POPCORNMAN RAY

 

In 1962, when first traveling US Route 7 in my 1929 Model “A” Ford Roadster, I saw my first Cretors Model “D” Popcorn Wagon in a shed behind the old Jennifer House in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A few miles further north another wagon was popping corn on Park Square, in front of the bank in Pittsfield, MA, where it had done so for decades. The image to the right is from a “chrome” postcard c1970s showing that iconic wagon. A lifetime fascination began. But the Model “D” is a very large machine, not practical to own.

 

In the summer of 1965, high school friends and I attended a “stock car race” in Darlington, South Carolina.  Outside of an “old country store” there I spotted a turn of the century Bartholomew “Boss on Wheels” Peanut Roaster. Made in Vineland, New Jersey, the peanut roaster is “fired” by kerosene.  I bought it, and arranged to have it shipped back to Connecticut.  I have had it since, mainly in storage. But used it often in the 1980s in parades and at school functions, dispensing Popcorn.  It is in my blood!!

 

Over the years I have seen a number of the Bartholomew machines. There are many different models and variations. Some machines have the roasted peanut warming, or holding area cabinet replaced with a popcorn unit. Below is my favorite photograph of such a modification.

You can see the peanut roaster on the left, and on the right is the set-up for Popcorn, replacing the peanut holding bin.  I saw this unit at the AACA Hersey Fall Meeting (the big annual car show in Hersey, Pennsylvania) in the early 1980s.  This image set my desire to do the same with my Batholomew machine, but I was still pining for a Cretors wagon.

I was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina from 1970-72. As my four year Navy obligation was about to end I was wondering what to do. Charleston was still “the South,”

Charleston, SC, City Market

but up and coming. The City Market attracted visitors, and had open air booths in the lower level. Throughout the 19th century, the market provided a place for farms and plantations to sell beef and produce. It was also a local gathering place. Ray thought, “why don’t I buy a reproduction Cretors wagon, and sell popcorn for a living at the market.” On November 3, 1970, WAGON POPCORN sent me all the information on their reproduction wagons. (click to enlarge my literature images)

But I came to my senses, and so the kids could eat (more than popcorn) I stayed in the Navy Supply Corps for a career. But, corn was still popping in my mind. One pop burst while taking the USS LUCE DDG-38 through overhaul in Philadelphia. I was renovating the mess decks and asked the Commanding Officer if I could install a popcorn machine to use during the movies shown there. He finally agreed, and I gave away extra salted popcorn resulting in a booming business at the soda machine. The Cretors company, in September 1977, provided me lots of information. I bought the counter top model on the left for the ship’s mess decks.

As you can see above, I save all the “important stuff.” Life moves along, and my “Boss on Wheels” moved from one storage space to another. Cathy and I married in 1995, and moved (along with the shop) to New Preston, Connecticut. About the same time eBay began, and it became fun looking for popcorn and peanut related items. I bought, and have on display many fine items. Then in January of 2001, a replica Cretors No. 2 Popcorn Wagon appeared on eBay.  It was in Indiana, and of course Cathy encouraged me to get what I had always wanted.  The auction ended, I had won, and Cathy said, “alright how do you get it home.”  I immediately called the friend of our neighbor whose husband had his own small trucking firm.  “You want him to get what and where,” she asked.  “I just talked to him, and he is about 50 miles east of there now, let me catch him and turn him around.”  And, my popcorn wagon was “home” two days later before my check even got to Indiana.

My reproduction Cretors No. 2 Popcorn Wagon was missing some appropriate pieces, but I knew who made the reproduction carts, and I got in touch with Bob Pearson, Pearson & Co. in Gardner, Kansas. About $1400 later Bob shipped me a new Roastie Toastie Clown, a perfect reproduction Cyrstalline sign for the side, new canopy and brass support poles, and new brass cast name plates for the top of the popper case

The plan was to have it ready for the small 4th of July parade in our little village of New Preston, Connecticut — but that did not happen, nor the next year, 2002, because we had begun our transition to New Hampshire.  The popcorn wagon was one of the first things moved to NH, but relegated to storage in the garage surrounded by boxes, and boxes of books.

Time gets away. But by May, 2014, it was now or never, and the plan to get “her” ready for Old Home Days. I pulled everything apart, cleaned, sanded, painted where necessary and installed new parts.

All my other wheels have names: BLACK BEAUTY, BLUE BELLE, LADY RAB, and GiGi, all somewhat descriptive names. My No. 2 Cretors needed a moniker too – it hit me – CORNELIA, and she made her debut for the street dance 27 June 2014 – A POPPING SUCCESS. Please note the same “costume” below (2014) as above in early 1980s.

It has now been over a year since CORNELIA last delighted the masses. Her popcorn is always free, and recipients are welcome to leave a donation that I then give to the local food shelves. As Old Home Day approaches again this year – 2020 – I vow to turn up the calliope music, and again pop away.

Wanting to get this page published, I did so 19 January 2020, and anticipate this to be a “work in progress.” I have lots of wonderful historic images to share, popcorn lore and stories. Included will be machines around the area that I have visited and photographed. So, please come visit again to see how it evolves.

From time to time I think it unfair to have wonderful treasures that are not utilized or shared enough. My unnamed “Boss on Wheels” has not been in the public eye for 40 years, and CORNELIA deserves more attention. I could be convinced to part with CORNELIA, Cretors Number 2 Sidewalk machine, and if I let her go I would then have someone turn my peanut wagon into CORNELIA II. Or, maybe someone would like to purchase my Bartholomew Peanut Wagon. I have numbers in mind – fair, reasonable, but not cheap.

Hurry back, more coming.

Getting back to this page during the COVID-19 Crisis, I found these images of postcards I sold on eBay in 2014. Hey, it is the image that is important, and I sold the Cretors wagon for $120 and the Popcorn Truck for $33. Real Photo Postcards do command a premium.

Hurry back – more coming – I have my popcorn box of ephemera to sort and share

MY FIRST UPDATE – not even an hour after posting one of my faithful readers emailed saying I had published this page on National Popcorn Day – yes, my uncanny sense of timing – and without knowing it.

NATIONAL POPCORN DAY

On January 19th, National Popcorn Day pops onto the scene with a crunch we all love to enjoy! The annual celebration recognizes a treat that satisfies munchies, day or night.

This time-honored snack can be sweet or savory, caramelized, buttered or plain, molded into a candied ball, or tossed with nuts and chocolate. However it is enjoyed, enjoy it on National Popcorn Day, January 19th.

The word “corn” in Old English meant “grain” or, more specifically, the most prominent grain grown in a region. As maize was the most common grain in early America, the word “corn” was aptly applied.

As early as the 16th century, the Aztec used popcorn in headdresses worn during ceremonies honoring Tlaloc, their god of maize and fertility. Early Spanish explorers were fascinated by the corn that burst into what looked like a white flower.

Popcorn started becoming popular in the United States in the middle 1800s. It wasn’t until Charles Cretors, a candy-store owner, developed a machine for popping corn with steam that the tasty treat became more abundantly poppable. By 1900 he had horse-drawn popcorn wagons going through the streets of Chicago.

At about the same time, Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses to popcorn to bring Cracker Jack to the world. Then in 1908, the national anthem of baseball was born. Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote Take Me out to the Ballgame. From that point onward, popcorn, specifically Cracker Jack, became forever married to the game.

At the Movies

Another romance connected to popcorn may have had a slow start but eventually took off. Today, who can imagine going to the movies without getting a box of buttered popcorn? While popcorn was an economical choice for a snack food, the expense of installing a machine and adequately venting the building didn’t seem worth the effort. If it weren’t for Glen W. Dickson, we would be purchasing our popcorn from a vendor on the street before taking in the show. Dickson put in the effort and expense of placing machines inside his theaters. After realizing how quickly he recouped his costs, other theater owners followed suit.

The microwave oven spurred the next big advancement for popcorn. With the invention of the microwave, a whole new market opened for the snack food. Magnetrons, a technology produced by Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation for the military during World War II, were later used to develop microwave ovens. Percy Spencer was the man who made it happen. He used popcorn in his initial experiments during the microwave’s development.

Today, Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popcorn a year, more than any other country in the world. A majority of the popcorn produced in the world is grown in the United States. Nebraska leads the corn belt in popcorn production.

HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalPopcornDay

National Day Calendar began on National Popcorn Day in 2014.  Pop your favorite popcorn and share a bowl with a friend. Take a photo and share it on social media using #NationalPopcornDay.

NATIONAL POPCORN DAY HISTORY

The a-maizing origins of this pop-ular day is mysteriously amiss. However, the day has been observed since at least 1988.