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Littlestown

Adams County
Pennsylvania

Proprietor :
Peter (Kline) Little

(Kline is German - roughly translate to Little in English)

Town Laid out in 1765
One of the Oldest Towns in Adams County

Known as :
Kline Stedtle
Littles Town
Petersburg
- and finally Littlestown

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Littlestown Canning Company

 


Littlestown Canning Company
(Now the Hadco Lighting Company)

The Littlestown Canning Company began in 1921. The Original Owners were Gus Lippy, Milton King and M. N. Wehler. Mr. Wehler's sons, Loy and Melvin, took over some years later and eventually Melvin was in charge of the company. In 1955, Justus Dennere from Hampstead purchased the company and operated it for several years. Hadco Aluminum Lighting now occupys the building.

Forty five uniforms and a leaders outfit were donated to the Littlestown High School Band by the Littlestown Canning Company and were worn for the first time at the spring musical in May, 1946. they were given in appreciation of the help by the schools in harvesting crops during the war years. In 1944, when the company had an extra large quota of canned beans to fill on account of the hot weather, a late acreage was planted to make up the deficiency. That Fall the school cooperated, and boys and girls helped to pick and save the crop, about 75 acres of beans that otherwise would have been lost. With the students' help the crop was saved and the quota filled 100% for the Navy. Virtue was rewarded.

 

Loy and Melvin Wehler

Tomatoes are brought in baskets to the factory. Looking them over are James Wehler (Son of Melvin and Margaret Conover Wehler) and Walter "Bud" Myers, supervisor at the factory at the time the picture was taken.

(Above information and Pictures taken from the Littlestown Bicentenial Book)

 

Penrod - One of names used under the Littlestown Canning Company

 

Littlestown Canning Company as remembered by Richard R. Renner. Mr Renner lived in Littlestown from 1927 until 1945, when he graduated from Littlestown High School and became a member of the US Military Services. He is now a retired Professor living in Florida. For more on his story check out Historic Perspective of Littlestown Factories from 1930-45


This is a personal sketch of Littlestown’s industry when things were often different from what Littonians experience today. I have defined industry as those local businesses that produced goods for sale in out of town markets. I’m going to list some of the factories I remember as a kid in the 1930’s. Most memorable to me was the Littlestown Canning Company. It was operated by two of my neighbors on East King Street, Harry Koontz and Melvin Wehler Their company also owned smaller plants in Buckeystown, MD and Jersey Shore, PA

Its plant, on the east side of town, was situated parallel to the Pennsylvania Railroad.just east of the Littonian Shoe. In canning season I’d often see several box cars on its siding loaded with cans to be filled or with hundreds of boxes labeled and ready for shipment to points all along the east coast. When the corn wasn’t too tall in the lot below our house, we could see the cannery from our back porch. On busy summer nights, cans spinning along the closing machine tracks clinked and rattled until late at night until all that day’s crop was in the can. Although the road past our house was unpaved, it was heavily traveled; dozens of farm wagons and trucks loaded with fresh-picked vegetables chugged on their way to the factory. My dad regularly scattered used crankcase oil on the street to keep the dust down. Years later, it was named Renner Avenue.

When I was quite young, Littlestown Canning Company processed corn, peas, green and wax beans and peeled tomatoes. A decade later, in 1943, when I first signed on as a seasonal employee, corn had been dropped.

There were only about a dozen regular workers. The rest were seasonal, including a few teens, some mature older people, lots of part time housewives, and persons with special problems such as mental slowness but steady workers, and off and on again alcoholics and so on. No one was lazy. Charlie Eckert, the head foreman, was good at spotting them and they seldom lasted long. I should mention that during the entire period of this essay, I knew of only one American Negro in Littlestown, a female servant with a southern family who had moved into a large house on East King Street. So there were no Negro employees.

Sometimes a couple of dozen ladies skinned tomatoes, some worked only on our busy evenings after they got off jobs elsewhere or after dad had come home to care for the kids. Their payment was by the bucket and some skinners were very fast; at other seasons some of the ladies inspected beans as they came out of the nipping machines, sometimes they helped in the warehouse unpacking recently cooked cans from the large crates into boxes for later labeling Penrod was one of our brands.

Pay

I earned a straight 65 cents per hour; there were no special rates for overtime in agricultural industries. I actually earned pay for 96 hrs in one particular six-day week; in another busy situation I started off my morning forking pea vines into the shellers at 6 am, was switched to taking off hot cans from about 10 am until about 3:00 am and then continued on until 9 am steaming and washing down machinery. Of course, I had off an hour each for lunch and dinner so it was really only a 25-hour day.

Why me? My home was only a 5-minute walk from the factory. I was only 16 or 17. I was never absent, sick or late. I even had many meals at home. Nearly all my co-workers were less fortunate. Some lived a half- dozen miles away and had to share a ride often on a fellow worker’s schedule. And some had families to be nice to. My parents realized that I was hustling cash to pay for college and they understood.

War Prisoners

Since it was wartime, labor was in short supply. The Army sent us a batch of 25 German war prisoners with two soldiers as guards. According to the Geneva Convention, they were not allowed to work more than eight hours a day and were to be paid 10 cents an hour. These men worked diligently and intelligently. Mostly they were Luftwaffe officers who had been captured with Rommel’s Africa Korps. Some even spoke English and told me how glad they were to be able to save some money from their American work. The few I got to know seemed to be nice guys.

The following year our factory received two more batches of prisoners. The first were Germans, but in contrast to their predecessors, they seemed mostly indifferent, sloppy and lackadaisical. My guess is that most were from urban working class families and the fact that the Allies had been bombing the holy bejeebers out of their home cities for months didn’t help their morale much. Our last batch of troops were Italian. They were easygoing, relaxed, and not very focused on their task, which like that of all their predecessors, was simply to lift recently cooked one-pound cans of vegetables out of crates and pack them, unlabeled 24 to a box and then, turn the full unsealed box upside down (umgekehrt) for the stacker who built them into a pile about 10 feet high. The stacking was usually done by young Americans, often Jimmy Wehler, Ken Sell and myself.

Swimming

You could say I learned to swim in Littlestown Can. We boys used swim in Piney Creek about 1935, in a nice hole at best 4 feet deep with a splashing rope tied to a tree.. Leaches were sometimes a nuisance but they were more gross than harmful. (the same as kind were used by physicians trying to save George Washington’s life). Our best hole was located more or less directly south of the present swimming pool.

The cannery had a large cooling tank. I must guess at its dimensions but it was a semicircular tank about 5 or 6 feet wide and probably 65 feet long and about 10 feet deep. On the opposite side were the large steam cookers.. The tank might have held 15 or 18 crates cooling at one time. . A large steam crane moved the heavy crates from cookers to cooler and ultimately to warehouse carts for packing. Each cooker held three large round metal baskets containing possibly 300 cans each and once the product had been cooked long enough to destroy the bacteria that causes food to rot they were transferred promptly to the water tank. Why? Cooked food gets mushy if it cools slowly; no one wants mushy peas, edible though they may be, hence the cooling tank as a necessary part of canning.

What does this have to do with learning to swim? You must have guessed it!
Between crops, the cooling tank was cleaned and filled with about five feet of water and some of the owners’ kids and I climbed down the wooden ladder in a cool pool deep enough to force us to sink or swim. I swam!

There is a sad side to the cooling tank story that has nothing to do with swimming. I, and a couple of my more dedicated co-workers, had the task of cleaning it up. It took us a couple of days, One morning I walked past one of our famous (why famous—they didn’t fall over) ten foot stacks of boxed canned goods. A dark fluid was seeping out of one of the boxes. Soon, some of the boxes were beginning to swell and soon many cans were beginning to explode. The owner was called and we were soon unstacking the mess. Stinky rotting peas, worms, burst cans, evil drool, even a few late bursts. We shoveled it out into the trash.

What had happened? It’s important to remember that this happened while we were very busy canning. The man in charge of cooking and cooling was a serious person about age 60. He came in early in the morning to get his cookers ready (his steam came from a separate building to the west end of the main plant.) Then he was around until the last lot of the day was fully cooked and cooled. He was still around while I was helping Woody Ketterman clean up his closing machine area. He must have had many long days.
So what you say! What must have happened? In a state of awful weariness the cooker man must have mistakenly put three crates from our closing machines directly into the cooling tank without cooking them. Then they were packed and stacked and soon started their evil ooze and pop.

Hot Cans

This was the exciting aspect of canning and strenuous too. The “closing machine” filled each can and fastened its lid at the rate of 180 cans per minute Two agile boys wearing asbestos gloves were required to keep this from becoming a disaster since the machine never stopped except for breakdowns. It took considerable skill to pick up four hot cans at a time and pack them quickly into the iron cooking crates. Since the vegetables were blanched, the cans were too hot to touch. This job was tiring but always challenging.

One morning just before we started up for the day, I found stranded in a new empty can on the intake track by my shoulder a mouse and her new born. Minutes later they would have become a premium in some one’s can of peas. Not a good way to spend their birthday!

Few canneries operate like this nowadays. Some may remember Aunt Kitty’s top quality home style soups from Hanover—soups like our grannies used to make. Aunt Kitty’s backyard cannery was bought up by a large soup corporation; the unique quality of its products soon deteriorated and it closed down. Let’s hope that Littlestown industries enjoy a better fate.

Submitted June 2006