Charlie (sometimes labeled C.
A.) Harner is probably remembered by most people in
Emmitsburg as the owner of Edgewood Lanes on old Rt. 15
and the bowling alleys once located next to the
Incarnation United Church of Christ on West Main
Street. I, being the younger of his two sons, remember
him as a generous father devoted to his businesses. I
mention businesses because before he built the bowling
he owned and operated a grocery and general
store, was a huckster and, during all this time, had
several rental properties.
When I say devoted, I can’t
remember dad eating at home anytime except on Sundays
and holidays. (Maybe it was because my grandfather,
George Ohler, lived with us.) Our home, during my
youngest years, was located at 30 East Main St., the
brown shingled house next to the town office. Beneath
those shingles is a charred wooden frame building,
damaged from a fire in the late 1920’s, which
destroyed dad’s first grocery store located about
where the town office is situated. He then bought the
Annan building on the square where the Ott House is now
located and moved his business there.
On the west wall in the Ott
House, the Ott’s have hung a picture from the early 30’s
showing dad and some of the people who worked with him
– Bernie Boyle, George Eyster, Hilda Topper and Henry
Gherken. Of course, Bernie became very successful
with his own store and George Eyster was a very
successful cattle dealer. I remember Hilda, primarily
because she took my picture at the front of the store on
my first day of school, but also because she and her
sisters worked at the Mother Seton Guild, which gathered
information to support the sainthood of Saint Elizabeth
Ann Seton. Henry was one of my favorite people, low key
and always with a smile. When dad leased the store to
American Stores in 1946, followed by Acme, Henry
continued working there.
I also remember a couple of
other workers, Tom Hoke and Ethel "Lightning"
Long . Dad liked Ethel and always called her
"Lightning" since she just flew around the
store. "Lightning" Long is now Ethel Hoke, so
I guess somebody else in the store liked her. An
occurrence from the WW II years was brought to mind
while watching a show commemorating D-Day on the
Discovery channel a few years ago.
In about the middle of the show,
the film showed a sign in a store window saying "Emmitsburgians
at War" and then panned a small area of a window
showing pictures of about a dozen service men and women,
a few of whom I recognized. I taped the show later (it
was shown several times during the 50th anniversary of
D-Day), and asked others about it. It seems Dad had put
the sign and a picture of my brother in his store window
with invitations for other pictures. By the end of the
war, there were over 300 pictures.
I guess my fondest memory of
the store is bagging potatoes every Saturday morning at
the back end of the store, where the Ott’s have the
pool tables. I would dump far too many 100 pound sacks
of potatoes, throw the rotten ones out (ugh) and bag the
rest into pecks and ½ pecks. All the while I would be
trying to carry on a conversation with "Govy"
Knox who was in a corner candling eggs. To me, "Govy"
seemed to be knowledgeable on any subject; but, at the
same time, a man of few words.
Speaking of Charles "Govy"
Knox leads us to the huckster business. Dad inherited
from his father a business that consisted of buying
chickens, eggs and butter from local farmers and, after
killing and "dressing" the chickens,
delivering these products to regular customers in the
Baltimore area. This was a pretty healthy business with
often over a thousand chickens being delivered in one
week. It also got to the point where I dreaded the days
before Thanksgiving and Christmas – way too many
turkeys and too much work. "Govy" Knox acted
independent of the major part of the business in that he
had his own customers, usually private individuals in
the wealthiest suburbs of Baltimore, whereas Dad’s
customers were store owners throughout Baltimore and
marketers in Lexington Market.
"Chicken killing" days
were Monday and Wednesday, with Wednesday being the big
one. The process included killing the chicken, scalding
it in very hot water, picking it on a rubber fingered
rotating drum, picking tail and wing feathers by hand,
"plumping" it in nearly boiling water and then
placing it in ice cold water. Afterwards, the chickens
were packed in ice in barrels and transported to
Baltimore the next morning.
There were usually at least
eight people involved in this process and I enjoyed
running around helping every one and listening to the
gossip of the women plucking out pinfeathers interrupted
only by my grandfather’s risqué (for that time
period) jokes. In the middle of the day, I remember
mother cooking a huge meal for all the workers and
serving it in our dining area. The meal was usually
fried chicken. (The "chicken killing" barn was
directly behind our house, an older version of the
building where the town now keeps its vehicles.)
Shortly after the war, my
brother took over the huckster business and dad got
itchy. He had already bought the building on the square
next to the VFW where Edna and Walter Crouse opened a
store, which probably has the record for longevity of
any business in town. But just operating a grocery store
and managing rental properties was not enough. He then
bought Chick Rosenteel’s business and the property
next to the UCC church. Chick had a snack bar, pool
tables and two bowling alleys. Dad took out the pool
tables, expanded the snack bar and built four more
alleys. He then rented the grocery store on the square
to American Stores and the hardware end to Harold and
Between the two stores was Marty
Rosensteel’s beauty shop. There was a major glitch on
the opening night of the bowling alleys. Dad had not
received the canvas partitions to place between the
alley pits; thus the pinsetters were getting hammered by
flying duckpins. The pinsetters went on strike, which
was quickly settled by dad raising their take from five
cents to seven cents a game. It’s amazing that no one
got seriously injured! The bowling alleys and snack bar
soon became the local hangout and a source of income for
many youth, as waiters, waitresses and pinsetters.
As a waiter, I can still
remember the ice cream crush that came after the GEM
movie theater across the street left out at 9:00 and, as
a pinsetter, hoping that I would get some business on my
alley before league play began at 7:30. Dad and "Crousie"
(Walter Crouse) used to throw friendly barbs at one
another; one of which I remember quite well. "Crousie"
said, "Charlie, I sell the best ice cream in
town" and dad replied, "Crousie, you may sell
the best, but I sell the most."
It wasn’t long before the St.
Joseph’s (women only) and Mt. St. Mary’s (men only)
college students were also coming in regularly and with
them a desire to bowl with ten pins, the preferred
bowling game outside the Baltimore/Washington area. So
dad built three more alleys dedicated to ten pin
bowling. A favorite ten pin customer was Father
(now Monsignor) Kline who, at that time, taught at St.
Joseph’s and the Mount and later became president of
Mt. St. Mary’s. Among other tight regulations, St.
Joseph’s had a strict no smoking regulation; so the
girls would light them up when they came into the snack
bar. Father Kline would usually come into the bowling
alley by the back door and I can still remember dad
turning off the lights on the popcorn machine, signaling
the girls to put out their cigarettes.
These days I guess the popcorn
machine lights would always be off. Dad was never one to
watch his money and ended up writing many checks that
did not show up in the checkbook. Mother tried to keep
it straight but what do you do when the person who wrote
the check doesn’t remember the amount or the
recipient. I remember many afternoons seeing him sitting
at the bowling alley end of the snack bar nervously
awaiting the after-bank-hours call from either Alice
Shorb or Marie Rosenteel, telling him how much he was
overdrawn. Somehow, he was able to scrounge up the money
from somewhere or somebody and get it to the bank before
everybody left. Times have changed.
I found him to be a hard person
to work for, with always something else on his mind. He
seemed to show his ire around his best workers but liked
to kid around with, and verbally jostle with, problem
workers or mischievous pinsetters. In general, though,
he loved to sit and talk with anybody, one on one, about
any subject. Some of the Mount students were his
favorites; many buttering him up for a loan. I remember
seeing a couple of cigar boxes full of watches and
remember one Mount alumnus coming back to say hello and
claim his watch.
In the late 1950’s, Dad, with
very little support from the family, decided to build a
new 16-lane bowling alley on Rt. 15 near Gettysburg. I
remember Dick mentioning we should call it Edgewood
Lanes since Edgewood was going to be the telephone
exchange for that area. So, in 1959, at the age of 66,
Dad was the proud new owner of Edgewood Lanes. In 1962,
he finally realized that neither Dick nor I wanted to
manage the alleys and with the business not able to
handle the tremendous debt, sold it to some businessmen
from Frederick. He then returned to manage the bowling
alleys in Emmitsburg full time.