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What you need to know for 12/11/2017

Depression memories: free bacon and selling carpets

Depression memories: free bacon and selling carpets

Carpet mills were suffering
Depression memories: free bacon and selling carpets
Hunger Marchers breakfast just outside Washington DC, in December 1932.
Photographer: Shutterstock

The old West Shore Railroad used to provide shipping services to the Beech-Nut food processing plant, then in Canajoharie.

The late Marguerite Dickershaid said her father, N. Frank Hackert, was a railroad man on the West Shore, “During the Depression … when he delivered goods or picked up freight at Beech-Nut, the factory would give us a five pound box of bacon at Christmas.” Beech-Nut also gave the railroad men another box of food products.

“That was our Santa Claus,” Dickershaid said. The family put the bacon in the ice box and then placed it under the Christmas tree before sharing it with the whole family.

In 1930, Mohawk Carpet’s sales director Z.L. Potter admitted to a company publication called the Mohawk Courier that the local carpet mills, the economic mainstay of Amsterdam, were suffering from hard times as the Depression began.

Potter said, “But I pledge you personally and for all members of the sales organization that we will leave no stone unturned that will bring in business, start all Mohawk looms up again and give you the security of employment you desire.”

The Courier reported on a going away dinner at Saltsman’s Hotel in Ephratah for regional sales managers being dispatched to San Francisco, Philadelphia and St. Louis to promote the company’s line.

Col. G.H. Durston was assigned to San Francisco, and J. Ralph Blocher drew the Philadelphia assignment. “Invited but not present at the dinner because he was already en route for his new home in St. Louis was John Smeallie,” wrote the Courier.

A picture showed Smeallie, his wife, Madge, and their daughter standing in front of an automobile hitched to an impressive trailer.  Smeallie reported the car and trailer made the 1,100 mile trip without “mar or trouble.”

Smeallie said, “I snaked the trailer along at 45 and 50 miles per hour on straight concrete stretches and had absolutely no trouble in traffic, even in Cleveland, Indianapolis or St. Louis. We stopped for some meals and prepared others in transit, Mrs. Smeallie walking about the car and kitchen just as if she were at home.

“She claimed it rode much more comfortably than any sedan she was ever in and read a book en route as well as drinking in the scenery.”

John Van Derveer Smeallie was born in 1885, the son of insurance man James Smeallie and his wife Ada.  After high school John worked three years at the Amsterdam Morning Sentinel Newspaper then joined his father in the insurance and real estate business.  He was elected city treasurer as a Republican serving two terms, 1912 through 1915.

Smeallie joined Mohawk Carpet Mills as purchasing agent and then went into advertising and sales promotion in 1926.

At some point in the 1930s he left his direct sales job and started touring the country as head of Mohawk’s lecture bureau.  He delivered speeches on the carpet industry to colleges, women’s clubs and at promotional events.  The Recorder wrote, “He was considered by many to be the foremost carpet authority in the industry.”

By the 1940s Smeallie and his family had moved to Forest Hills, an affluent section of Queens in New York City. Mohawk had offices in New York City.

Smeallie collapsed and died from coronary thrombosis after a carpet lecture at a hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 23, 1949. He was 63.

His sister Katherine had died in a similar way three years earlier as she spoke to the Good Will Club in Amsterdam on April 3, 1946, telling of a recent trip to Mexico with her husband, physician Robert Simpson. She was 57.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

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