Ft. Lupton Canning Co.

The following article was written by Karen Ewing and was first published in the Weld County Past Times, Greeley Tribune, February 20, 1999, in Vol. 1 No. 7.

Businesses wax and wane, and buildings are torn down or additions built, but nothing seems to stop the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. Today, computer-related businesses and stocks are flying high. Yesterday, the business world was more firmly grounded in agriculture and all its attendant enterprises.

The preservation of fresh food on the large scale is a convenience we take for granted today. It enables us to choose from many brands and varieties of canned fruits and vegetables, relying upon their safety and good flavor without a second thought.

In 1903-04, the Fort Lupton Canning Co. – then called the Silver Sate Canning and Produce Co. – was born, the brainchild of O.E. Frink.

Already the owner and operator of a creamery and cheese factory, Frink began the canning company as an adjunct to his existing business. Silver State canned tomatoes, catsup and corn to start. It eventually added pickles, pumpkin, beans, peas, and squash to the product line.

The work in the cannery was labor-intensive in some areas, in spite of the machines that made mass production possible. For example, beans had to be snipped by hand, as the factory had no commercial snippers then. At times 200 or more women wee employed to snip beans.

The company grew and prospered and became vitally important to the farmers with who it contracted for crops and the large number of Fort Lupton residents who it employed.

Over the years, Silver State canned under a variety of labels, including Overland, Fort Lupton, National, Ruby (named after one of Frink’s daughters), Seal and Baby.

At a time when women were scarce as hen’s teeth in the world of commerce, Mrs. Frink played a major role in the business. The Frinks’ daughter Marguerite (“Daisy”) also took an active role, beginning in 1907 when she was the only female delegate to the first canners’ convention in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1936, Margurite became president of the Fort Lupton Canning Co.

Frink decided to sponsor a community celebration which coincided with harvest time. The first Fort Lupton Tomato Day was in 1908. Even by today’s standards, it sounds like it was quiet a party.

Frink ordered two fat steers butchered and dressed and instructed one of his employees, Gus Jasper, to cook or barbecue the beef in the canning factory retorts, a job which took all night.

On the day of the celebration, a free dinner was served: Beef on buns, corn on the cob, pickles, tomatoes, coffee and pumpkin pie. Boxes and boxes of ripe tomatoes sat on every street corner, free to any and all takers.

Highlights of the festivities included races of all types; a bucking contest; a baseball game (Fort Lupton vs. Erie); and tomato fights, the participants all clad in white coats. Japanese residents held an exhibition of martial arts on a downtown street and later provided a firework display.

In the evening there was a dance in Frink’s warehouse, music provided by the Whitlock Stringed Orchestra from Platteville.

The crowd was estimated around a thousand people, most from the Fort Lupton area, although quiet a number were said to have ridden one of the nine daily trains from Denver.

Next time you open a can of tomatoes or a jar of pickles, be grateful to the pioneers who had the courage to risk their capital – and there sweat – on a venture that helped expand the business potential of Weld County.

Note: My thanks to Nancy Penfold, curator of the Fort Lupton Museum (and granddaughter of O.E. Frink), for her help in researching this article.

Old-Fashioned Tomato Pudding

1 quart bread cubes, 1-inch crusts removed

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups tomato puree

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bread cubes in greased, flat 1-quart baking dish. Pour butter over cubes and set aside. In medium saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove bay leave an pour mixture over bread cubes. Do not stir. Bake in a pan of hot water for 1 hour. The top of the pudding will be puffed and dark brown. Serve immediately. Especially good with fried chicken. 4-6 servings.

Quick Tomato Aspic

Bring 1 18-ounce can (or equivalent) tomato juice to boil. Dissolve 1 small package lemon gelatin in tomato juice, stirring until completely dissolved. Pour into mold or pan and refrigerate until firm. Chopped celery and grated carrot may be added, if desired.

Tomato Relish Salad

3 medium tomatoes, sliced

1 cup thinly sliced cucumber

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots

1/2 cup thinly slicked celery

1/2 cup tarragon vinegar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Arrange vegetables in rows in serving dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables. Cover and chill at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Makes 6 – 8 servings.

Karen Ewing lives in Fort Lupton and is an avid recipe collector.