Tag Archives: 1960s

Rolling stores and locker plants

RollingStore1939TennesseeI tend to wait till my cats run out of food before I go grocery shopping. Of course, by then we’re nearly out of people food too and by the time I get everything checked off my list, my buggy is piled high.

Back at home I try to find a way to wedge more stuff into the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. Bags of broccoli, boxes of waffles, shrink-wrapped corn on the cob and trays of hamburger — try as I might they refuse to stack neatly. Oh well, maybe the air can circulate better if things aren’t too orderly.

I usually shop in the supermarket closest to home for convenience sake. I don’t have to drive too far, there’s a handy drug store, a gas station on the corner and even a Burger King in case I don’t want to cook some of that stuff I just bought.

I don’t have a separate food freezer in my condo, but I think about shopping for one every summer when all the fresh vegetables are on display at the Pee Dee Farmer’s Market.

When I was growing up, a farmer with a pickup truck came through our neighborhood every week or so. His truck bed was loaded down with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, butter beans in the hull or already shelled and bagged up. Wooden baskets were piled high with cabbages, string beans, yellow squash and ears of white or yellow corn, sometimes even peaches or watermelons.

It was nice to have such a selection to choose from, right there at our front door. Of course, we lived in town so if the farmer didn’t come by we could run right down to the A & P for what we needed.

Listening to Tim’s mom and other folks around town recount stories of their childhood days, I have a fresh appreciation of how easy we have it today.

Shopping wasn’t so convenient in the decade or so before I was born, and especially not out in the country. Many farm families had no automobile and some that did couldn’t afford to drive it.

Trips to town for the things the family didn’t grow or raise might be made in a mule-drawn wagon once every few months, and if you ran out of something, you might have to do without it for a while — unless the rolling store came through your “neck of the woods.”

The rolling store was a big truck with sides built up and a cover on top. Inside, two rows of tall shelves were loaded with staple goods of every kind, a narrow aisle running down the center just wide enough for one shopper at a time.

Cash was short, and not every family had ready spending money to pay for their purchases. So, large crates were attached to the back of the truck to hold live chickens, fresh eggs and newly churned butter, traded to the rolling store for sugar, salt or coffee, maybe dress fabric, smoking tobacco or penny candy.

From about 1947 until 1964, D. C. McFadden operated a rolling store in Williamsburg County, a large speaker mounted on top to let folks know he was coming.

A former bread truck, his store had a feature many others lacked — a cooler for soft drinks and ice cream. Tim’s dad Theron Cox had helped him install it and rigged up a power cord.

He’d leave the cooler plugged in overnight, thus as he made his route during the day the ice cream would stay frozen and the cold drinks would stay cold. It was a popular attraction for all the neighborhood kids to hear Mr. McFadden’s store coming!

Most meat and produce were consumed fresh, dried, canned or salted at that time. There wasn’t any other way to keep perishable food. Only large cities had “locker plants,” refrigerated buildings containing rows of individual meat lockers, rented (and locked up) by folks needing a place to store large quantities of meat or vegetables.

Many Pee Dee area homes still used ice boxes, and actual refrigerators had small freezer compartments, only big enough for an ice tray or two.

After WWII, Theron Cox began putting his refrigeration skills to work. Locker plants began to appear throughout lower South Carolina, and plant owners hired Theron to install the equipment to make them work.

Now a family could purchase a side of beef or bring in their own pork and poultry, rent one or more lockers by the month to freeze and store their meat until needed.

Families could have fresh-frozen meat and vegetables year round, although they might have to travel many miles to get to their locker.

As home deep freezers began to appear, gradually locker plants around the state began to close down. Supermarkets with adjacent locker plants began offering meat cutting services, sausage grinding, hickory smoking or sugar curing for hams in order to maintain their customer base. Jim’s IGA over in Lake City was one of those.

These days an ice cream truck comes through our neighborhood in the summer time. The musical melody that announces its presence brings back fond memories of popsicles and moo bars, vanilla ice cream cups and wooden spoons. But I’d love to see a rolling store come by my house, even if I don’t have any live chickens to trade.

Treasure City in the 1960’s

On-line is my favorite holiday shopping method these days.

Is it laziness to want to avoid the malls and big store crowds? Maybe so, but I no longer go from store to store looking for the right gift, or right size, or right color of anything. I let my fingers do the walking — not through the yellow pages, but through my computer keyboard.

There are lots of great buys on the internet these days, and from some of the same stores as at the mall. Except online they always have my favorite color, blue (blue jeans, blue shirts, blue towels, whatever).

In the late 1960’s I’d never heard of a credit card but most stores had layaway plans. For a few dollars down you could reserve holiday presents till a week or so before Christmas, when you hauled your goodies home and hid them under the bed or up in the attic.

Along the way you had to make regular payments, of course, or whatever you’d laid away would vanish back onto the store shelves. All in all it was very helpful to young couples with youngsters who expected Santa to bring the latest Mattel toys.

One year to help out with Christmas costs I took an extra part-time job. The Monday after Thanksgiving I left my regular secretarial work at quitting time and headed out to become a cashier at Treasure City on Highway 301 North. Today we take Wal-Mart and Lowes for granted but in those days Treasure City was unique. Like today’s big-box stores it featured every imaginable kind of department, plus a super snack bar.

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” played over the loudspeaker. Extra toys, bicycles and Christmas trees were everywhere, and so were the customers, driving in from all over the Pee Dee to take advantage of holiday specials.

To get the job as a money-handler I had to pass a lie-detector test. Unfortunately I flunked the test. The machine called me a liar on the date, the day of the week, my name, address, eye color, everything — but they hired me anyway. I guess they figured if I really lied about anything it would show up as the truth, so in a way they could still figure out the results.

I discovered a love of hot dogs at Treasure City. Every supper break found me at the snack bar munching on the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted. It had the normal weiner, bun, catsup and mustard, but they added heaping helpings of cole slaw, pickle relish, chopped onions and chili. Yummmm! A few breath mints for desert obliterated onion breath; after all, it’s not a real hot dog without onions!

That first afternoon I arrived a few minutes early, donned my blue smock and took over my register. By the end of the shift my feet were tired, my fingers were tired and my brain was tired. And I still had to total up all those dollar bills, fives and tens, plus coins. Cash and checks had to balance with the internal register tape, or else. Or else I had to make up the deficit, that is. It was okay if I wound up with a few cents over but never okay if I came up a few cents under.

One evening my register rang up about $75.00 short. It wasn’t exactly $75.00, it was something odd, like $74.37. Panic-stricken, I went back through every bill of every denomination, re-counted every check, totaled every nickel and dime.

I had resigned myself to having a short paycheck when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head. A man had purchased items in sporting goods, then brought some bluejeans to my check-out. He plunked everything down on the counter and began fumbling in his pocket. I had already rung up his fishing tackle and shotgun shells by the time he pulled out his receipt.

I should have voided the transaction and started over but with a long noisy line behind him, I simply subtracted that amount from his total and made a mental note to fix it later. My supervisor was very understanding; I wasn’t the first newbie to make that awful mistake.

It was nearly closing time one evening when a tired young woman with two cranky children pushed her loaded shopping cart my way. It contained a few toys but mostly warm winter clothes for the kids. I rung everything up and bagged the doll baby, fire truck, jackets and pants. When she handed me her check I flipped through a “bad check” list to be sure her name wasn’t on it — but it was.

She could tell from my expression that I couldn’t accept her check before I ever said the words “I’m sorry.” She silently grabbed the kids’ hands and walked toward the exit with tears running down her face. As her little girl asked “What about our stuff, mama?” my heart went out to her. I said a little prayer for her and the children as I cancelled the transaction and turned to the next customer.

That was my first and last season as a part-time holiday cashier at Treasure City. As my own children exclaimed over their new toys and winter clothes that Christmas morning, I thought again about that young mother and said another prayer.

Whenever I drive down 301 North and pass Treasure City, I still do.