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  1. #1

    Default sheeny man, (1950's junk dealer with horse-drawn wagon)

    When I was a kid, in the early 1950's, on Dorothy Street near Hamtramck, there would periodically come a junk dealer through the alley on a horse-drawn wagon, blowing a tinny-sounding horn. Everyone called him the "sheeny." I have since learned that that's probably an insulting term for a Jew, but that's what we knew him as. I think we would probably hail him as "Hey, sheeny-man!" to get his attention, but there was no insult intended. He bought old newspapers, scrap metal, appliances, stuff like that.

    Anyone else remember such a guy?

  2. #2

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    My grandmother told me there was a Jew who came from the same small village in Poland as she did who traveled through her neighborhood collecting rags and who sold household notions such as needles and thread and romance novels in Polish and she could play the numbers through. She was invited to have tea at his house a few times and said they seemed to do very well.

    I may have heard of them called the ragman, but I've never heard anyone use the term sheenyman. I've only read it in this forum.
    Last edited by Brock7; September-10-15 at 10:39 PM.

  3. #3

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    There was an elderly black man with a one horse cart that roamed our alleys over in the Harper-Whittier area in the forties and early fifties. He would root though the trash barrels looking for stuff (trash and garbage went in separate containers with different pickup days). The larger items of trash would just lean against the barrel. I don't remember him buying anything. He always left the area around your can cleaner that he found it, so nobody ever complained. My mother and grandmother always called him the "sheeny".

  4. #4

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    I lived in the Mack and St. Aubin area and we had a sheeny man. We also had a horse drawn wagon with an ice man and another with a coal man. I don't think I ever saw the sheeny man but he was used as a threat if we didn't behave.

  5. #5

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    Sealtest still used horses on their milk wagons in the 1940s.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermod View Post
    Sealtest still used horses on their milk wagons in the 1940s.
    There were still some horse drawn milk wagons in Detroit until at least the mid 50's.

    The term "sheeney wagon" is almost unknown outside of Detroit. I had to explain it to my kids. I looked it up and it had negative Jewish connotations but I never associated it with or heard it being referenced to Jewish people. The sheeny men were always black in my experience. Once, we were moving out my grandparents' stuff on Beniteau. We saw, down the alley, a sheeny cart go by. My mother hopped in the car and chased him down. The sheeney man took the unwanted metal and things.

  7. #7

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    We had a Sheenyman late 50's/early 60's. Mom would sometimes get carrots and let us feed the horse. It was a big deal to us then, like Facebook is these days..... One hot day, she dragged the garden hose out to the "alley", turned it on low, so the horse could drink from it, as kids we were fascinated with the animal. She would give glasses of water to the Sheenyman.

  8. #8

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    I too remember the Sheenyman. The horse and wagon in the city was a rarity. It was the only time we saw a "farm animal".

    I remember the the kids cappin' (insults) on each other using the sheenyman as your dad or if it weren't for the sheenyman you'd be naked.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Wesson View Post
    I too remember the Sheenyman. The horse and wagon in the city was a rarity. It was the only time we saw a "farm animal".

    I remember the the kids cappin' (insults) on each other using the sheenyman as your dad or if it weren't for the sheenyman you'd be naked.
    Nice! I forgot about those....... "Nice shoes, where did you get those, the Sheenyman?"

  10. #10

    Default "I'm going to give you to the sheeny man if you aren't good."

    I remember the Sheeny man coming down the alley back in the 50’s. When his horse would take a dump near our house, my mother would have my brother and me shovel some into our wagon and bring it back home to put in the garden.
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  11. #11

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    Great photo, CassTechGrad!!!! Yeah, that's how I remember him. We called him the sheeny man also, but I can't remember if he was black or white. There was nothing disrespectful meant about the term; it was just common neighborhood usage (Grand River - Sorrento area). I don't recall any negative thinking about Jews in our family at all...just neighbors with a different religion than ours, no big deal at all.

    I also remember a guy who came down the street with a large stone grinder on wheels, ringing a hand bell, and shouting "knives sharpened!".

    God, what a different world it was back in the forties. Sigh.

  12. #12

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    You can see these sort of vendors today in some parts of the world. I lived in Calcutta for several months this year and every day people would walk down my street, calling out for whatever they were selling or collecting, or offering services like ironing or washing. Once I saw a guy with a trained monkey.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ray1936 View Post
    I also remember a guy who came down the street with a large stone grinder on wheels, ringing a hand bell, and shouting "knives sharpened!".
    The guy that did it in our neighborhood carried the grinding wheel and framework on his back with slings like a back pack. He had a little bell in his hand that he rang. When she heard it, my grandmother would run around and grab the different scissors and knives for us to take out to him for sharpening.

    We also had:

    Fruit and vegetable trucks with a colorful awning on the bed with the produce in bushel baskets. They always seemed to be manned by a pair of Italians with mustaches.

    The Mills bakery truck with all of the bread and goodies.

    The Bordens and the Twin Pines milk trucks and the Sealtest milk wagons. Most houses had a milk chute by the back door.

    The Fuller Brush man going door to door.

  14. #14

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    My mother used to threaten us with the Sheeny also, but then she also threatened us with the Gypsys too. We had horse drawn Wayne Creamery in southwest Detroit and the horse would sometimes just figure it was time to go home and the milkman had to chase the horse down the street and bring him back. We had Mills and Awrey, "Bill the Baker" was our delivery guy.
    And who could forget the man with the pony coming to take your picture.

  15. #15

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    We had a sheeny man in Grosse Pointe too, but he was British and wore a tuxedo.

    Seriously, I remember the guy that game around with a push cart and sharpened knives.

  16. #16

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    My mom has mentioned the sheeny man. She did not grow up in the Detroit area. Her family moved around different parts of Ohio, mostly rural, but they did spend a few years in Toledo and a few in Canton (Canton, Ohio, not Michigan). I'm guessing the Sheeny man was in one or both of those cities, not in the little cornfield towns.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by JenniferL View Post
    My mom has mentioned the sheeny man. She did not grow up in the Detroit area. Her family moved around different parts of Ohio, mostly rural, but they did spend a few years in Toledo and a few in Canton (Canton, Ohio, not Michigan). I'm guessing the Sheeny man was in one or both of those cities, not in the little cornfield towns.
    Ohio? That guy had one great horse!

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by GPCharles View Post
    We had a sheeny man in Grosse Pointe too, but he was British and wore a tuxedo.

    Seriously, I remember the guy that game around with a push cart and sharpened knives.
    I remember him too, though just barely. My clearest memory is the sound of his bell. I figured that was one of those things from the past that no longer existed.

    Imagine my surprise when a few years ago, in Brooklyn, I heard the sound again. Looked outside the window and sure enough: a knife sharpener. This one drove an old truck. I grabbed a knife and ran to catch him for the full experience. Even got a photo. He wouldn't let me take one with him visible. He was at least 60, with a South Brooklyn accent (of course). Cramped inside his truck, along with several grinders affixed to wooden benches, were three huge and unfriendly looking pit bulls.

    Name:  knife-sharpener_brooklyn_2011.jpg
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    I've seen him come by a couple more times since then. I even saw another one, with a similar set up, a different old truck, and no dogs. They come to my current neighborhood (Park Slope), but I never saw one during many years in Fort Greene previously, only a short walk away. They seem to work on weekends. I don't expect these guys will be around much longer.

    You can still find trash pickers all over South America, as I'm sure you can elsewhere. In Brazil and Argentina I've always seen them pulling their carts themselves. In Montevideo they still sometimes use horses. I should have taken a photo of that.
    Last edited by bust; September-11-15 at 10:40 PM.

  19. #19

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    We had an older Italian guy who walked the east side neighborhood every few weeks, with a foot operated grinding wheel which he used to sharpen knives and scissors.
    The "sheeny man" worked the alleys at our cousins' neighborhoods near City Airport. I can still remember visiting them when he showed up in the alley, for the first time without a horse.
    Yes, Ray, even ten years later, it was a different world.

  20. #20

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    We had him in Chicago also.

  21. #21

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    As a kid growing up in the 60s, in the Balduck Park area of the far east side... I remember one of our neighbors on Marseilles St.... a Mr. Lappacola manned a produce truck... with stripped awnings... I can still hear "Strawberries Strawberries... 3 quarts for a dollar... Tomatoes, Peaches Sweetcorn"... as he drove down the street with his bells and loudspeaker. We also had a knife sharpener man come by occasionally (no alley's in our neighborhood)... and our neighborhood Ice Cream man was called "Uncle George"... who looked like Hoss Cartright.

    I also remember later spending summers in Germany visiting relatives... where they had a baker come by in his truck every morning... with fresh baked "semmel" (crusty rolls)... and still warm square cheese cake slices with raisins in it. Wouldn't have breakfast until "der Bäcker" came by first with the fresh breakfast fare.

  22. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermod View Post
    (trash and garbage went in separate containers with different pickup days)
    Do "trash" and "garbage" mean something different in Michigan? I've always understood them to mean the same thing. What's the difference?

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Király View Post
    Do "trash" and "garbage" mean something different in Michigan? I've always understood them to mean the same thing. What's the difference?
    The coffee grounds, orange peels, banana skins, leftovers, etc were wrapped in newspaper and placed in the tightly sealed garbage can.

    The trash can was a 55 gallon drum with the top removed and was where the tin cans, broken mirrors, empty glass bottles, broken glass, scraps of wood, torn clothes, etc went. They had different pickup days.

    Waste paper was burned by the homeowner in a wire cage like thing.

  24. #24

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    I wuv this fread.


    In Montreal, there is this one guy who does the sharpening bit doing the rounds and chiming to attract customers. I have seen him doing this since i was a pup and saw him last week on my street. The only other ones to chime a bell are the city guys announcing a water shut-off for repairs.

    Tony's sharpening has been around since 1958 according to comments on this thread, http://spacing.ca/montreal/2008/08/2...iguisage-tony/
    and there are t-shirts made in his effigy sold at a trendy shop in the Mile-End neighborhood. This guy rides the same old truck with hand-painted lettering and illustrations that I saw when I was a little kid. My dad used to tell me about the ragpickers and they were mostly jewish and they would do the alleys like Detroit. I helped an elderly jamaican guy put old aluminum doors and gutters to trash today after a neighbor of mine spotted us putting them out there.

    On garbage day, there are also lots of folks picking the recycling bins to check for cans and bottles for refunds. I started putting mine in there and sometimes check if they are gone before the trucks come. Sure enough, they are picked clean. Amazing to think that there is a whole ecology of folks doing the rounds to survive or thrive depending on wits and wherewithal. I noticed when I moved to the city last yaer that a lot of people were out there in all kinds of weather picking 5cent cans and 10 cent bottles. It is sad but also nice that there is an opportunity in that kind of recycling. I often see men or women walking around with huge transparent bags filled with a hundred cans worth maybe a tenner if mixed with 20cent kingcans. Jeezus Lard, look upon us kindly, poor humans that we are.

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermod View Post
    The coffee grounds, orange peels, banana skins, leftovers, etc were wrapped in newspaper and placed in the tightly sealed garbage can.

    The trash can was a 55 gallon drum with the top removed and was where the tin cans, broken mirrors, empty glass bottles, broken glass, scraps of wood, torn clothes, etc went. They had different pickup days.

    Waste paper was burned by the homeowner in a wire cage like thing.


    Detroit must have been pretty vanguard in garbage removal according to your description.
    I don't think we had anything like that in Montreal, never heard of this fine grained approach for the time period you are mentioning. Recycling and compost and just straight garbage as different entities are rather recent here, maybe 30 years old. I don't know about Vancouver's evolution but here garbage and trash are the same as kiraly says.

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