Decker Melon Memories

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Decker resident “Middy” Sisson, now in her 90s, recalls summers in the 1920s and ’30s when horse- and mule-drawn wagons would line the streets in front of her father’s drugstore to load up on Decker melons and carry them back to Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville. (What Is a Decker Melon?)

In the 1950s, her son, Jeff Clark, and his cousin, Bob Berry, both saw opportunity in Decker melons. Clark recalls that the price of a watermelon at the ubiquitous farm stands around Decker in the early 1950s was about 10 cents. “So we loaded up the trunk. You could get about 20 or more into the back of a Frazer automobile.”

Back home in Fort Wayne, young Clark would then pull his little red wagon around the neighborhood and sell the melons for 25 to 40 cents each.

“A Coke cost a nickel then,” Clark says. “So did a candy bar. I got shortly rich.”

As a 14-year-old high school student in 1954, Berry gambled and planted 3 acres of watermelons and 2 acres of cantaloupes two weeks earlier than the big farmers.

“Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and my melons came off earlier than everyone else’s,” Berry says. “I had trucks coming to the top of Decker Hill where I had my melons stacked. Some of the larger melons sold for as much as $1.50 each! I made enough money that summer to buy two used tractors.”

11 Comments

  1. Mark Palmer

    May 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Reading this article brought back a lot of memories. My grandparents, Don and Elsie Palmer, lived in Decker their entire lives. Of course, grandfather Don, my father Donnie, my uncle Jeff and I all did our share of work in the melon fields. My grandfather taught and coached in Decker for 48 years. The baseball field at the site of the old school is named after him. I remember that when I was a young boy my grandmother would take me into Sisson’s Drug Store. It’s primary attraction for me was a old Macaw kept by Bill Sisson. I was told not to put my fingers inside the bird’s cage at the risk of getting them torn off.

    My grandfather said that at one time Decker had five grocery stores, a hotel, three barber shops, a bank and a restaurant or two – all there because of the commerce resulting from the melons. Now Decker is a shell of its former self with not much left other than memories. Yet still, I”m glad I have them.

    • Tina Hunsinger

      July 17, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Omg, NO WAY!!!!! I went to school in Decker and had a teacher my the name of Mr. Palmer, he was the absolute best teacher I ever had. I still remember him so well. He was so kind and thoughtful. I stuttered really bad and he tried so hard to always be kind to me and try to get me to slow down while talking. I am 55 years old and I remember him like it was yesterday, seriously. I loved him so much. I was so bad at baseball and one day it was my turn at bat and he yelled really loud to me and said” Tina hit that ball like it was your sister! I hit it and actually made it to first base. I love Mr. Palmer to this day!

      Tina

      • janet houchin

        December 19, 2016 at 11:59 am

        Tina,
        I just found this comment from July, 2015. I think that you and I went to South Knox middle/high school together? Janet (Rusch) Houchin I graduated from there in 1979.

    • rick mccord

      December 19, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      I remember working the melons and going into the drug store too. I went to school with your uncle Jeff and your grandpa and dad both coached me during my baseball and basketball playing days at Decker and Fritchton.
      really great memories.

    • K L Beard

      December 20, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      All of us Decker kids remember Sissons Drug store & that crazy bird. Your Grandfather was my favorite Teacher at Decker, he was loved by all!

    • Dan McIntyre

      June 30, 2018 at 6:22 pm

      Mark, I lived and went to school in St.Francisville , ILL.I rode my bycycle to Decker to work in the melon fields.In the early 1950s our school hired Donny Palmer as our basketball coach. He was the best guy we ever had for a coach and teacher.

      Dan McIntyre.

  2. Mandy Harting

    May 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    My grandfather was one of the biggest Decker Melon Farmers around. The Ellermann’s had a farm on Decker Rd, and I remember the taste of watermelon and just opening it up in the field and eating it. I love my heritage and that Decker Melons are part of it!

  3. Vicki Hamilton Roberts

    December 19, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    My grandparents lived in Decker. Wilson and Nelly Catt and we would visit in the summer and enjoy the great melons. I remember the Palmers, a wonderful family.

  4. Mary Ann Smith Ricketts

    December 19, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Yes I remember those melon fields very well. My father Morris Smith farmed for Dudley Alexander many years. We moved on the farm in Jan of 1957, soon after Dad was going full force in the melons, we also had a big hog operation, Mr Alexander would bring ideals to Dad and they would come around, we had the hog barns where they never left the concrete till they went to market. I spent many hours cleaning the barns and driving the tractors down those melon rows for hours. Dad was also good to hire kids who’s parents would call to let them work. I’ve been back to the farm a few years ago, was so sad to see what it’s became. But the memories are still as vivid as they were back in the good old days of Decker. Maybe everyone should get together and compile a book called “If the Melon Fields of Decker Could Talk “.

  5. Sue Wick

    December 20, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Those were the days! My father ‘Snooky Seibel’ & family lived 1 mile east of Decker raising the best melons ever. So many wonderful memories in those melon fields, one of my favorite memories was picking watermelons getting to the end of the field on a hot day, bust a watermelon and eat the heart of the melon. Absolutely Delicious! My husband, Brian Wick who’s family purchased Wick’s Grocery Store in 1952, next to Sisson’s store and across the street from Bob Berry in Decker has a multitude of memories of the town. Many of the farm families came into the store with stories of the ‘Melon Fields’ in Decker.

  6. Brandy Sisson Worland

    May 13, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    My grandfather owned Sissons Drug Store. I never had the pleasure of meeting the imfamous Polly Bird….oh but the memories I have growing up in Decker with my “grandpa drugstore.” The drug store the melons….like no other. The melons continue to thrive. The drugstore ….an empty lot….oh but a menory

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