Fry Brothers Turkey Ranch celebrates 75 years today

STEAM VALLEY – As his great-grandfather always said, restaurant Manager Nathan Fry still believes in “giving people a good meal at a decent price.” Fry Brothers Turkey Ranch has been doing that for 75 years today, Mother’s Day, with only a brief pause for World War II, when they raised about 15,000 turkeys per year for the government.

Business owner Dwight “Ike” Fry, Nathan’s father, likes to say Nathan is the fourth generation of Fry’s, which has been feeding people turkey on the mountain.

Situated at the top of Steam Valley Mountain, at an altitude of 1,704 feet, the turkey ranch opened on Mother’s Day 1939. A turkey dinner cost $1.

The Fry brothers originally raised their own turkeys for those famous turkey dinners, still a deal at $12.95, Fry said.

The family actually has been in business since 1886 when William Fry, a German immigrant, was part of a growers market in Williamsport called the Curbstone and Grower’s Market.

In 1925, his sons, Howard Sr. and Raymond, started a restaurant meat market on West Fourth Street and were there until the Great Depression in 1932.

Then, in 1938, the brothers bought farmland to raise turkeys, where the turkey ranch opened in 1939 and now stands.

“Our specialty has always been turkey. They raised turkeys ’til 1970 when the government took the land for the highway,” Nathan said, referring to Route 15.

According to him, they would start each season with about 10,000 turkeys, with a total flock of 100,000 on hand for each year.

“They roamed free in the fields; there were no pens,” Fry said.

When the restaurant first opened up, “it wasn’t even really a dining room, it was a counter area and they could only seat about 20 people or so,” Fry said.

“They had over 10,000 visitors and they served 1,011 meals,” he added.

According to Fry, Mother’s Day always is “the busiest day of the year. The busiest one ever was 1,250 people, which happened in 2005,” he added.

Because of that initial huge turnout, the legend goes that his great-grandfather started ripping out walls to expand – the next day they opened, Fry said.

“They made a dining room and added a little traveler’s motel and a separate diner on top of that,” he said.

The restaurant now seats 300 people, is open 364 days a year and serves about 100,000 customers each year.

“Many of our customers come here for years with their parents and grandparents and now their children. And it’s the same for our workers. We currently have an employee who is the third generation to work here and he often works alongside his grandmother. That sort of thing happens rather frequently,” Fry said.

The turkey ranch has served more than 150,000 turkeys since 1939 and its turkey dinner still is by far the most popular meal, but Fry’s also offers ham dinners, chicken, even grilled liver and onions, as well as a seafood dinner and a variety of lunch items.

The busiest season is spring through fall, when people start traveling.

To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the family is putting together old photos and a history of the place to have on display.

“We will have some special deals we will be giving away to keep the celebration going through the whole year,” Fry said.

Ike said he started working with his parents at the age of 12, and his first job was ordering candy for the candy case.

He said the government would hire the ranch’s night watchmen to watch out for enemy planes during World War II.

“They soon learned that any plane that went over, the turkeys would know about long before the men could see or hear them, so they would pay attention to the turkeys,” he said.

The ranch truly has been a family owned and operated business since its inception. Fry’s grandmother, Lois, and her cousin, Helen “Becky” Beck, had 99 years of combined work experience.

“My grandmother worked in the kitchen for 49 years and Becky worked as a waitress for 50 years,” he said.

Becky, now in her 80s, still lives in Liberty and Lois, also in her 80s, lives in Williamsport.

Both graduated from Liberty High School and began working there in 1947.

Fry told of an interesting story about the turkeys, which were all free range, and most were on the other side of the highway.

“Something spooked them and 3,000 turkeys flew across the highway, landing on customer’s cars and people were out there trying to herd those turkeys back across the road,” Fry said.