charles Green Summers, only 19, went into partnership with his uncle, Thomas B. Summers, at Jessup, Maryland. The canning business was young in America — just beginning to break out of the do-it-yourself-in-the-kitchen operation and to emerge as a fledgling industry. It was an age both of free enterprise and of family participation in business; and since then the Summers name in the canning of quality vegetable has exemplified these characteristics fully.
It is perhaps unique in American business generally and in canning particularly that the heads of the firm for 100 years have borne the name of its founder. It is all the more remarkable that each has actively worked at the job day by day… a tradition contrary to that of the absentee owner.
Progress is Movement
Headquarters of the firm moved from Jessup in 1873 to Baltimore where it remained for half a century. In 1923, as was the case in 1873, the growing pains of the firm demanded more space and a more strategic location; and the final move to New Freedom, Pennsylvania, was made.
For some years after each re-location of Summers’ headquarters, operations were also maintained in the prior location. In 1932, all operations were concentrated at New Freedom, and remain so today.
Here within 25 miles of the Summers’ plant are the thousands of acres of rich farmland — some owned, some leased and farmed, some contracted for — from which come the field-fresh vegetables for canning.
Firmly settled at New Freedom, Charles G. Summers, Jr., Incorporated, began to make important strides forward; but not without first meeting a serious set-back. It was the “ill wind that bloweth no man to good” — a fire that destroyed the main plant. Out of the ashes, however, began an era of building, of expansion and improvement that has not stopped since. The main plant was rebuilt in 1932-1933; new warehouses were built in 1939 and 1941; and three more in 1953, 1957 and 1964. A new equipment repair shop came along in 1946 and a new office building in 1948, followed a year later by another processing plant.
All this expansion gives Summers today 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space and more than 100,000 square feet of storage facilities — all covering an area of 10 acres.
From this center of operations in Summers’ 100th year were shipped over one and a quarter million cases of canned products, or 15 cases shipped in 1964 for every single case shipped in 1933! This increase in quantity over the years has been paralleled by the quality of Summers’ products… always a primary concern of management.
The Good Earth Yields Its Wealth
It has always been Summers philosophy that the earth yields its benefits only in proportion to what is put into it. Since the Company’s aim and purpose is to produce the highest quality of vegetables for canning, it has always paid close attention to building soils of high fertility and canning its crops at the peak of freshness. Thus, the 4500 acres surrounding the plant at New Freedom that are leased by the Company are farmed by Summers’ men under rigid controls of good agriculture; and the crops from the other 1500 acres farmed by individual owners on contract are purchased not by run-of-the-field standards but by grade only.
From the richly yielding fields to the most modern of canning equipment at the plant is but a matter of minutes… and crop after crop find its way quickly and expertly into Summers’ Superfine-labeled containers. On the way, they must pass the watchful eye of the United States Department of Agriculture’s own “Inspector-in-Residence”… an on-the-spot inspecting system first begun at New Freedom long ago in 1946. Is it any wonder that the Summers reputation for quality canned products is as high as experience is long?
A Summers Pledge
As proud as we are of our products, we are no less proud of our long relationships with people who make our success possible. We cherish the thought that one of our workers, John F. Heck, stayed with us for 71 years; we cherish the thought that among the 45 brokers who handle our label one has worked with us for 52 years and one-third for more than 25 years! We are grateful for their loyalty, and as we enter our second 100 years, we pledge them our continuing friendship, and offer them our resolution to maintain in the future the same high standards we have lived by in the past.
Thomas S. Summer, Jr. succeeded his mother Caroline S. Summers as president of the company in the 1960s working closely with his brother Dwight Summers, most of their children also worked for Summers Canning in the 1970s or early 1980s. The Summers Canning Company provided a first, second or sometimes a lifetime job of hundreds of local youth. During World War II Thomas S. Summers, Jr. worked side-by-side with German Prisoners of War, but that is another story. The company was sold to Hanover Foods in 1984. The Superfine Brand can still be seen on store shelves today.
It was great to have my son home a few days from college. We met up with him in my home town of New Freedom, PA. He was over visiting with his cousins, but came back to my parents’ house to throw the Frisbee with me, his cousin, and his sister in my parents’ back yard. Lots of room, but we did have to call out the occasional warning to look out for the volleyball poles. He had chatted the day before with his grandfather while catching a ride from the bus station in Harrisburg, PA. When he saw me he shared, “Pop Pop was telling me about his time at the McDonough School, you need to record that story?”
This reminded me of course to check and see if my trusty digital voice recorder was in my pocket. Recording Personal and Family Histories is now pretty well expected whenever I see my parents. Sure enough on Friday at lunch I did have a chance to capture a few stories from my Dad and got a copy of the small booklet that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Charles G. Summers, Jr. – family vegetable canning business going back five generations.
I recorded about 30 minutes of stories with my Mom. I found out about the older girl that lived with her family for a few years and who taught her to dance. Perhaps more important I recorded new material about my Mom and mice. There was much more to the history than I knew before with several new wrinkles, but that’s a different blog.
We gathered on Thanksgiving afternoon at my brother’s house, my Mom made a ham, my sister-in-law made a turkey, my kids learned they liked creamed corn casserole, this after my Mom worried much of the afternoon about whether she had messed up the recipe, since she was “distracted” by everyone chatting and sharing stories in the kitchen while she was trying to cook. I also thought it was delicious.
There were 14 of us for Thanksgiving Dinner; we prepared a cheese tray for nibbling while we chatting in the kitchen for the hour and half leading up to dinner. We also had to bring the Wurzelbrot Bread from the Swiss Bakery near our home and our special Cranberry Salsa.
There were mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, and a rice based stuffing. I was invited to help make the gravy, I am not sure how I earned the privilege, though I vague remember making gravy at an earlier multigenerational Thanksgiving gathering. It came out well, so I guess their trust was justified.
My Dad said a Thanksgiving blessing then we all took our plates and circle to buffet spread and sat down to eat. The six “kids” at their table in the kitchen and the older adults in the dining room. The flavors and textures were delicious, but each of us realized about a third of the way through our plate that we had selected just a bit too much. Perhaps it was the cheese, perhaps the plates were a bit large, or perhaps our eyes – as usual on Thanksgiving Day – were just a bit larger than our stomachs.
Conversation was great; after we were done we all chipped in to help clean up the mounds of dishes and pots and pans – many hands made light work. We had a brief pause for conversation – yes I admit my eyes might have closed a few times.
My brother’s family are rabid Baltimore Ravens fans – so much of the rest of evening was spent watching another epic Football battle between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, this made even more interesting since my son goes to college in Pittsburgh and now has divided loyalties between the Ravens and Pittsburgh. The game was still in contention until the last minute when Pittsburgh could not complete the pass for the two point conversion.
The next morning my wife and I went for our usual long walk through the farms, woods, and then crossed the Mason Dixon Line to stroll up through the town on the Rail Trail. We heard the train whistle in the distance for the new “Steam Into History” passenger train. I paused briefly to take a few pictures of the Murals on the former Charles G. Summers, Jr. Vegetable Canning Business (our family business for 119 years).
We returned home later in the day for a few more days filled with baking cookies, a quick visit for my son to “Bob’s Barber Shop” to see what they could do with 3 months of college grown hair, seeing a movie with cousins on the other side of the family, my daughter finished up a college application. My son had his 10 hours of board games with friends, and then it was a few hours of sleep. He and I got up at 5:30 so he could catch the bus back to college, another half dozen activities after my son left – an hour nap – helping set up for the Advent Fun Shop at our church, baking more cookies, and a bit of Personal History interviewing and Thanksgiving Weekend came to a close. A busy, family and fun filled four days of Thanksgiving.