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Canning workers preserve memories

August 02, 1998

Cannery workers reuniteBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer [enlarge]




GREENCASTLE, Pa. - "Very few people in this town didn't work at the cannery," said Hazel Sellers, whose husband Wilbur was foreman at the former Greencastle Packing Co., from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s.

"I worked there and my seven children did, too," said Annie Lowans, 92. She said she was a cannery worker for 17 years until the plant closed in 1955.

"People were glad to get the work, especially during the Depression," said Richard Walck, 69. He worked in the North Washington Street plant from 1944 to 1946.

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Walck was among about 25 former cannery workers at a reunion Saturday at the Jerome R. King Playground. The reunions are part of Greencastle's triennial Old Home Week celebrations. The 1998 edition officially got under way Saturday morning and will run for a week.

The next reunion is set for the first day of the 2001 Old Home Week celebration. "I hope all of us are here," said Paul Bowders, 74, a farmer who said worked at the cannery "when they were desperate for help."

Wages ranged from 32 cents an hour to about 45 cents. The work went round the clock on two shifts. There was no overtime pay and children as young as 14 could get a job there, the workers said. "The work was long, sloppy and wet," Walck said.

"We started canning peas in May then went to green beans. Tomatoes were always a big crop and they used to bring carrots in in railroad cars," Hazel Sellers said.

Other foods canned were red beets, "mountains of apples for sauce," and red kidney beans, they said.

"In the early days we canned sweet corn," said Tucker Myers, 79, who worked there from 1930 to 1935.

The cannery contracted with area farmers to grow vegetables and also bought from outside suppliers.

The food was packed under the Green Pac label.

Walck remembers when there was a shortage of workers in 1944 and German prisoners of war from Gettysburg, Pa., were brought in to work. "They got along with everyone. We never had a problem, except once when one of them walked away. They found him downtown standing in front of E.L.M. Shoes looking in the window. They shipped him off somewhere. We never saw him again," he said.

Walck said he bought his first bicycle from money earned at the cannery. "I hitchhiked to Chambersburg, bought it and rode it home to Greencastle. I bought my first car from money I earned there, too, a 1928 Chevrolet. I wish I still had it."

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