Small Snydersburg shop has scooped up big business for 70 years

January 11, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Correspondent

SNYDERSBURG -- The mercury shivered in the 30s outside, but Willie Woodard ordered two gallons of chocolate ice cream ** and a single-dip cone at Simmons General Store anyway.

"He's got the best ice cream around," said Mr. Woodard, a Carroll County paving contractor, as Phil Nagle, 75, dug a scoop deep into the containers in the freezer of his family's store. "I buy a gallon at a time, even on a cold day."

Right behind him was Alice VanOver, who drove the few miles from her Hampstead home to buy a gallon of vanilla for dinner at her brother's home in Ruxton.

"He's been here and he knows how good it is, so he asked me to bring it," she said. "I love homemade things. I've been coming in for ice cream for eight years, since we moved here from Parkville."

Mike Wheeler, who lives nearby off Snydersburg Road, stopped in for cigarettes but said he'd be back for ice cream.

"It is good. It's the best damn ice cream in the world," he said. "Where else can you get homemade?"

Amish farmers from Lancaster -- certainly no strangers to good homemade food -- arrive with 30-gallon cans into which they pack as many of the plastic one-gallon ice cream containers as they can to takehome, said Jean Neudecker, Mr. Nagle's daughter.

It's been the best ice cream around for nearly 70 years, since Estie Simmons started making it in a hand-cranked freezer on the family farm across Snydersburg Road, Mr. Nagle said.

Mr. Nagle, a Baltimore native who moved to Snydersburg to work onhis wife's uncle's farm, has been selling the ice cream for 55 years, since he and Margie Simmons married. The tiny one-gas-pump general store is an anachronism in this era of supermarkets and 24-hour convenience stores but it is important for Snydersburg, a rural crossroads community in the midst of rolling fields and encroaching suburban development.

"The store ain't changed a bit since the beginning," Mr. Nagle said, except for the ranks of sports trophies won by teams Mrs. Neudecker has coached and managed and stuffed animals her son has hunted.

A glass-fronted cylindrical case still has some rolls of thread, another old-fashioned case contains a few hanks of embroidery thread; three shades of orange, colonial brown, beauty pink and beauty rose.

A pot-bellied stove that warmed the store for decades was replaced last year by a furnace in the basement. Hunter, the family dachshund, lolls on the warm floor register above the furnace.

A kerosene pump just inside the front door goes unused because the Health Department proclaimed it potentially dangerous to children, Mr. Nagle said.

"It's been there since the store opened [in the early 1920s] and no one has ever gotten sick from it," he said.

Once upon a time "we had anything you could put on the table," but the Simmons ice cream carries the business now, Mr. Nagle acknowledged. The well-worn shelves and showcases, under coats of thick brown paint, hold less and less stock. For example, a soft-drink display is nearly empty because, Mr. Nagle said, he cannot match soda prices with the Hampstead stores.

The ice cream recipe is closely held, shared by Mr. Nagle; his wife, Margie, 74, Estie Simmons' daughter, and their son-in-law, Carroll Neudecker.

Mr. Nagle -- who said he works in the store daily from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. -- bristled when he thought an outsider might be probing for the secret. He warned his wife and daughter not to reveal anything.

The recipe isn't written down anywhere, Mr. Nagle said.

"Ain't none of 'em knows what's in it and I ain't about to tell. I got it up here," he said, tapping the side of his head.

Mrs. Neudecker said her parents had to let her husband in on the secret two years ago when he assumed most of the weekly ice-cream production after Mr. Nagle had a heart attack.

"I don't even know what it is," she said.

You can have any flavor you like so long as it's chocolate or vanilla, or whatever fruit flavor is seasonal and available, customerssaid.

On hot summer days, scores of cars line up on narrow Snydersburg Road as people flock to buy ice cream, they said.

Mr. Nagle said he can't say how many gallons pass through the freezer during the summer but that even during the coldest winter weeks he sells at least 30 gallons.

Mrs. Nagle, who was born and spent her early years on the farm across the road, said her mother and neighboring farmers' wives regularly made ice cream in hand-cranked freezers.

"It was hard work," she said.

When her parents left the farm to open the store in the early 1920s, they decided to make the ice cream commercially and at one time sold it from a store in Hampstead, she said.

For the first year, Mrs. Nagle said, her mother used milk and cream from the neighboring farms, "but then the Health Department stepped in because it wasn't pasteurized so from ** then on we had to buy it from a dairy."

While the store itself may not have changed, the surrounding area has changed dramatically. New houses have gone up among the white clapboard Victorian dwellings with tin roofs along Snydersburg Road, and there are several new housing developments nearby.

"There's so much more traffic," Mrs. Nagle said, "this was just a dirt road when I was young. I've lived in this house [abutting the store] since I was eight years old."

Mrs. Neudecker, who was born in the house, said it was great fun being the child of the storekeeper. She said she helped at the store, waiting on customers, including other children, "and it made you feel real good."

As the Nagles grow older, the question of whether the Simmons General Store and its famous ice cream will continue as a Snydersburg tradition is open.

"I don't know whether they will want to keep it," Mrs. Nagle said.

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