Tavistock Produce

Photo above, Norma Knights and Doreen Wagner grading eggs.

By Barb Matthies

The Tavistock Produce had its beginning in April 1946, with Roy Knights, his brother Leslie Knights and nephew Fred Ghent in partnership. It occupied some of the ground floor of the Opera Hall a building on Woodstock Street North.

They began picking up eggs from area farmers with a car and trailer, then a small truck. Roy and daughter Norma candled the eggs using one and sometimes two egg grading machines.

Roy had been handling eggs and produce since he was thirteen years of age which is believed to be the longest period of any person in Western Ontario. He formerly was part owner of the Woodstock Produce.

From small beginnings, calling on farmers for their eggs, good management and honest dealings, soon demanded a fleet of four trucks and larger quarters. They took over the complete ground floor of the Opera Hall building, part was office, part egg grading, part cooler and another part feed room storage (SunRay Feeds and New Life), as they branched out into supplying feed as well. They were in the poultry business and at one time also sold potatoes. In a room on the second floor corrugated cases were assembled for the shipping of graded eggs to Toronto. With the added business more staff was required. Over the years of operation they would have employed over thirty people

For those who are not familiar with the egg candling and grading machine, two people work on each machine. The wooden crates of eggs which were collected from the farmer were trucked the same day to the Produce. The crate was placed on a bench at one end of the machine where a sealed beam candler was attached. One person took the eggs out of the crates, two eggs in each hand and candled them picking out any B’s and cracks and placing them on trays on a nearby bench . The Grade “A” eggs were placed on an incline that rolled them down on to the grading machine where they are sorted by weight, Grade ‘A Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small and Pee Wee. They drop off and roll down into separate alleys. The second person carefully packed the graded eggs into separate fiber cases (corrugated cardboard). A case held thirty dozen and when it was full the case was tagged appropriately and carried to another employee who sealed the top of the cases and placed them in a cool storage room sorting them by grade. They would then be trucked to Toronto to be sold.

When the farmer’s eggs were picked up at the farms, their names were written on a tag on the end of each crate and also the number of crates they were shipping was recorded. Each lot was kept together and graded together and a bench count was taken .This is the record of the number of eggs in each grade which is credited to the producer. This count was checked by the packer and grader to make sure there were no errors. The bench sheet then went into the office where that all important “egg money” was worked out by the office personnel. The truck driver delivered the envelope to the farmer the following week when he returned to pick up their eggs.

The Tavistock Produce also bought a farm on the thirteenth concession of East Zorra, just north of Hickson and operated a dairy herd from there. Roy would start his day by going to the produce in the early morning to check to make sure that the operation was being looked after, and then drove to the farm to work there, returning to the office in the late afternoon.

In March 1959 tragedy struck as Roy Knights suddenly passed away at the Stratford General Hospital where he had been a patient for about a week. Just prior to his death the Produce had also purchased the farm of Charles Matthies at the west boundary of the village. The farm “Kay Gee” named after the Knights and Ghent owners was sold on the thirteenth line and the operation was moved to the newly purchased farm. Morris Snarey, herdsman and his wife Cora and family also moved from the former farm. In 1964 what had been the Tavistock Dairy building was converted to the egg grading station and all operations were then conducted from the farm.

In 1965 tragedy struck again when Fred and wife, Norma Ghent were killed in a car accident. This left Leslie as sole owner of the business.

As change came into the industry with many small flocks being replaced by cage laying houses, Les built a cage laying barn on the east end of the farm property. This supplied a lot of the eggs needed for the business.

At this time an egg washing machine was installed. The eggs were lifted by vacuum cups out of the trays and placed on the conveyor belt where they were first washed and cleaned prior to their actual grading. The new machine was capable of handling 7,500 eggs an hour.

In 1975 Les and wife Helen retired and sold the egg business to Erb’s Poultry Farms Ltd in New Hamburg. This was the end of the egg grading business in Tavistock.

On April 1, 1930 Frank P. Corp purchased the Egg Circle business on Elizabeth Street, Tavistock from Duncan McKellar with a membership of 100. He sold it to Clarence C. Wettlaufer May 1, 1940 with a membership of 190.

3 May 1950: C. C. Wettlaufer in Egg Business 10 Years – Ten years ago on May 1, the business of the Tavistock Egg Circle changed hands, and on Monday of this week Clarence C. Wettlaufer looked back to the day when he decided to become his own “boss”, taking over the complex business of grading and shipping eggs. The business has expanded considerably in the past decade, and today Mr. Wettlaufer not only grades eggs, but is also dealer for well-known brands of feeds, as well as poultry and chick equipment, and live poultry. With additional lines being added it was found necessary to expand the building, and a large addition was added to the front of the building, located on Elizabeth Street. The new addition houses the feeds and poultry equipment, as well as a workshop where the egg crates, as well as chicken crates are assembled. On purchasing the business from Frank P. Corp ten years ago, eggs were brought to the Circle for grading and while this still holds for many customer’s it was found necessary to send a truck into the country to pick up eggs. This departure led to more and more contracts being made, and a larger feed business naturally followed. Ten years ago eggs were only received and graded three days a week, while today eggs are received and graded daily.

Fact and Fantasy page 162-163 Has additional info.

Acknowledgement- Tavistock Gazette