Have you heard that the latest shopping craze is ordering groceries on your computer and then driving to the store to have them loaded in your car? It sounds convenient, but not nearly as exciting as one of my favorite food-related memories: Seeing a light brown van pulling into the driveway of my childhood home. I’m talking about Charles Chips, and no matter what we kids were getting into, we’d drop everything when “Mr. Charlie” stopped at our house.
The driver wasn’t really named Charlie; in fact, there never was a Charlie or Charles associated with that potato chip company. It was Effie Musser, who, back in 1942, perfected the brand in her Pennsylvania kitchen. Effie sold chips at a local farmers market and their tasty quality hit big. They were picked up by a Baltimore distributor who packed them in tin cans, calling them Charles Chips after the Charles Street of his hometown. Unable to make a profit, the distributor sold his assets back to Effie, who kept the name and expanded her service area until it finally reached Fulton. We baby boomers were ready, as Jody Rinker remembers:
“When Charlie Chips’ truck pulled around our circle drive, we would holler to Mom, then stood around as he pulled out drawers of goodies. That evening, after the news, the seven of us kids would watch ‘Mr. Ed’ or ‘My Mother The Car,’ and right smack in the middle of us was that can of chips.” For Laurie Rupracht’s family, delivery day was also special. “That night, we always had lunchmeat sandwiches and chips for dinner.”
Charles offered more than just regular chips. Sarah Fadden Mackridge loved their sour cream and onion variety and Jody Rinker noted that “for an extra special treat, once in a while we’d get their chocolate chip cookies.” Diane Sokolowski remembered Charles Chips showing up at her grandmother's. “We grandkids got to pick what we wanted. My favorite was the chips, but they had popcorn and pretzels, too.”
After every last chip was consumed, those tins could be lots of fun. Aside from making a good drum, they had other uses. “My grandmother was a seamstress and she made doll clothes for me,” Diane explained. “I stored them in a tin.”
Nancy Jean Keller Horn’s family also bought from Charles Chips—“Paul Halstead was our church friend who had a route.”—but she remembered other food vendors who came to her home. “A frozen food delivery brought us fish and a lady from Palermo area delivered eggs. We also had Gillespie Dairy. Jerry Barton and then Les Green were our milkmen.”
Fulton had lots of dairy farms; Candy Bartlett’s family bought from Roger’s. “They delivered our milk, eight bottles three times a week, but we never had enough for us four kids who drank milk like it was kegs of beer!” Many remember heading out to the porch or front steps to retrieve glass bottles of fresh milk for their breakfast cereal. Eileen Mills knew that “in winter we had to bring them in from the box as soon as they were delivered or the milk would freeze.”
Dairy farmers made all those early morning deliveries by employing teenagers looking to make some money. One of those kids was Tim Rose, who worked for Triangle Dairy throughout his high school years, back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Tim described his three-times-a-week job:
“My day started at 3:00 am. I’d ride with my neighbor to the dairy, where we loaded the refrigerated truck with glass quarts of pasteurized and homogenized milk, cardboard quarts of chocolate, skim and buttermilk, and cottage cheese and heavy cream. By four, we were on our route. Each home had a specific area to leave deliveries; some had milk doors built into the side of their home, some had a metal insulated box, some were left on the porch or in the garage. There was even one stop where I walked into the house, through living and dining rooms and then into the kitchen, putting their delivery in the refrigerator.”
Tim was known as the delivery’s “runner” because he always “ran from the truck to the house, made my delivery, picked up the empties and ran back to the truck.” Since most families had a regular order, Tim knew who got what, “but you always had to watch, in the dark, for notes requesting more or less milk or additional items.”
Once the route was done, Tim and the driver would head back to the dairy, unload and then reload the truck for the next route. The driver did that route by himself because Tim had to head for school. “The driver dropped me off at the high school before the bell went off at 8:00.” Tim had put in a whole lot of work before most of us were awake, and for his efforts he made $1.25 an hour when he was hired. By graduation day, he was up to $1.70.
Like postal workers, Tim delivered through rain, snow, sleet and hail. “Winter was tough and I took many tumbles, dropping glass bottles and shattering them. I’d pick myself up and head back to the truck for a broom and dustpan.”
But winter also brought Christmas, which Tim described as incredible. “Many customers left us homemade goodies to show their appreciation. Those holiday goodies, along with all the chocolate milk I could drink while jumping truck, and occasionally, on a hot day, an ice cream sundae after we got back from our route delivery, made the job worth every mile I ran to deliver.”
Today’s shoppers can keep their fancy online grocery orders. I’d give anything to have Charles Chips pull into my driveway or wake up to a fresh bottle of milk waiting at my door.