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Interview with Samuel Bruce Wingate

Wingate, Samuel Bruce
Perzel, Edward
Date of Interview: 
Ice cream; Dairy industry; Early Charlotte; Railroads; Trains; Sealtest.
S. Bruce Wingate gives a look at early Charlotte's dairy farming and dairy industry. Having grown up on a dairy farm, Mr. Wingate naturally migrated to the ice cream industry. He provides rare insight into the early production and distribution of ice cream on rail cars through commercial refrigeration.
Interview Setting: 
Interview as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
Interview Audio: 
EP (Edward Perzel): Testing one, two, three
BS (Beth Sides): Testing one, two, three. Testing one, two, three.
EP: I want to comment on Beth Sides and what a wonderful student she is. Do you think you're a wonderful student Beth?
BS: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree I am a wonderful student.
EP: Not too quiet, but a wonderful student.
BS: And rightly deserving an A.
EP: Let's see. And your name is?
BW (Bruce Wingate): S. Bruce. S- B-R-U-C-E. S. Bruce. My first name is Samuel.
EP: S. Bruce.
BW: Wingate. W-I-N-G-A-T-E.
EP: And your address?
BW: 1509 Sterling Road. [pause]
EP: Want to give me your birth date?
BW: September 17, 1910.
EP: That was a good year.
BW: Yeah. That's right.
EP: And you are a male?
BW: Yep.
EP: And you're occupation was or is?
BW: I, I was with the in the dairy industry all my life. And I retired since four years ago.
EP: And what did you go through high school, college, professional school?
BW: No professional. No college. Just high school.
EP: You went through high school?
BW: Um-hum.
EP: OK, when we're finished we'll want you to sign this so they we can make use of this interview, you know, and let other people do it. OK. Why don't, you want to tell us about the dairy industry in Charlotte?
BW: Well let's call it ice cream because--.
EP: The ice cream industry.
BW: That was mostly what I worked in.
EP: What particular company were you--.
BW: I was with Sealtest. It was Champion-Saks when I went with it and became Southern Dairies and now its Sealtest and now its Kraft Incorporated.
EP: And what year did you start with them?
BW: My first year was 1928.
EP: 1928. That was a good time to have a job wasn't it?
BW: Yeah. If you didn't have one, you was in bad shape. Of course, I had a job on the farm, and it didn't make a difference.
EP: You grew up on a farm?
BW: Oh yeah, a dairy farm. Yeah.
EP: On a dairy farm?
BW: Yeah.
EP: And when you went to work for them in 1928 what kind of, what did you do for them?
BW: I was in the delivery. You did a little bit of everything then you know. You only had thirty-three employees. We did, we did a little bit of everything. I was primarily in the delivery end of it, sales and delivery end of it.
EP: What, what was the name of the company at that time?
BW: It was Champion-Saks, called the Velvet Kind.
EP: Where were they located?
BW: Located on West 5th Street
EP: On West 5th Street.
BW: West 5th Street.
EP: And did you have home delivery? Were you delivering at home?
BW: We delivered, delivered ice cream at home, yeah. Packed in salt, salt and ice.
EP: You delivered ice cream to the home?
BW: Yeah, on, on weekends particularly. Packed in ice and salt. There was no other conveyance. There was no other way to keep it cold. There's--
EP: In hot weather did it create a problem? Did it get squishy?
BW: Well, it just took more ice and salt that's all. [laughter]
EP: Well, how much, how much ice cream did you carry around at the time?
BW: Not a great deal compared with the volume today. Our largest truck that I used to work off of would only hold about a hundred and fifty gallons.
EP: A hundred and fifty gallons. In 1928 when you went to work for them were you working on a truck?
BW: Yeah.
EP: What kind of a truck was it?
BW: Well, it they had just gotten rid of the horse and wagon at this time, and they, they sold the horses and got rid of the horse drawn ( ). Tape is damaged for about two minutes. Very little is audible.
BW: The one I drove was a ( ). I remember it very well. Well it had a little covered wagon as far as a hood on it ( ) And then we had the green and white trucks with ( ) cab on them. Curtain on them for when it was raining, but they were more trouble than they were worth. If it was raining, you just got wet.
EP: ( ) roof?
BW: The roof was wood.
EP: ( ).
BW: ( ) would go over the bed kind of like a pick up today.
EP: Covered with ice and salt?
BW: Covered with ice and salt, and it was in metal cans. We didn't use paper back then. It was all metal cans. And we made then in 100 gallons and two and half, three gallons and five gallons.
EP: Bulk?
BW: We didn't have ( ).
BW: But prior to this, Breyer's started off to making ice cream in the Philadelphia. And Breyer's incidentally belongs to the company I work for today. And they had a big belts that ran on a wheel up there and a wheel on a churn. And they would pack this churn in there and with ice and salt and turn it until it froze. That's the way you make homemade and that was commercially done. That's how he started out.
EP: Well, how, how did they pack in the tins, by hand after that?
BW: In tins?
EP: To deliver it.
BW: Well, to deliver it, we took tubs, and we'd pack it the tub, ice and salt around the metal tin in the tub, and we would deliver it.
EP: In a gallon?
BW: In gallons. Well, mostly it was a gallon and half-gallon containers. Is what the home used. On Sunday morning, it was, everybody who was could afford it would order a gallon of ice cream for dinner for the family on Sunday.
EP: How much did it cost? Do you remember?
BW: I don't recall prices now. It wasn't real cheap back in those days, but it was nothing like what it is now.
EP: It was considered a real luxury?
BW: That's right. It was a luxury. And you had to, to we had people who ordered it every Sunday, just a regular thing.
EP: And where, where did you deliver? Do you remember your delivery route?
BW: I delivered to Dilworth mostly.
EP: Through Dilworth.
BW: Dilworth was brand new at that time. And I my deliveries on Sunday was in Dilworth. But I delivered all over the city. Now during the as to our delivery system, we used the trains for out of town delivery. We only had two trucks. Had three at the time I went there. Had a small truck and two big ones. And, the balance of the distribution was done by trains. There was thirty-five trains went through Charlotte every twenty four hours. And they would on weekends particularly we would pack these tubs in five gallons and so forth and take them over and put them on the baggage car. When the train came in we'd back up, up and put it on the car, and it would be delivered to the customer say in Laurinburg or in Lumberton or in Asheville or wherever this train was going along the way. And the ice cream was sold primarily in drug stores. Grocery stores wouldn't fool with it.
EP: The old soda fountains?
BW: Old soda fountains and they were packed with ice and salt and they did this themselves. In in those areas and they'd take it out of these tubs and put it in their fountain and do their own packing.
EP: Would you pack it on the train--.
BW: We'd pack it in these tubs, put it on the train and we usually lay a cloth or a bag or something across the top to keep if they fell over then the ice wouldn't fall out. And the trains would leave, I used to work, work all kind of shifts I'd work the night shift, and we would all during the night, every train that came in or was going out early morning, we'd have ice cream on their on Saturday and sometimes Sunday. And --
EP: How long was it good for packed like that? How long would it keep?
BW: Oh, good part of a day. Good part of a day. Of course, soon as it arrived, if it was going to Lumberton, for instance, it would have to be repacked right away. It would because would begin to get soft by that time. And, and so the merchants, the drugstores would have this little carts they rolled up to the baggage car, and they'd throw the mail off and things and roll this tub off on his wagon. He'd take his wagon, and if you remember drugstores are build up had high porches on them in those days, and they'd push the wagon up to the porch and they'd roll it off on the porch and dip cones of ice cream right on their porch of their drugstore. And that was the way to get a hold of ice cream. And that was the only way.
EP: Where did you go to buy ice cream in Charlotte in those days?
BW: Drug stores located primarily in the down town area.
EP: Do you remember any of them?
BW: Oh yes. Yes. Scott Drug was one of them. Tryon Drug was one. Tryon Cut Rate Pharmacy was one and lasted for many years. And Stowe Drug on the square. And we served all of them. I remember very well. ( ) Williams was the sandwich shop, and we served them. They had a soda fountain, and we would--.
EP: Where was that?
BW: It was down there right by the Imperial Theatre where the theatre is now. Ice and Williams sandwich shop, twenty four hours stayed open. And you'd be surprised, I don't know how we'd do it today, but in order to sell drugs, a drug store had to stay open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to fill prescriptions. I don't know how we'd get by with it now. You won't find a drug store open.
EP: Make it through the night.
BW: Yeah. ( ).
EP: Tell us where your company was on 5th Street?
BW: We were right at the railroad.
EP: Right at the railroad?
BW: Right by the railroad.
EP: So the old Southern station was over on Trade Street.
BW: That's right.
EP: Not too far from it? Do you remember that station?
BW: Oh yeah.
EP: A real ornate station.
BW: Many a times I unloaded and loaded out ice cream various other things would come in on this on this train.
EP: That was a real busy station.
BW: Yep. Yep. We would hear the, hear the train blowing his whistle and we would start up the trucks. We knew that we had deliveries going on that train. It took us about two minutes to get over there. And when that train pulled in we backed right up to the car and loaded our wares right on it. And of course, the tubs had to be sent back to. And so the tubs were, were on these trains and the guy running the baggage room he, he couldn't get off so you had to back up there and get your tubs and pull them off. And the customer had to take the ice cream off when the train got to his store.
EP: How long did you work in that, that in the delivery end?
BW: Oh, 'til about, for about eight or nine years.
EP: Eight or nine years. Did your, did your business fall off considerably during the depression? Did much change?
BW: No, not necessarily, not necessarily. Our business it was an area of being able to get supplies, you know. Cream we had to have shipped in. We didn't have, there wasn't enough cream produced on the farms to make the ice cream so we had to, had to have shipped in. A lot of it from Delaware, Washington state, area around Washington DC and so forth. There were dairies there that had cream that they could ship us, and they shipped them on these lumber cars and iced, were iced down with ice and salt.
EP: How did you happen go into that business?
BW: Well, I was--.
EP: You were eighteen years old?
BW: I was raised on a dairy farm. And I used to deliver milk with a horse dra--, with a horse and buggy up until this time on my Dad's dairy farm. So I've been in actually in dairy business all my life. We didn't know of anything else.
EP: Where, where was your dairy farm?
BW: It was out at Steele Creek?
EP: Steele Creek area?
BW: You know where the Carolina Golf course is? That's part of my dad's farm.
EP: How big a farm was it?
BW: Oh, we had about eighty acres.
EP: About eighty acres.
BW: Yes, around that. Oh, I guess we had around twenty-five, thirty cow. A milking herd. And we churned buttermilk, made butter, delivered our own milk every morning to the customers. There was over, at that time there was a hundred individual independent dairies delivering milk in the city of Charlotte.
EP: Over a hundred?
BW: Over a hundred.
EP: How many would you say there are today?
BW: Not over sixty.
EP: What was the name of your, your dad's dairy farm? Did it have a particular name?
BW: Oh, no we didn't have a name. Just country boys trying to make a living.
EP: You weren't into big things with milk bottles with your name on it or anything?
BW: No, no, we just bought bottles and everything was in glass then and it had to be to be in glass and capped. Nothing like what it is today. We sold mostly processed, what we mean by that, is buttermilk, butter and so forth.
EP: Did you have to pasteurize your milk at that time?
BW: No. No. Pasteurization laws came into effect much later than this period I was thinking about. Long about 1935 or 6 somewhere in there they had a compulsary pasteurization law. Everything they sold had to be pasteurized. That meant a lot of producer dairies had to go out of business because you couldn't ( ).
EP: What--, I forgot what I was going to ask you.
BW: The largest container we had to put milk in was a quart. That, that was the largest container we had.
EP: Did you, did you not deliver milk in cans at all to people? I can remember five gallon cans sometimes.
BW: Yeah, yeah. I didn't have any customers that large. Most of ours were quarts. And buttermilk we, we would deliver buttermilk and pour it into their own containers. They would come out with a bottle or a can or a vessel of some sort, and we'd drain it out of our ten gallon can, which we had spickets on them and, and put them into the their container.
EP: How large of an area did you on your dairy farm serve out there?
BW: We served part of the western part of Charlotte didn't even go as far as the square. We were, we were small and didn't take, didn't take long to get a, what we had delivered and with this horse and wagon. I don't know how many gallons we had. Twenty or thirty gallons is all we had. And I used to be able to deliver it and then come home and go to school by 7:30.
EP: Tell me, tell me, what a typical day was like for you as you grew up on this farm?
BW: Well we'd get up at 4:00 o'clock. And if it's--.
EP: Four o'clock.
BW: Four o'clock. If it's wintertime, we built a fire. Then we went to the, to the milking barn and we milked. By that time, it was getting somewhere close to daylight. I had a little breakfast and jumped in the wagon. Hooked up the horse and buggy. And I would make the deliveries a lot of times. Come back and then walked to school, four miles, at 7:30. Usually it took about that time if the horse was willing to trot along pretty fast. 'Cause you see we weren't too far out of town about four miles. And we'd get the deliveries made, then I'd go to school, and come home in the afternoon and then it was milking time again by the time we got home and and got--.
EP: About what time were you getting home from school?
BW: Four or four thirty.
EP: Four or four thirty. ( ).
BW: You had to walk it you know. If you got out of school at three, it'd take you an hour to walk home.
EP: Did you milk once a day?
BW: Twice a day.
EP: Evening and the morning.
BW: Yep.
EP: And what, what milk do you deliver? Do you deliver the milk that you milked--.
BW: Back in those days, when we didn't have refrigeration except on a limited basis, we cooled the milk. We would we would deliver the milk we milked that night the next morning. And the other, other milking we would make buttermilk out of it. You know it had to ferment anyway.
EP: What else do you want to tell me about that early ice cream? That's very interesting.
BW: Well, it, it, it was to me. I was with a company on the delivery end of business for a number of years. Like I said I made I worked forty-four years with the company. Finally the last eighteen years, I worked as district manager. Covering all of South Carolina and part of North Carolina. And I sort of watched the business grow up or grow big and along with it in those early years three delivery trucks plus the trains was all the ice cream we could deliver. And we couldn't have made anymore anyway.
EP: How much were you making a day do you think?
BW: I don't--.
EP: In terms of ice cream?
BW: I don't remember right now. I guess maybe if it was five hundred to a thousand gallons would be the, would be the outside.
EP: How much would you say they make today at Sealtest Plant?
BW: I, I sort of forgotten all the figures now since I've been gone for quite some time. But those batch freezers there, we'd turn out ten to twenty thousand gallons a day.
EP: Is that right?
BW: Depends on, some of these plants are right huge you know and they have these process freezers. And you put mix in this end and comes out ice cream on this end. And run all day. It's like--.
EP: What tell me, you said when you got into this ice cream was only for the people who really could afford it. It was a real luxury. It wasn't like everybody had a lot of ice cream. When did that happen that, that people in general could buy ice cream?
BW: Well, I don't, I don't know the years. I know that I came back from the service, I had three years in the service, when I am back in '45. And there was still not any ice cream being sold in, in the grocery stores. In 1945.
EP: Is that right? 1945?
BW: I know I tried to get, I tried to get several stores to take a cabinet and put it in there. But you see the general, the electric cabinets begin to come in into being along about 1935. Frigidaire put out a cabinet that would hold ice cream, built, designed especially designed for ice cream. It was electric that you plug it in. Then things began to change then. Our delivery trucks at one time were also ice and salted packed bunkers, then later on it became dry ice and now they're all electric. Used to do them with ammonia by pumping ammonia into cylinders in the truck that hold it. Then, then later on it became the electric that you know today. And they can go over the road today. They can go a thousand miles if necessary, and they are driving and delivering. They're making ice cream here that they sell in Miami and New Orleans.
EP: The change probably came when they started pre-packing it rather than hand packing ice cream? Grocery stores couldn't sell ice cream if it was hand packed. They had to go--.
BW: No, no they didn't dare fool with it.
EP: You know when--.
BW: We had we was begin to making it in pints then and then we made Dixie cups. We made I remember when we sold the first Popsicle on a stick. It was a riot almost in Charlotte. Everybody was wanting a Popsicle on a stick. And we couldn't, we couldn't nearly supply the stores with--.
EP: You have any idea when that started?
BW: It had to be about '32.
EP: About 1932.
BW: Yeah. Yeah somewhere in there.
EP: What about Dixie cups? When--.
BW: They came a little bit ahead of the Popsicle. A little bit little bit ahead of the Dixie cup people. You see we were not using cups. We were not using paper in any form at that time except to, except to put over slabs and so forth. And that was being done.
EP: This has been very fascinating. You got any more notes there that we didn't cover. I don't want to spoil it.
BW: I said enough I think.
EP: All right. [pause]
BW: Let's see. [long pause]
UN (Unknown Speaker): Bruce, you're making history.
BW: Yes, sir, John. Yes, sir. No, there's one interesting story that I'll tell as a finish. We were trying to improve our ice cream delivery situation. And we had a bunch of young salesman and we got them together, and they began to talk about what they were going to do. I had this little fella from Baltimore. He was on our sales force in Florence, South Carolina. And I was there on my routine checks with the ( ). And he said, "You know I got a fantastic story I want to tell you. I, I just can't believe it." He was over in Laurinburg the other day and he said I introduced this new plan we have. We're going to put in another cabinet and we're going to be able to serve you twice a week or or cut down on the three day a week delivery from twice and give you a better service and everything. And he said, the doctor sat there, we call them druggist you know, sat there and listened very attentively and he said, "Listen fella," he said, "You're not improving the situation," he said. "I can remember back in 1928, 29, that I could get ice cream delivered to my store seven days a week [laughter] at 10:30 in the morning." And he says, "You know, I knew the guy had to be lying." But he says, "Was this so?" And I said, "Yeah." I said, "His father, Dr. Erlington, used to the call the order in. Closed the drug store at 7:30 at night and the phone would ring and he'd say, 'Put me on five vanilla and five chocolate and five strawberry in the morning.' And hang up." That was his call, and I said, "He could do that seven days a week." And at 10:30 when that train rolled into Laurinburg, he had his ice cream on it.
EP: [laughter]
BW: Well, he said, "I can't believe it. I'll ju--, I'll go back and apologize to him because I thought he was lying." [laughter]
EP: Well, I thank you. I enjoyed talking to you immensely. .