We Remember…Plug Tobacco, Penny Candy, Pranks – Memories of the Catonsville Junction
Fifty years ago the Diehlmann Lunch Room, a business run by our family for many years was a combination teen center, waiting station, social club and general gathering place at Catonsville Junction. The photograph to the right was taken at that time.
That’s Pop, Randolph G. Diehlmann standing on the porch. Everybody called him “Rudy”. He and some of his friends – Al and Mike Beuley, Gus Peters, a fellow named Bezold and others – built just a one-room shed there in 1906. Later they added the second floor as an apartment for Grandmother Morsythe.
Catonsville Junction was a good business location. It was the Catonsville terminal of the No. 8 Towson-Catonsville streetcar line. It was also a way point on the line over which the No. 14 cars ran Baltimore to Rolling Road and on which the No. 9 cars plied between Baltimore and Ellicott City. Motormen, conductors and passengers all stopped at the lunchroom. So did drummers, insurance collectors and other travelers.
Mother was the cook. Her domain was the back of the place. On one table and a stand up counter she served oysters, ham, egg, cheese and all sorts of other sandwiches, all for 10 cents apiece. Coffee-strong, fragrant boiled coffee out of a huge granite pot – cost a nickel for a cup or for a special pint-size tin pail in which the conductors and motormen took theirs out. From the 14 and 9 cars, they’d stop in and pick up their coffee and sometimes sandwiches, have their refreshments on the fly on the way to Rolling Road or Ellicott City, then drop off the pails on the return trip.
Pop handled the tobacco and candy end of the store. To the left of the door was a long glass showcase with cigars, cigarettes, pipe mixtures, snuff and chewing tobacco. Schnapps, Brown Mule, RJR and other plug chewing tobaccos came in big blocks, and Pop sliced off 5 cents worth or 10 cents worth at a time with a big lever knife.
Nearby was the glass covered candy case. A kid with a few pennies could spend a pleasant half hour there picking out licorice whips, tar babies, coconut watermelon slices, railroad sticks and two or three dozen other kinds of candy.
Under the counter Pop had the till. It was a big block of wood with cups cut into it for pennies, nickels, dimes and so on. It slid out when you wanted to make change, but it wouldn’t slide until you first pressed buttons on the bottom of it in a certain four-finger combination. The till lifted, and underneath it was a space for paper money.
The place fascinated boys, not only because of the candy, but because of the conductors and motormen were always coming and going, and they were a fine, jovial lot. Fellows like Raab, Charlie and Will Moxley, Arthur Woods, Pinkney Gorsuch, Bill Fick and Arthur Anderson were always fun to listen to. Two men who operated one No. 8 car were a short fellow named Haggerty and a tall fellow named Brooks. Everyone called them Mutt and Jeff.
Pop added other lines – canned goods, bread, patent medicines, hardware. Finally he was selling just about everything from ice-cold pop and ice cream to coal oil, spool cotton and chicken feed. People like to stop in, congregating around the big pot-bellied stove in the winter, dodging among the dangling spirals of fly paper in the summer. It got so popular that people got to referring to the whole neighborhood as Diehlmann’s.
The kids we ran around with sat on the store porch on spring evenings and listen to the peepers in the swamp which you can see to the right in the picture. Summer times we would meet there and make up a gang to go over to the ball field near by and watch Fritz and George Maisel, the Reich brothers, Cooney Diehlmann and other members of the fine old ball team, the Catonsville Combination work out. Crisp, moonlit fall evenings with the smell of leaf smoke in the air, we’d plan our Halloween deviltry there.
Once when we were pretty well grown, we jacked up Frank Gambrill’s truck (he drove for a dairy) and chocked up the axles so the back wheels just barely touched ground. He spun and spun, then put in a call for a garage to come out and get him.
Once in the winter, we built a snow man. Some of the kids went into Vincent Provenza’s barber shop, back of the store, and talked Vince into coming outside on some pretext. They kept him there 15 or 20 minutes – while the rest of the kids brought the snow man in the back door of the barber shop and set it on the barber chair. They draped an apron around the snow man’s neck, and used up a whole broomful of straw to make him a wild looking set of whiskers.
I have never heard an angrier man than the barber. He was especially sore because the kids had put his good hat on the snow man and gotten the sweatband of it all soggy.
When we were out of high school, in the early 1920’s, we took over the store, got rid of the hardware and patent medicine, and converted it into more of a restaurant. We made it into a tavern when beer came back in 1933, the year Pop died. We leased out the business half a dozen years later.
It was a fine place to grow up.
We Remember… Plug Tobacco, Penny Candy, Pranks
by Frederick R. and John G. Diehlmann
Originally ran in the Sunday Sun Magazine, March 21, 1961
Sunday Sun Magazine March 12, 1961