Route Men & Peddlers

by Bill Newman


Every neighborhood had its share of the above. Most people did not have a car and there were no supermarkets, thus route men and peddlers were almost a necessity.

A route man had a list of steady customers that he delivered to on a specified day. Among the roster was a laundry man, a bread man, a milk man and an assortment of others. There was even a diaper man but he seemed to come into being in the 40's.

No one seemed to know the names of any of the people that left merchandise by the front door and every week or two came buy to collect the money for. They were known by the product or service they dealt in i.e. bread man, milkman and so on.

Route men did not deal in any day old goods. Most items like baked goods were clearly marked with the day of the week they were produced. Today goods are marked with an expiration date, which could be years away. If a route man ever left something more than one day old he could expect not be paid.

Peddlers differed from route men in that the usually dealt in fruits and vegetables and the goods for sale depended on what they thought looked good and the price. Like the route men, the peddler always had fresh goods bought from the farmers market before daylight.

Horse drawn wagons were the peddlers main mode of transportation. When he arrived in an area where he intended to stop he would call out his wares and prices. Part of being a good peddler was having a loud voice. When the wagon would stop it always attracted some young boys. Someone would put a rock by a wagon wheel to keep it from rolling, some liked to pet the horse, and some always managed to have sugar cubes and apples to feed the horse. On a hot day some boy living close by would bring a container of water for the peddler to give the horse.

There was a large selection of men that came to the neighborhood selling a host of goodies. There was the sweet potato man, the chestnut man, the ices man, the ice man, the umbrella man, the knife sharpener man and many more.

The Charlotte Russe man sold a confection that consisted of a piece of sponge cake topped with whipped cream and a cherry. It came in a cardboard container with a movable bottom. The Charlotte Russe was eaten from the top and with each bite the eater pushed from the bottom to bring a new mouthful into play.

The world has changed in so many ways. Can anyone remember the last time they had an umbrella repaired or sought the services of a professional knife sharpener?

I can't end the list without mention of the tie man. Each neighborhood had a tie man. All tie men carried a shoddy looking valise held together with cord because none of the catches worked.

The tie man's wares consisted of about seven or eight ties to choose from, a few packages of shoe laces, razor blades and a few other sundry items. Under a false bottom in the valise was a supply of condoms for sale. These were never shown unless a customer asked. Before selling a package of condoms the tie man would always glance about to see who was watching. Not only are there large displays of condoms in most variety stores today, they are also advertised in magazines and on television. Wow - have things changed.


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