By HARRY HOFFMANN
Old Fritz Luikert will be 81 on April 10, and there's only one thing that will mar the celebration for Wheeling -- Fritz Luikert is going to close his butcher business.
Sixty-seven years now, Fritz Luikert has been a butcher; 46 years he has been in business for himself.
There are few people who haven't heard of Unzer-Fritz bacon and sausage, for the fame of the distinctive quality he put into his meats has spread far beyond the boundaries of Wheeling and Ohio county.
In fact, Wheeling is almost as well known for Fritz Luikert's bacon as for its reputation as a Stogie City.
And in Wheeling there are many people who are going to regret the passing of Fritz Luikert's meats. For to those people who have been his customers for years, there is only one kind of meat -- Fritz Luikert's.
But 67 years is a long time to be in any business, and Fritz Luikert worked hard through those years. He's tired now; he feels he needs a rest and has earned it. And now he's going to take that rest.
"I'm not going to retire." Mr. Luikert emphasized as he leaned on a counter in his spotlessly clean shop at 3034-36 McColloch street, "I'm just going to close down indefinitely. I might even start up again in a month or two. Some of my men wanted to keep my business going, but I told them I need a rest -- and you can't have rest and a business too.
That's the way with Fritz Luikert [ . . . ] off a reputation; he believes in maintaining the thing that built that reputation.
"Some butchers can take 50 pounds of meat and make 80 pounds of bologna, just to cut prices on the other fellow," he said, "but in the long run that kind of butcher will lose out.
"In all the years I have been a butcher, I never adulterated meat, and I always told other butchers it would be better for them if they would sell good meat and create an appetite for it, instead of trying to make meat they can sell at a low price."
Mr. Luikert have proved the wisdom of his psychology too, for he has third and fourth generations coming to his market stall for meat; people who wouldn't buy other meat regardless of price.
But there was something besides good meat that kept Mr. Luikert's customers satisfied. It was his code toward his fellow man: "I always try to treat every man right."
This was not only in his own makeup, but it was taught to him by John Muth, famous sausage maker of the eighties, who also taught him how to put the most of flavor into sausage.
"I was with John Muth when he died,: Mr. Luikert recalled. "Just before he died, he looked up to me and said 'Fritz, you know how I always told you it was better to give a quarter or a pound over-weight than an ounce under.' Mr. Muth was a good man, he always treated everybody right."
Muth was a son-in-law of Louis Bayha, one of Wheeling's earliest butchers, whose shop was located in North Wheeling, where Washington school now stands, almost a century ago.
When Bayha died, Muth took over his sausage business and John Bayha, son of Louis, was Mr. Luikert's first boss in the butcher business.
Louis Bayha as superintendent of the List, Davenport & Parks warehouse in what is now the Standard Building at Fourteenth and Main streets, when Mr. Luikert went to work about 1871 as a hog driver at 25 cents a day.
This firm was operated by D. C. List, Jr., Ben Davenport, and George H. Parks, and their packing plants was located on Center street, Fulton.
Mr. Luikert stayed with this firm until about 1878 when it was dissolved, List continuing with that business, and Parks taking over the premises where John Muth was operating in Fulton, where the Roth feed store is now located.
Remaining with List in charge of the off-fall department, Mr. Luikert was called to Parks' plant when he ran short of help.
"I worked there for a while," Mr. Luikert said, "and then went back with List, but Parks came back and asked Mr. Bayha, the superintendent, if he could spare me again. After he came back the third time, Mr. Bayha told me to go with Parks and stay there as long as he needed me, and if I ever wanted to come back my job would be there for me.
"Mr. Muth was in charge of making sausage for Mr. Parks, and he took me down in the little slaughter house and showed me how to make the sausage that were so famous then.
In the meantime, Parks took over Muth's sausage business and Mr. Luikert was put to work delivering sausage.
"I can still remember the route I delivered," Mr. Luikert said. "The first stop I made was John Diehl's place at Tenth and Main streets. Then I went to Jacob Bayha's place in the old Grant House, where the Hawley building now stands.
"I would go to the old Sims boarding house at Fourteenth and Chapline streets where Adolph & Maybus were in business, and then out Sixteenth street to Jacob, where Mr. Odburt and Mr. Jeffers had stores. On the north side of Sixteenth street, J. R. Acker had his grocery and feed store, and sometimes I took sausage to the B. & O. railroad for George Brinkman's hotel at Grafton."
Parks had his warehouse at Fifteenth and Main streets, and Mr. Luikert remained with him until March 14, 1881. The following day he went to work for Michael Reilly who operated a wholesale grocery and liquor store at 1309-11 Main street and a pork house in Manchester, near the Reymann brewery.
Reilly was strict man with his hired help and it was with some skepticism that he employed Fritz Luikert.
Shortly after he employed Mr. Luikert, Reilly called him and said "Here, I wanted a man to run my pork house and I understand you are nothing but a hog driver."
"I told him," Mr. Luikert recalled with a chuckle, "'yes sir, I started to work with List, Davenport and Parks, driving hogs at 25 cents a day and I'm not ashamed to tell it to anybody,' and all he could say was 'Well, I'm glad to hear you learned the business from the ground up.'"
Later, Mr. Luikert gave Reilly this letter from John Bayha:
"The bearer of this, Frederick Luikert, was in my employ for several years whilst I had charge of the porkhouse at Fulton. He is an industrious young man of good habits and perfectly reliable and trustworthy.
"He always showed a strong desire to make himself proficient in the work pertaining to the business, and I can truthfully say that he was an apt scholar.
"With his practical knowledge of handling and smoking meats and with his other deserving qualities, I should have no hesitation in recommending him to you as a suitable person to take charge of your porkhouse, should you desire to make a change."
When he read this letter of recommendation, Reilly exploded with "Why didn't you show me this before," but Mr. Luikert said only "I just wanted to let everyone tell you about me being 'nothing but a hog driver' before I showed you my good qualities."
At that time Reilly's pork business was on the down-grade, and Mr. Luikert built it up to where Reilly got the highest price for his meat of any butcher in Wheeling.
Reilly was a stern employer, the kind who is feared by most employes.
"But I just talked right up to him," Mr. Luikert laughed. "Once when I talked back to Mr. Reilly another man was there, and he said to me, 'Fritz, you're the only man I every heard talk up to the governor.' I said, 'well, what the governor owes me he can pay me in a few minutes, and I don't owe him anything.'
"When this man said something to Mr. Reilly, he said, 'yes, Fritz talks pretty plain, but it's for my own good, so I never talk back'."
Once when Mr. Luikert bought a drove of choice hogs at a bargain price, he took personal charge of driving them to the slaughter house because he wanted to make sure he didn't have any bruised hams.
Someone reported it to Mr. Reilly, and calling Mr. Luikert into his office, he said: "Fritz, I don't expect you to go out and drive hogs; you're past your hog-driving days."
"I said to him," Mr. Luikert recalled, 'Mr. Reilly, you hired me to run your pork house, and when I buy 100 hogs you expect 200 hams, 200 sides of bacon, and 200 shoulders, and if I think it necessary to go out and drive hogs in order to run the pork house right, I'm going to drive hogs'." That was answer enough for the governor."
Mr. Luikert remained with Mike Reilly until July 1, 1892 when he went into business for himself opening a shop at the rear of 140 Sixteenth street where the Bleifus Brothers butcher shop is still operated by sons of Valentine Bleifus. At the same time, he opened Stall 44 in the Fifth Ward market, the same stall where the cheery little man is still to be found every Saturday.
Among his first customers were George Ritchie at Twenty-third and Main streets, a Mr. Miller whose business was on Chapline street, below Twenty-third, and George Weitzel, who was located on Market street, below Twenty-third. He also put up some meat for Hubbard & Paull, a wholesale grocery business located on Main street, on the present site of Greer & Laing.
In 1904, Mr. Luikert moved his business to Louis Neibergal's plant at Forty-fifth and Eoff streets, and stayed there until April, 1907, when he opened his present plant at 3034-36 McColloch street. Despite his 81 years, Mr. Luikert still is in his shop from 5 o'clock in the morning until 6 o'clock in the evening, and he is in market every Saturday.
Fritz Luikert always has worked hard, but, he figures "maybe it was best for me." His sturdy constitution may be partially hereditary. His father Jacob Luikert, a pioneer wagon-maker along the National pike, died 11 days before he became 90 years of age, and his mother Magdalena Luikert, who as a girl helped her father in his blacksmith shop, lived to be 77.
Mr. Luikert was born in Fulton on April 10, 1857, and in his 81 years he has not been out of Ohio county more than a month and he hasn't been out of Wheeling overnight for 15 years.
"I had some good offers in Chicago," he said, "but I was always satisfied to stay at home. I think Wheeling is a pretty good place to leave, and while I'm taking my rest I think I'll take time to see how the old town looks."
In March, 1931, on the fiftieth anniversary of the first time he delivered sausage for George Parks, Mr. Luikert went over his old route. He found only one of the "old school" of butchers left -- George L. Zoeckler, of East Wheeling.
"When you think of it, it's like a forest," he said, "where many trees once stood and where all have been cut away except one."
John Bayha, Mr. Luikert's friend and first boss, served for awhile as county commissioner and was instrumental in building the bridge over Wheeling creek at Fulton. Mr. Luikert hauled the timbers that were used in the bottom of that bridge.
"When Mr. Bayha built that bridge, the people of North Wheeling were against it," he said, "but now we can see where he was right: what would we do without that bridge now?"
Mr. Luikert has sales slips and many other things to recall his early days in the butchering business, but one of his proudest possessions is a "Reward of Merit" awarded to him at Fulton public school "for regularity of attendance, meritorious conduct, and proficiency in studies during the scholastic year ending June 30th 1867."
It makes him a little sad to look back on those days so long ago, but he still has a cheery word for everyone.
Fritz Luikert wants a rest now, and soon the people of Wheeling will no longer have the "Unzer-Fritz" bacon and sausage that brought pleasure to them, and fame to Fritz Luikert and Wheeling.
Wheeling News-Register, March 27, 1938
@copy; Wheeling News-Register, reproduced with permission.
from the Ohio County Public Library Vertical File.
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.