By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Mortgage Lifter Tomato, a large pink beefsteak, is known as much for its legendary history as it is for its size and dependability.
Marshall Cletis Byles, better known as M. C. or Charlie, operated an auto repair shop at the foot of a mountain in Logan, West Virginia during the Great Depression. Coal and timber trucks overheated as they climbed the hill. They rolled back down the hill to M.C.’s shop where he’d fix their radiators. Soon he became known as “Radiator Charlie.”
M.C. tinkered in his garden as he did in the auto shop.
In spite of no formal education or plant breeding experience, he identified four of the largest tomato varieties available in the country at the time: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an English variety, and an Italian variety.
He planted 10 of these tomato plants in a circle with a German Johnson in the center, and hand-pollinated the German Johnson with pollen from the other tomatoes.
For six years, M.C. saved the strongest seed from his efforts and replanted until he had a stable tomato variety.
By then, he felt he had a fantastic tomato plant.
And he convinced others that the tomato was special, too. M.C. sold his tomato plants for $1 each, hardly a bargain price back then in the 1940s. He used the profits to pay off his $6,000 house mortgage. For that reason, the tomato became known as “Mortgage Lifter.”
Other Mortgage Lifter strains have since been bred from M.C.’s tomato, but today the original is identified as “Radiator Charlie’s.”
You can hear more about M.C.’s story in a recorded interview before his death at age 97.
|Mortgage Lifter Tomato, Radiator Charlie’s|
|Type: Heirloom, family|
|Origin: West Virginia, USA|
|Days to maturity: 85|
|Season: Late season|
|Foliage/habit: medium cover, regular-leaf foliage, grows in clusters of 2 or 3|
|Fruit color: deep pink|
|Fruit shape/size: beeksteak, 1-2 pounds|
|Disease resistance: V (Verticillium Wilt), F (Fusarium Wilt), N (Nematodes)|
|Yield: moderate to high|
|Taste: sweet, rich|
|Other strains: Mortgage Lifter, Bi-Color; Mortgage Lifter, Red; Mortgage Lifter Tomato, Yellow|
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