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On farmers’ markets and basket carriers

Jean Fix shared this photo of her mother, Anna Oberdick Myers, taken in about 1943 as she was leaving Farmers’ Market in York. Jean wrote, ‘I’ll bet that bag contained poppy seed rolls as they went with our weekly Farmers Market supper. With the rolls, would be ham, cole slaw, potato salad and sugar cakes for dessert. What a nice memory!’

For the last few weeks, we’ve been jumping around to a variety of topics, sharing odds and ends of memories of former York County businesses, restaurants and more.

Today, I’d like to focus on just one topic, and it’s one that I’m particularly fond of – farmers’ markets!

I had a letter some time ago from Eugene Bowman of Springettsbury Township.

Eugene Bowman

Eugene wrote, “In 1946, I was one of nine children – later to be 12. My mother, Mary Hoff, went to Central Market every Saturday, and I would carry her basket. We walked there and back from Chestnut Street by the old jailhouse. I noticed there were boys carrying baskets for ladies and getting tips. I told my mom, ‘I could do that.’ So one Saturday I went down and stood with a group of other boys and ladies would come and pick out a boy to carry their basket. We would walk from stand to stand as they bought their food. It usually took about 1 hour then we would carry the basket to their car or if no car, we walked them all the way home, which was only a three to six block walk. Usually the tip was about 25 cents. The market was always packed with ladies shopping. Some boys had regular ladies who used them every week, and some had Red Rider wagons and could have 3 to 4 baskets and bags. I think at day’s end I made maybe a dollar. I was the new kid, but that was a lot to a kid whose parents couldn’t really afford to give him but 25 cents each week, 20 cents for a movie and 5 cents for a candy bar.”

Eugene continued, “I did this for six years and eventually got regular customers who asked for me each week, and if they were coming on a Tuesday or Thursday, they would tell me to meet them, which I always did. I eventually got a red wagon. People would always ask you, ‘How much do you charge?’ My answer what was my mother told me to say, ‘Whatever you want to pay.’ It was usually 25 cents and later years it was $1. I would make about $10 on a Saturday. With this money I could go to the dentist, which my family couldn’t afford, and buy my own clothing instead of hand-me-downs.”

Then he wrote, “My worst experience was a lady I told to pay me what you want – bad mistake. She loaded my wagon and we walked about 15 blocks to the 1000 block of East King Street and I think, boy I’m doing a great job for her and I know this will be $1. I helped her take all the food into her home and she turned to me and gave me a dime. I couldn’t believe it. I was so hurt I cried all the way back to the market (about age 11).”

“You got to know all the owners of the market stores,” Eugene wrote. “Owners Art and Paulene Knaub of Knaub’s Cakes knew I was poor and would give me a free leftover cake to take home to my family – what a nice treat that was for us. They asked me if I would like to come in early Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and help them unload all their cakes from the truck to take them to their stand, then go to school. And after school, I would come down and load all the empty trays back into the truck. Their son Ronny and I became good friends and I would come to their home in Spry and help to mix and bake cakes, staying the weekend, learning to ride horses together. I also started to do the same job for Junior and Flo Myers each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, in and out for their food stand. They later opened a restaurant stand on the Beaver Street side of the market and I would help clean dishes from tables and sometimes even wait on customers.”

Then, he continued, “On Saturdays, I still had my regular customers who I still carried their baskets. At Christmas time I always got big tips. I was earning $15 to $20 a week, a lot of money for a 15-year-old. At age 15, I then left Central Market and got a full-time job after school. But I never forgot my friends at Central Market. They were part of my family.”

He concluded, “When my three children, Jon, Parke and Phillip, were growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, my wife, Gloria, and I would take them to Central Market to meet some of my friends, enjoying a Fred Henry ham and cheese sandwich. Delores and Joy from Gus Orchards loved them and always had an apple for them. These days from time to time I drive by or stop in to Central Market and think of how much my life has changed for the better because I was a basket boy.”

Eugene, thank you so much for sharing that story with us! I, too, had my first jobs at a York market, working for my parents at first Mom’s Kitchen then Joan’s Candy Corner at the Market & Penn Farmers’ Market. I, too, was entrepreneurial and would often try to make some side money by helping other vendors. (At one point I had a subscription service where I would create custom word-find puzzles, one a week, for a lovely retired teacher named June Keeney, who sold produce and, I think, wanted to encourage me to use my brain!)

Reading Eugene’s letter was a nice chance for me to remember that. I often wish my 16-year-old daughter could have the same kinds of experiences I did as a kid at market. Eugene, thanks so much for sharing!

Have questions or memories to share? Email me at or write to Ask Joan, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 1891 Loucks Road, York PA 17408. We cannot accept any phone calls with questions or information.