"A Grower of Vintage
June 29, 2002 - by Fred N. Rasmussen, SUN
Charles Atwood "Chuck" Wyatt - a Rosedale
resident who specialized in growing hard-to-get vintage tomatoes with
such fanciful names as "Aunt
Ruby's German Green," "Banana
Traveler" and "Radiator
Charlie's Mortgage Lifter" - died of cardiac arrest Monday at
Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 66.
During the 1980s, Mr. Wyatt, who had
retired from the Air Force and was working in sales for Ritz Camera, was
trying to re-create the taste of the lusciously plump tomatoes he
remembered from his childhood.
His grandfather, who had been the rector
of Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, was an accomplished gardener.
"He had enjoyed gardening and learned
it from his grandfather," said his wife of 26 years, the former
Joyce Ann Mee.
In 1983, while visiting Monticello, the
Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, he bought some "Crimson
Cushion," an original beefsteak tomato, in the museum shop, and
discovered that "old-fashioned flavor again," he told The Sun in
a 1997 interview. Mr. Wyatt was hooked.
He then discovered that there were other
collectors of heirloom varieties of vintage tomatoes who swapped and
He decided to turn the 25- foot-by-50-foot
back yard of his Rosedale townhouse into a full-time garden operation
dedicated to growing vintage tomatoes whose heritage dated back fifty or
With the help of several friends, he
expanded his operation to Double Rock Park, a Baltimore County community
garden in Parkville, and between the two garden plots, raised 120
varieties of tomatoes.
He saved their seeds, adding them to his
collection of nearly 400 varieties that he sold and swapped to other
tomato buffs and home gardeners through his company, Heirloom Tomatoes.
"Over 80 percent of the varieties
available in 1910 are now extinct," he wrote in an introductory
essay to Heirloom Tomatoes' Web site. "That's a horrible word, isn't
it? Arguably, some of the best ones ever to be known to man have been
His catalog of tomato seeds was
accompanied by short descriptions and explanations for their names, size
"Box Car Willie - This beautiful,
perfectly globed med/large tomato was named after the King of the Hoboes
and I can see him searching through 'mater patches until he found this
crown jewel. A super 'mater and a great first heirloom for a novice,"
One of Mr. Wyatt's favorites was the "Greater
Baltimore," of which he wrote, "Reportedly, an old-time canning
variety in the Mid-Atlantic. I keep this because of its name."
Another was "Aunt
Ruby's German Green," a beefsteak type that is a light green in
color. "Excellent flavor and texture, good slicer, or for salads. THE
OUTSTANDING GREEN VARIETY. If you have never tried a tomato that stays
green when ripe, you should try this one, This is the biggest surprise I
have ever experienced in tomatoes," Mr. Wyatt advised buyers.
He loved to tell visitors or customers the
story behind the name of "Radiator
Charlie's Mortgage Lifter." "It was developed by Charlie
Byles of Logan, W.Va., in the 1930s," he told The Sun in 1997. "He
had a radiator repair shop, but also sold tomato plants for the unheard
of price of one dollar each. It was the sales from these plants that
paid off his mortgage in six years."
Carolyn J. Male of Salem, N.Y., a retired
microbiologist and author of 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American
Garden, said: "What Chuck contributed was making seeds and varieties
available to people they ordinarily couldn't get. Taste is why you grow
heirloom tomatoes and his prices were also very competitive and low."
Dr. Male described Mr. Wyatt as being, "generous
beyond belief with both seeds and information."
Jack Schaeffer of Middle River, who shared
Mr. Wyatt's passion for tomatoes and assisted him with the gardens,
said, "He was a quiet man. A nice fellow who was one good guy."
He revealed Mr. Wyatt's method in growing
"He put a little 10-10-10 [fertilizer]
around them as well as Epsom salts," Mr. Schaeffer said. "He put
paper around the cages to keep down the weeds and never watered them. He
let the Man Upstairs take care of that."
Despite suffering from macular
degeneration in recent years, Mr. Wyatt struggled to keep his tomatoes
growing, his Web site going and filling orders that came in from all
over the world.
Mr. Wyatt was born in Baltimore and raised
in Severna Park. He attended the Naval Academy, later leaving to serve
as an Air Force navigator with the Strategic Air Command.
After leaving the Air Force, he owned a
carpet-cleaning business in Florida before moving to Rosedale.
His first marriage ended in divorce.
Services were held Thursday.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by
a daughter, Tracy Ann Winters of St. Petersburg, Fla.; a brother,
Maurice A. "Woody" Wyatt of Baltimore; a stepson, Gary Robson of Dumont,
N.J.; two stepdaughters, Carol Kerr of River Edge, N.J., and Patricia
Bailey of Annandale, Va.; and five grandchildren.
The Baltimore Sun, June 29, 2002
This article is republished, for educational purposes.
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