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"Mortgage Lifter" Heirloom Tomato

Sales of this hearty heirloom tomato could pay a lot of bills -- so the story goes ...

By Anita Stone | Photo Courtesy P. Beck

A modern version of Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato
Mortgage Lifter: a handsome, popular heirloom.

More ...
Read about 14 other inspiring heirloom tomatoes.

Click here for some heirloom seed sources>> 


The legendary’ Mortgage Lifter’ has thrilled tomato enthusiasts for more than 70 years.

When his radiator repair business slumped during the Great Depression, West Virginian, Marshall C. Byles, also known as "Radiator Charlie,” began cross-breeding the largest tomatoes he could find.

He claimed to have known nothing about growing plants.

After experimenting with cross-pollination of flowers from each of five selected tomato plants, the seed was saved.

After consistently rotating the seeds for the next four years, Byles developed pinkish-red tomatoes that weighed from 1 to 2 pounds each.

Big Tomatoes for Sale
Pleased with the outcome, he advertised the large beefsteak tomato as being able to feed a family of six.

When word spread about the fruit, people drove as far as 200 miles to buy the seedlings for $1 per plant.

From the sales of these tomatoes, Byles paid off a $6,000 mortgage on his home within four years; hence, the name Mortgage Lifter.

He continued to grow the fruit, which gained national attention, and soon hundreds of gardeners were saving seeds and growing this sweet-tasting heirloom tomato that was produced by a radiator repair man.

To Grow a Mortgage Lifter
The drought-tolerant Mortgage Lifter is simple to grow from seed.

If sown indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, place each seed 1/3-inch deep in a starting tray covered with plastic film in a warm room.

When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic cover and place the tray under a fluorescent light approximately 2 inches above the seedlings.

After the final frost, plant seedlings in the garden in full sun.

Or you can plant seedlings in a four gallon pot in full sun. Seed is available at many retail or online nurseries, such as http://monticellostore.stores.yahoo.net/600061.html

And don't forget, if you grow the Mortgage Lifter, be sure to save the seeds, dry them out and plant them next year.

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"Mortgage Lifter" Heirloom Tomato

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Reader Comments
I don't know where the story about "Radiator Charlie" came from and him taking credit for the "Mortgage Lifter" tomato. This tomato was created by my botanist great uncle William Buchanan. He lived near Logan, W.Va. had a large greenhouse and in the 1930's developed this tomato, because he wanted one that sliced large enough for a sandwich. He did then sell the seeds and paid off his mortgage in 6 years. He was a Christian and honest man. I think this other man took credit for this fabulous work my dear great uncle did. My entire family knows what Uncle Bill did, my grandmother was with him much of the time when he was experimenting with various types of tomatoes (she was his little sister). I just feel the story should be truthful. Thank you.
Connie DeGraff-Shearer, Dowagiac, MI
Posted: 5/4/2014 10:31:17 PM
Pleade help !!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have large healthy mortgage lifter tomato plants............but hardly a tomato. The plants aare lare and full of blossoms.........but no tomatoes......I planted 4 small plants the end of Fed.2010. What am I doing wrong ?????????? I think I got 2 tomatoes......small......but delicious.........
Margret Forbes
Margret, mbodoz@yahoo.com, CA
Posted: 7/28/2010 11:22:54 AM
I have grown Mortgage Lifters for several years and tey have the best taste and size of any tomato I have ever grown. They range in size from 2 to 4 pounds.
Gregg, Peak, KY
Posted: 7/20/2010 4:51:26 AM
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