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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
LAKE EUSTIS – BLUE STAR - RAINBOW – WHITE DOVE
Labels from L. R. Huffstetler, Inc.
Sign sponsored by the Family of Leslie Huffstetler
Leslie Huffstetler came to work at the Eustis Packing Company (later the name of this company was changed to L. R. Huffstetler, Inc. then to Eustis Fruit Company) in 1926 as a bookkeeper. He came in the summer and of course no fruit was being packed so they offered him an opportunity to work in the groves. Leslie came from a farming family in east TN and was use to the work. It was an enlightening experience and a great help to him to learn about grove care.
By the late thirties, Leslie had bought some groves and had enough money to go into partnership with a Mr. Harris and they ran the Harris and Wade Packinghouse, which was located across the road from Lake Eustis a little north of town.
He then purchased Eustis Packing Company from Barney Dillard, Jr. His daughter, Ann Rou commented “I remember that well. When I was a girl, probably when I was seven or eight, Daddy bought the Eustis Packing Company that was owned at that time by Barney Dillard Jr. The location was on the east side of the railroad tracks when you cross Bay Street on Lemon Ave. This was sometime in the late 40’s.”
Dougal Buie, Harry Bailes and Stewart Welch worked for Leslie at Eustis Fruit Company. In the late fifties Leslie built a tangerine house on the corner of Ward and Bay Street. His son Bob and Joe McRee worked for him. In 1962 H. Jennings Rou graduated with a degree in citrus and business from FL Southern. He also joined the business after graduation. There was a severe freeze December 13, 1962. Leslie’s son, Bob decided to go to U of F to get his law degree. Dougal, Harry and Stewart bought the large packinghouse, Eustis Packing Company from Leslie. He sold Jennings the smaller house in the late sixties.
Leslie Huffstetler was an extraordinary man in many ways. He had such humble beginnings and his mother could see he had promise. He was the ninth and last child. She encouraged him to go to a business school in Knoxville for a year. Somehow, he found the money to pay for the expenses. His older brother lent him his car to get to class. In the early years, he would work the strawberry deal in his hometown on the off season. He was always planning. Everybody he dealt with held him in high esteem. For example, there is a letter from a grove owner who had sold her grove to Leslie. She just wrote, “Les, it has been a bad year. Just pay me interest on the grove this year!”.
Leslie Huffstetler is one of many self-made men in the citrus industry. Most have the same qualities. First, they are not afraid to work. Leslie spent part of his first year in the citrus business working in the groves. He put in long hours at the packing house. Leslie was a wise investor. He was conservative and careful with debt. He saved his money and would give every investment careful consideration. He treated all those that worked WITH him like family. He might have been the ‘boss’ but everyone knew he cared about them and was up front and fair.
He gave back generously to his community. Leslie realized the Lord had blessed him and he responded by being a blessing to many. He was closely involved in the Eustis community, always looking for ways to help others. He was very active in the Presbyterian church, Eustis Commission (Mayor for 3 terms), Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, and many more. Leslie shared his time, talents and treasure with his neighbors.
These are just some of the Huffstetler labels that were used over the years in the various packing houses. Note the transition of the Rainbow label – it first was used by Leslie when he was at Harris Wade. He used it on his own label and then passed it on to son in law Jennings Rou. Rainbow was well known by buyers as high quality fruit – best you could get. It took many years to develop that strong recognition in the industry.
Labels from Harris Wade, Eustis Fruit, and Huffstetler, Inc.
View the Jerry Chicone collection
View the Jim Ellis collection
Most packers had several labels they could use. The primary color of the label indicated the grade of the citrus in the box. Blue was US #1, the best quality from the packer. Red was US #2, a step down and occasionally another color was used for fruit not making US#1 or US #2. It should be noted that almost all the Florida fruit that did not meet US#1 standard was due to external appearance. The internal quality was the same! Florida conditions, namely a hot wet summer, produced a large number of pests that would damage the surface of the fruit. The primary one is very small mite, specifically the rust mite. This pest can produce a dark brown or russet blemish on the surface of the fruit. Several fungal organisms also can cause damage to the peal. Melanose produces small raised spots producing a fine “sand paper’ feel. When heavy these lesions can cover a large portion of the fruit surface as well. Windy conditions during spring when the fruit are small cause surface damage as well (this is known as wind scar – the small fruit would rub against leaves producing a superficial blemish to the peel).
Florida growers have to deal with these superficial blemishes because the consumer is looking for a perfect looking piece of fruit. Sugar content can not be determined by looking the fruit, so don’t be quick to decide that if an orange is not perfect on the outside that does not mean it will not taste good. Florida citrus might not be the prettiest in the bin, but they can not be beat for taste.
To learn more about Lake County citrus click here
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