short blurb in The Tribune-Democrat last week concerning a proposed reunion of former employees at Alwine Dairy conjured up great memories of my youth. In the early 1960s, my parents would load five kids into their two-tone green 1957 Ford for a Sunday drive. We invariably ended up along the Somerset Pike at Alwine's for ice cream. Judging from the crowds that patronized the place in those days,
I imagine many of you have similar memories. It wasn't unusual for all the parking spots around the dairy to be full and cars parked a quarter-mile in both directions on each side of Somerset Pike. The Alwine building, which is no longer standing, was located along Somerset Pike across the street from what is now K&T Bait and Tackle Shop. The tackle shop was once the dairy's milk house. Harry and Hester Alwine established the dairy in 1914 and started selling ice cream and main meals in 1928.
While members of the Aiwine family worked in the store, the owners relied on a pool of area young people to handle many of the chores. For most, it was their first work experience that left a lasting impression. Eighty-four-year-old Marge (Keefer) Hartman of Westwood was only 16 years old when she began working at the dairy. "I worked from 1931 to 1933," she said. "I wanted to help my family during the Depression and I believe I earned 25 cents an hour, plus tips." Most of her hourly wage went to her family, but she saved the tip money to buy school clothes. Hartman remembers multitudes of people coming in on Sundays beginning at 11 a.m. "The church crowd would be the first wave of people and it was nonstop until closing," she said. "We would have five people dipping cones all day long. When I would finish for the day, my white uniform was a rainbow of colors from all the ice cream we pushed." On any given day, you could choose from 20 to 25 flavors. My favorite was strawberry. A single-dipped cone was a nickel and a double dip cost a dime. "A 5-cent cone was bigger than the cones you get now for $1.80," said Bill Jones, former Tribune-Democrat senior writer who worked at the dairy for five years when he was a youngster. "My wrists would ache from dipping ice cream all day. It was nothing to go through 50 or 60 five-gallon buckets of ice cream." When you walked through the front door, the ice cream counter was on the left, a soda fountain was in the rear and a side dining room was to the right. In the dining area, booths lined the left wall and tables were located by the front windows. The booths had the names of sweethearts carved into the wood as a testament to young love. But most people came to eat. The dairy challenged patrons with a "Pig's Dinner." "It was an overgrown banana split served in a wooden trough that had mountains of ice cream and all the toppings," Jones said. "If a person could finish one, they got a button that said: "I was a pig at Alwine's."
You could wash down a meal with ice cream sodas, shakes or a variety of flavored Cokes. "Cherry and lemon Cokes were the big sellers, but we made chocolate, strawberry and pineapple," Jones said. "It was nothing having customers waiting five or six deep."The place was often so crowded that many people chose to eat in the car. I remember my younger sisters couldn't eat theirs quickly enough,
but my father and mother would "clean up the drips," by licking much of the fast-melting ice cream away. But ice cream was only one delicious treat at Alwine's. The dairy offered a full line of sandwiches, including a great ham barbecue. You could also get a dinner such as chicken and waffles, pork, steak or roast beef. "A roast beef dinner, complete with hors d'oeuvres, salad and dessert cost 85 cents," said Pat (O'Connor) Chynoweth, who worked there as a teen from 1941 to 1944 and is one of the reunion organizers. "I would start in the early afternoon and work until the people stopped coming. We had no formal closing time." Alwine's was open year-round, but summertime was the busiest, said Chynoweth. More than one romance blossomed over an ice cream soda. "We would have people come in after sleigh rides in the winter, hay rides in the fall and after every Friday night football game," Chynoweth said. Hartman said as a waitress, she not only had to take the order, but she also had to make the sandwiches. Later on, the dairy hired more short.order cooks. "It was hard work, but we were glad to just have a job," Hartman said. "We never had a closing time. I remember one Fourth of July when I didn't leave until 3 a.m." The waitresses were dressed in white uniforms and white caps with a green handkerchief tucked into the front breast pocket. Joanne Ravenscraft of Davidsville, one of several women who gathered at Chynoweth's Davidsville home to reminisce, laughed at the things she and her coworkers got away with. More than one dish was broken because of an impromptu game of catch and water dousings were common. When watchful eyes were not around, battles using hamburger or whipped topping as ammunition erupted. "We were never allowed to have free ice cream but I believe everybody got their share," Ravenscraft said, as the other four women at the table laughed knowingly. "They used to make the best coconut cream. More than one slice disappeared without a trace." Ravenscraft worked from 1952 to 1954, her junior and senior years at Conemaugh Township High School. Organizers hope the reunion can be scheduled in late fall, but the details have not been finalized. Judging from the few hours I spent with the former Alwine employees; it is going to be a fun-filled time. The women have no idea how many people worked at the dairy in its four decades of existence. The Alwine family involvement ended when the store was sold to Sanitary Dairy in 1964. The original building was torn down in
1986 and many former employees managed to salvage a commemorative brick from the structure. Anyone interested in attending or who knows the address of a former employee should contact Pat Chynoweth at 814-479-4631, Helen Risch at 814-479-7026 or Rachel Hargraves, 814-445-6347.