Saturday, February 8, 2020

Cannery Crime Blotter II: Getting Under a Canner's Skin

This is the second in an ongoing series of true crime from the annals of San Jose canneries. This article was lifted from the front page page of the March 22, 1928 San Jose Evening News.

Canning's always been a risky business: weather, greedy farmers, cheating wholesalers, and shifty-eyed socialists were always a concern. But did you ever hear about the time the Captain Kidd gang tried to break into the Greco cannery?

"The Big San Jose tunnel mystery is solved.

For a short time yesterday, it looked like a gang of bold, bad yeggs had tunneled under the Greco Cannery on Howard Street with the idea of getting a crack at the safe.

A squad of bluecoats was rushed to the scene by Chief of Police Black. They found - not a band of desperadoes but the "Captain Kidd Gang" - six lively youngsters who attacked the policemen in the "pirate cave" with its 75-foot exit.

It was a brief skirmish and not a shot was fired. The battle was waged in words, between the group of small boys who stood right up and talked straight from the shoulder to the big policemen. But the policemen won, for what can young 'pirates' do against big policemen in this day and age?


Author's reconstruction of likely "Captain Kidd" tunnel path.

The story of the tunnel mystery is as follows: Late yesterday afternoon a workman sent under the Greco Cannery building to make some repairs came upon a heavy board trapdoor in the ground, well under the cannery. He investigated, and on giving the door a few kicks, it gave way and revealed a sloping entrance to a tunnel through which a grown man could easily crawl.

Quivering with excitement and thinking the secret entry was the work of robbers laying plans for robbing the company office, the workman rushed into the cannery office and told the story of his discovery. V. V. Greco of the canning firm crawled under the building and looked for himself. He lost no time in getting Chief of Police Black on the telephone.


The officer sent Captain of Detectives John Guerin, Officer Covill, and Traffic Officer William E. Snow to the cannery. The traffic cop was sent as a committee of one to crawl through the tunnel and find where it led to. Traffic Officer Snow slid down the sloping entrance to the tunnel and crawled and crawled and crawled - about 75 feet - finally coming out into a three-room dugout.

He sought an exit and found it, coming out into the open air in the chicken yard of the Roumasset home, 374 North Autumn Street. Hurrying back to the other officers, Officer Snow told what he had found. After a hasty conference it was decided to have cannery officials and police keep a watch on the tunnel, it being the natural supposition that eggs were burrowing under the cannery in a clever plot to reach the office safe undetected and blast the strong box.


But while the three officers were standing over the dugout they were rushed by several small boys, including the younger members of the Roumasset family. The boys indignantly demanded what the cops were doing, trying to cave in their dugout. The mystery was solved.

And then from the lips of the "culprits" poured the story. The dugout, with its three rooms, was their "fort". They had started digging the tunnel some months ago, planning it as a secret exit in the event the "army" or "gang" should become besieged in the underground fort.

MISSED BEARINGS Originally it was planned to have the tunnel open into a hidden place near a spur track in the railroad yards, but the "chief engineer" in charge of the underground workings missed his bearings and when the tunnel broke through the ground, it was right under the floor of the Greco Cannery. The boys had no intention of doing any harm and no one but the gang knew about the tunnel, although parents of some knew of the dugout in the back yard.

The police ordered them to seal the tunnel, which the boys reluctantly agreed to do, if the police would rush reinforcements in case of a raid by an opposing gang. confirms that the Roumasset house was at 374 North Autumn, and a Sunburn map shows the house was right next to the tracks, just west of the Greco cannery. Charles Roumasset was the patriarch, born in New Almaden, and a meat cutter by trade. His wife was Lillian. They lived with her mother, Maria Magistretti, who was born in the italian part of Switzerland. also names the likely "Captain Kidd gang" members: Charles (15 at the time), John P. (12), Robert (11), and Eugene (9). Considering their father's birth in the midst of miners, I'm a bit disappointed they didn't aim their tunnel better. There's a bit on the four boys on the Internet, but they never got caught again tunneling into a cannery - apparently the Captain Kidd gang got scared straight.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

This Train Ain't Bound for Glory

Model railroads are most fun when there’s action, and that means we want to model prototypes with lots of trains moving around. I chose the Vasona Branch over other SP branches because I assumed the canneries and dried fruit packing houses along the tracks could generate that action. However, I also wanted to include the photogenic locations in the Santa Cruz mountains: redwoods, oak, chaparral, and creeks in narrow canyons. I knew that industry was sparse up in Los Gatos Canyon, but just how sparse?

There aren’t a lot of sources to tell us how busy the railroad was. Maybe we’ll find a quote in a newspaper about last year’s revenue, or maybe we’ll find some railroad paperwork or photos that suggest train length. But that sort of information is rare; I’ve never had that sort of information for the Vasona Branch, but I’ve always been curious.

Luckily, there is one potential source. When railroads wanted to shut down a branch line, they’d need to ask permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to make sure they weren’t leaving customers in the lurch. The ICC decisions on abandonments give us at least a small view into an under-performing branch.

I’d always been curious about the abandonment proceedings, but assumed the details would be in a dusty book in a university library’s off-site storage. I’d asked around when I was visiting the California State Railroad Museum last week, but the likely books were stored off-site. Some poking around showed that some local libraries might also have some of the ICC decisions, but none of the places were easy to access. I knew rough dates of abandonments, and web sites like even provided the ICC “docket number” to help with searches - the abandonment of the Los Gatos - Olympia portion of the line in 1940 was ICC docket #12815.

It’s also the 21st century, so there’s a good chance some of those documents are on-line. So I tried a few searches with different keywords in different permutations: “interstate commerce commission”, “abandonment”, “los gatos”, “South Pacific Coast”.

Pay dirt. The abandonment decisions for SP’s Boulder Creek branch (1933), Le Franc to New Almaden (1933 also), Los Gatos to Olympia (1940), and Campbell to Le Franc all turned out to be on-line, with links below. None of these are particularly compelling reading: no stories of murders, or heroic rescues, or amusing encounters with grizzly bears, but just some dry stories: “This railroad no longer has a reason for being there, the folks living nearby don’t need it, and the railroad doesn’t want to run it.” They’re also not full of railfan facts such as locomotives and engineers. However, they still give us a sense of what the railroad was like.

From the Southern Pacific Company Abandonment of theSanta Cruz branch from Los Gatos to Olympia:

“The line proposed to be abandoned is an intermediate segment of the branch connecting San Jose… with Santa Cruz. It was built by the South Pacific Railroad in 1870-1880 and acquired by the applicant in 1937. The main track is laid with 90 pound rail. The aggregate curvature is about 3,598 degrees, with a total length exceeding 8 miles. There are approximately 13,137 feet of timber-lined and masonry-lined tunnels… Motive power is limited to the consolidated type of locomotive…. the line serves an area mainly devoted to summer homes and resorts; there are no industries except for a limited amount of fruit growing, which is not dependent on the railroad for transportation.”

But then we start getting some of the color. “As protection against embankment slides and washouts, a pilot was sent ahead of the early morning train.” As model railroaders, having a pilot train running to watch for redwoods across the track would be quite the thing for operation. Saturday excursion runs generated most of the passenger numbers, so I should run more Sunshine Specials to Santa Cruz.

And then there’s the traffic numbers. I knew that the Santa Cruz Mountains were quiet in the 1930’s, but oh how quiet! There were only six carloads of outgoing freight between 1935 and 1939. Each year, there were only 40-70 cars inbound (except for 1939, when 392 carloads came in for Highway 17 construction.) Most of the traffic was through service: thousands of passengers, mostly for the Sunshine Special excursions. The line also carried 500-1500 carloads of sand from Olympia and “oiled crushed rock” (aka asphaltic rock) from near Davenport each year. Even with the mountainous route, shipping via Los Gatos Canyon was faster and less expensive than going the long way through Watsonville and Gilroy. The Southern Pacific admitted the costs were higher on the new route, but they'd be able to handle more cars per train. The shippers were disappointed at the loss of the short route to San Francisco, but resigned to pay an extra 0.25 cents to 1.5 cents per hundred pounds to ship their product via Watsonville. That’s all model railroad scale: about five loaded cars a day across the railroad, and one car a day ending up on the railroad.

The reports also list population, highlighting how much the Santa Cruz mountains had depopulated. Only around 1300 people were living along the line in 1939, with 500 at Alma, 150 at Aldercroft Heights, 40 at Call of the Wild, 50 at Wrights, 35 at Laurel, 196 at Glenwood, and a huge 240 at Zayante. The numbers are probably larger now, but the land’s still pretty empty.

If you go and compare those freight numbers to San Jose, it’s easy to see why the SP dumped the Los Gatos canyon line. Compare with San Jose proper. A 1940 labor law case argued that several of the dried fruit packers tried to sponsor their own union to avoid the Longshoremen’s Union getting into their business. In between stories of companies directing favored employees to organize “the right way”, there’s details about fruit volume. J.S. Roberts, on my layout, generated 1,750 tons of fruit in 1939- as much as the Los Gatos - Olympia section carried in a full year. Abinante and Nola and Hamlin Fruit generated similar traffic. Sunsweet and Del Monte would have generated 300 cars a year each in dried fruit from San Jose. It’s not hard to see how SP made its money.

For me as the modeler, these facts stress how I should keep the Santa Cruz Mountains quiet: occasional freights full of sand-laden gondola, but otherwise no sizable industries generating traffic, and a bunch of rusty sidings that may not see a train again.

Oh, and I need to model that pilot train checking the line.

Raw numbers for the Los Gatos - Olympia service:

Passenger Traffic: 

YearLocal PassengersThrough Passengers

Freight Traffic:

YearLocalLCLBridge Traffic
193539 carloads / 1984 tons20 tons14 carloads / 229 tons
193631 carloads / 1557 tons 8 tons0 tons
193769 carloads / 3758 tons 22 tons416 carloads / 21,075 tons
193836 carloads / 1451 tons26 tons01,133 carloads / 64,426 tons
1939392 carloads / 21225 tons37 tons1,517 carloads / 92, 554 tons

Only 6 carloads of freight originated on the line from 1935-1939. Six.

That was fun; let’s check another!

Here’s the abandonment report for theBoulder Creek to Felton branch, torn up in 1933. “The marketable timber supply in the territory has become exhausted, there is no other manufacturing industry in the territory, farming is of no importance.” Rock and stone were the main freight being shipped, but only around 100 loaded cars or so were coming off the branch. “The only inbound carload traffic of regular nature is an occasional car of coal.” The report lists that service had declined to a weekly freight, with cars, buses, and trucks taking away business that had been for the railroad.

Or the New Almaden branch. The New Almaden mines had been shut down for years; the only traffic from the line between 1931 and 1933 was “137 tons of tomato juice”. “ The weekly mixed freight just encouraged the locals to jump in the car to get around.

Or the Le Franc branch: surrounded by orchards and vineyards, but the locals all deliver their produce by truck. From 1933-1936, the SP handled less than twenty carloads a year, and handled it all with a yard locomotive.

Again, none of these documents contain essential facts for our model railroads, but they do tell a bit about how the railroad declined, and who remained to use it during its last years. When visitors come by, we can point at a tank car, look sad, and say “137 tons of tomato juice - that’s the only thing that railroad shipped in its last year.”

Pro tips for finding similar documents: try several searches, and poke through a couple pages of search results. Use quotes around groups of words such as “Interstate Commerce Commission”. If you find a book with other railroad-related legal reports, check the index or start using keywords, and you might find some interesting gems. Abandonment reports sometimes turn up in the “Finance Reports” volume, though that wasn't true for all the cases here. If you decide not to practice your Google searching skills, check for a university library with ICC reports, or visit a county law library that has access to HeimOnline - that database apparently has all the government publications. Santa Clara County's law library provides free access if you visit.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Land Law Ain't Easy

When you come right down to it, railroads are a real estate business with a transportation sideline. They own huge amounts of property, deal with lots of legal and illegal ways to get access to property, then need to track it and the dependencies on arcane law. Remember Tom Campbell’s California Railroad Commission case about whether a grocery wholesaler’s siding was a team track? Property law. Southern Pacific losing the franchise to run down Fourth Street in San Jose, but continuing to do it for fifteen years? Property law. George Patterson stopping the South Pacific Coast Railroad at gunpoint when they attempted to cross his Newark land by eminent domain? Well, that's kinda property law.

When railroads get right-of-way in the normal way (aka not laying tracks across a farmer's land in the middle of the night when no one’s looking), the records of land ownership eventually end up in the County Recorder’s office. I’ve been able to wander into the Alameda County clerk-recorder’s office and found the handwritten deed for great-grandpa’s eleven acres of ridge-top land, or down to San Jose to find who owned a cannery in the 1930’s - those records are present and accessible back to the formation of the state.

Well, in most places.

Elizabeth Creely documents the story of one of the sidings along the old main line that no longer has an owner.

Southern Pacific (and its predecessor the San Francisco and San Jose) originally got to San Francisco by the same route Caltrain currently takes - at least to San Bruno. At San Bruno, the railroad followed what eventually became the San Bruno branch, paralleling El Camino up through South San Francisco and Daly City, and eventually cutting through the Mission District. That line was superceded by the current line through Brisbane and Visitation Valley around 1910, but the track continued to be used for trains at places up into the 1970s. The line that cut across the Mission district can still be seen in the diagonally shaped infill buildings along the path. When the SP attempted to sell the old right-of-way in 1991, the adjacent buildings fought back, claiming they actually owned the land. The only problem? The original transfer of land to the Southern Pacific was in San Francisco’s Hall of Records… which burned in the 1906 earthquake. Did the SP buy the land or get an easement? Read Elizabeth’s article to find out.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Model Railroads and Technical Debt

Model railroading has taught me a lot. I can identify solvents by smell… and get nostalgic when I smell Dio-sol or Dullcoat. I learned how to repair mechanical devices, and convinced someone I might be a keeper when I fixed her CD player. Most importantly, I learned how to be kind to my future self, because I try to remember to make it easy to fix stuff on the model railroad in one year… or in ten years.

That’s a common lesson for model railroaders. Model railroads are long-term, large projects. The model railroad we build is going to last for several years, and we’re going to be expanding and repairing it along the way. The design and implementation choices we make years before will curse us years later. One badly placed switch machine is going to leave us with a sore back every time we repair it. Each time we cut corners wiring, we’re just forcing future-us to try to figure why that blue wire’s hanging loose, or remembering the wire color we used when we didn’t have black wire available. Every bit of track we can’t reach will be our bane every time a locomotive stalls or the track needs cleaning. Every model railroader has that moment of “what was this purple wire for, and where does it go?” early on in the hobby. After that we realize the benefit of using standard colors for wires, providing good access both to the track and to the mechanical and electrical parts below the layouts, the importance of labelling connectors and writing down designs - doing anything we can to avoid past-us making life difficult for future-us.

It turns out that’s a pretty useful skill in the real world, too.

I got to move some equipment I’m running into a new computer room the week before last. After I’d finished wiring it up, I asked one of the IT guys for help with something else. When he came over, he immediately commented on the state of the rack. “Wow, you’re using cable ties. And your wiring is neat - not like that other engineering rack.” He showed me the proper way to cable tie wire loops was with two ties, but he seemed pretty impressed that a software engineer was trying to keep wiring neat. The other rack, which I’d just moved my stuff from, had so many cables coming out the back that I couldn’t reach in to disconnect my machines. To be fair, the other folks in the rack were reconfiguring their stuff daily, and had a lot of connections to support; I was setting mine up for a single, long-term configuration with a much simpler configuration. Google’s original “cork board” server racks - now in the Smithsonian - highlight that you can be pretty successful even with messy wiring.

But model-railroader me was also wiring that equipment in the same way I’d want to wire the model railroad. I remembered the messy wiring on my first model railroad, and the pain I caused future-me. As a result, I made sure to steal cable ties from random benches, chose different colors for all my different cables, and neatly routed the wiring so I could get to the equipment and track down cable paths. Future-me (or future team-mate reaching in that same rack) should have an easier time, all thanks to past-me placing switch machines in inaccessible chambers between sheets of plywood, or tracking down intermittent shorts when teenage-me was splicing together wires with a couple of twists and bit of masking tape for insulation.

We worry about the short-cuts in computer programming just as we do in model railroading or in physical engineering. It’s become a popular topic in software engineering research as “technical debt” - delayed cleanup or quick-and-dirty implementations that complicate or block future changes. There’s even mini-conferences on the topic with research papers titles like “How do Software Practitioners Discount the Future?” Real engineering has technical debt too - think how commuter rail choosing to use low-level platforms (boarding at ground level) might never be able to move to high-level platforms (level surface from platform to passenger car) because of the problems transitioning from one to another. However, software tends to have more of these kinds of problems because everything’s up for grabs in software - we can build stuff any way we want, we don’t necessarily have conventions about how to do common tasks, and it’s often difficult to see those shortcuts from the outside. It’s common to tie together two bits of software with the ugliest, most fragile hack “that’s only needed temporarily”, just as I used alligator clips to temporarily tie together the power for two strips of LED lighting today. That’s less common in more traditional engineering disciplines; as far as I know, petroleum engineers never say “Joe, you sure you want to use cardboard tubes to join those two parts of the refinery while you’re testing?” (If you want a more nuanced argument about technical debt in software, read Kellan Elliot-McCrea’s argument that the term technical debt is mixing up a whole bunch of reasons why we have problems maintaining the things we build.

My current job involves writing tools to help software engineers build better programs: programs to test that the software can be built correctly, runs correctly, and has the performance we expect. Because our team has to have our infrastructure ready so that everyone else can make progress, that means we’re often building stuff as fast as we can, cutting occasional corners, and incurring technical debt so everyone else can build the things we sell. I occasionally take the same shortcuts in model railroading. Occasionally I route wires in ways that’ll make it harder to track down problems, or I’ll avoid adding a terminal strip to save on wire but minimize testing or change possibilities, or I’ll leave a switch machine near a joist where I can’t easily get to it. It’s ok in moderation, and it helps me make progress on the bigger task of building and completing the model railroad I want to build. I’ve been describing technical debt for our tools as us not trying to make future-us suffer too much, but acknowledging that some of our choices will make future-us suffer a little bit. “In ten years, we want to be laughing about the short-cuts we took and the pain it caused, not crying about a shortcut that kept us from meeting our real goals.”

That’s not a bad rule for the model railroad, too. As I was cutting in a new circuit for some LED lights for the lower deck, I wasn’t perfectly happy with how I was routing the wires, but I wanted to get everything completed and back together again tonight because keeping everything running is also a good engineering goal. And with luck, I won’t remember tonight’s short cut; if I do, I’m certain I’ll be laughing about the short cut in a few years once all the fluorescent lights are replaced by LEDs.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

"Hapa's Brewing Doesn't Do Things By Halves!" Says Edith Daley

It’s a crazy time in Silicon Valley right now - lots of construction and new office space, lots of traffic, lots of folks moving in. The 1970’s tilt-ups around our current office are failing to the bulldozer and getting replaced with four stories of apartments and AMD engineering cubicles. Our office manager just moved west from North Carolina, and I can’t imagine how crazy this place seems to her - wide open skies, brown hills, and too damn many verification engineers and JavaScript ninjas. Neighbors fighting neighbors over coding style conventions. French bulldogs with LinkedIn profiles. It’s a common story - if this was the turn of the century, we would have had a bunch of Italian immigrants, fresh off the boat, looking for cannery or farm work, and we would have overheard arguments about the correct way to fix a canning line without stopping the line or losing a finger. If this was the 1950’s, we’d be fighting for seats at the Burger Pit against IBM and Lockheed engineers, while a bunch of drunken Fairchild engineers argued about the best way to dope geranium. Instead, we avoid getting run down by Nvidia engineers or a Google bus, and fight for space at the bar with senior product managers with pugs on leashes.

Silicon Valley overheating means things are changing. In our neighborhood, we’ve lost a couple former orchard farmhouses that survived surprisingly long in the middle of subdivisions- the triple size lots are too valuable for a 1920s 2 bedroom house. The trendy bar out in the country by Saratoga is getting torn down for executive-level houses. The occasional 1950s strip mall goes post-modern, with a bunch of hipsters at Philz waiting for a bespoke cup of coffee to finish dripping. (Geez, just pour the d*mn coffee already!) If you're a friend of older San Jose - whether the 1920's, the 1970's, or the 1990's - this isn't a bad time to be taking a good look at the old stuff you like before it turns into a new apartment complex.

But progress also means some things are getting reused. Paradiso’s Deli, out by the former Del Monte cannery, looks like it’s been reinvented and reopened. Santa Clara is slowly working to reinvent its downtown. And in the former Salsina cannery building off on Lincoln Ave. in San Jose, redevelopment has cleaned up this underused building in what used to be San Jose's western cannery district and turned it into a bike repair, gallery, and beer hall.

Salsina Cannery, 2019

I've written about this building before. It was built in 1918 as Salsina Packing, a cannery founded by Carlo Aiello and Alfonso Lambroso to make tomato paste for the American market, though they quickly branched out into apricots and peaches. Edith Daley, my favorite San Jose Evening News columnist, visited the cannery in 1919; her story led with the headline "Workers at the Salsina Plant Smile Easily". Edith was impressed by the new and impressive building, the friendly management (William Leet bought ice cream for the entire canning staff on the day of her visit), and its well-ventilated interior - a big deal for the usually-hot cannery. She was also a mite confused by the name, asking for Mr. Salsina before being told that Salsina (tomato paste) was the product, not the producer! Salsina hit challenging times in the post-World War I recession. The company was sold to Virden Packing in 1922 to build William Virden's goals for a fruit-and-meat-packing colossus. Virden Packing, over-extended, failed in 1926 and got broken up, but the building appeared unused for quite a while after that date.

Back side of cannery - much more utilitarian

In 1935, the former cannery building appeared as the home of Saint Claire Brewing Company the first local brewery to open after the end of prohibition. Saint Claire disappeared by 1936, and the building was used for a series of businesses: warehouse space for the San Martin winery, a drayage company, and a good ten or fifteen years as a discount furniture store.

But the neighborhood's changed; the former cannery district is now mostly large apartment complexes. Salsina's well-ventilated cannery became studio and retail spaces a couple years ago.

Working end of the brewery

So here I am, sitting in the same cannery where Edith Daley saw “Billy" Leet buy ice cream for the entire cannery crew back in 1919. It’s now Hapa's Brewing. My chance to sit inside shows it's a stylish building both from a model railroad and canning perspective. Concrete floors for ease of cleaning and storing a seasons worth of tomato paste. The sawtooth roof adds interest from above. Concrete walls on the street side, worn corrugated iron on the railroad side. Huge beams holding up the roof so there’s more space for canning equipment. Light rail rolls by much more often than the "Friendly" SP ever serviced the Los Gatos branch. Today's Saturday afternoon crowd provides the background noise to hint at how active the building sounded at its birth. The Sainte Claire Brewing folks who had the building in 1935 would be pleased that the buildings still a happy provider of alcoholic beverages.

Edith’s pleasant description of the building still holds true - “The plant is sunny, well-ventilated, and a pleasant place in which to work.” Definitely true - the sawtooth roof brings in a surprising amount of light, and open loading doors keep it light and airy in today’s moderate May weather. I wouldn’t mind being stuck here in July. I'm not at all displeased about sitting at the bar today.

Freight door from original cannery

A hundred years ago when Edith visited, she found a San Jose where the cannery mostly had Anglo workers. “There’s a dignified high school professor from San Francisco happily at work on the fruit grader. There are sons and daughters of doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief, and they are making from $20 to $25 per week.” Mrs Addington was forewoman, J. Turner watched the incoming fruit and tomatoes to ensure it met Salsina’s quality. With the demographics she saw, perhaps it’s not surprising that Edith found the “little Italian girl- the most prolific of the bunch” so surprising in Campbell a few weeks before. Even for an Italian-run cannery, Italian immigrants on the line were either not easily identifiable, or not newsworthy to Edith’s eyes.

Fifteen years later when the Sainte Claire Brewing company started making local beer, a good fraction of the groceries in San Jose had Italian names... at least for the markets that wanted to sell local beer from San Jose.

(Side notes about the people Edith met in 1919: Mrs. Ludy Addington, 132 Topeka Ave. in the Burbank neighborhood, was a midwest transplant; her husband, Charles, ran a service station at Race and San Carlos in later years, though he listed his occupation as "oil and gas merchant" in 1920. Charles was a Southern Pacific brakeman in 1913. Jacob Turner, from Ohio, listed his occupation as cannery superintendent in 1920. He lived at 529 N. 19th Street with his wife and eight children. By 1930, he was running his own plumbing business. Running a cannery made one very good at quick plumbing repairs, I expect.)

And once you get to modern days, Salsina’s demographics have changed again. All the nearby apartment buildings means that the place is filled with the local twenty-somethings on a Saturday, maybe working at Splunk in Santana Row packing web log data into attractive canned formats, contracting at Google but angling for a full time role at Facebook, or maybe figuring out ways to profit from supporting the masses coming to make the Santa Clara Valley a productive bread basket of technology. The faces are the usual Silicon Valley mix - some Anglo, some Asian, some Hispanic, highlighting just how varied the Santa Clara Valley is. Like Edith, what I’m seeing doesn’t match the true demographics of Silicon Valley; it’s less Hispanic here than San Jose as a whole. The place also doesn’t look like my co-workers - the collection of chip engineers at work who may have been born in India, but decided long ago that the Santa Clara Valley would be their home. Over in Fremont, they’re replacing the Portuguese Holy Ghost parade with Indian festivals. If you show up at Holi, you might get covered in colored pigment. The stories the immigrants tell are the same - new immigrants risking it all to move to the US, the dangers of starting anew in a land without friends and family, and figuring out how to mix traditions from the old country with their new home.

Billy Leet isn’t serving ice cream in the 21st century, but at least Hapa has a taco truck, helping to keep this century’s puff piece writers well-fed.

Hapa's Brewing is at 460 Lincoln Ave in San Jose. It's a popular place, so folks other than me must think their IPA is tasty! No food in the restaurant, but they invite food trucks to stop by many days - check their events. Compare the photos from a few years ago to see how nicely the place has been fixed up. After your beer, walk around the neighborhood and check out the former Standard Oil depot at Auzerais and Sunol, and meander along the Los Gatos Creek trail beside the apartments that replaced the Del Monte cannery.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tracking Down the Lost Cannery of Campbell

A while ago, we heard Edith Daley’s descriptions of the folks coming down to Campbell to work in the canneries. Thanks to David Pereira, we can put some faces next to those caricatures. David, you see, has quite the connection to Campbell canneries, with his great-grandfather, great-grandmother, grandmother, and grandfather all working for the least-known of the Campbell canneries.

That cannery, as all the serious Campbell historians know, is the California Canneries, located just north of the Ainsley cannery. California Canneries is often forgotten; it didn’t have a high-profile local owner like Ainsley or Hyde; it didn’t have the brand recognition of Sunsweet's dried apricot business. Its buildings didn’t survive. It didn’t host the Doobie Brothers like the Farmer's Union Packing house. California Canneries does have a Hindenburg connection, but that all happened Back East, a long way from Campbell.


California Canneries was a San Francisco-based canner, started before the turn of the century, but run during the 20th century by Isidor Jacobs. The cannery’s home office was in San Francisco, in a wooden cannery building at 18th and Minnesota. The original building survived up until last year, with the California Canneries sign still visible from the 18th St. overpass across the SP tracks. It finally lost out to UCSF’s new campus, and was torn down for student housing. There’s a couple mentions of a Napa outpost, but nothing definite. However, in the expansionist era just after World War I, Jacobs came down to Campbell to kick the tires on a cannery.

California Canneries, 18th and Minnesota, San Francisco. Torn down. (Google Street View)

The cannery that Jacobs was eyeing was the Orchard City Cannery, run by Perley Payne, son of James Payne (who Payne Ave. in San Jose is named for.) Perley had started a cannery just north of the Ainsley plant in 1910. Payne’s Orchard City Cannery suffered during World War I; while Ainsley was selling to London, Orchard City primarily sold to Germany, and all its customers were on the wrong side of trenches, barbed wire, and mustard gas... a bad way for a cannery to make a profit. So they didn't make a profit, and Payne ended up selling out to Jacobs in 1917; he ran the cannery for the new owner for a year, but washed his hands of the canning business and fell back to orchard labor. His son noted he had quite a gift for grafting walnut trees.

“Campbell, the Orchard City”, lightly notes that Perley Payne’s son played in the rafters of the cannery building “and [was] reprimanded for his escapades.” Perley Payne Jr., in his own words, told a much more realistic and bittersweet story. He highlighted the dark side of trying to hit it big in the canning business when he talked about how his father handled the business failure. Perley later attempted to organize the workers in the local canneries.

“You see, after he lost his cannery, he kind of felt he was disgraced. And I felt, and my wife too, we really felt bad about it, because, he kind of lived on his knees the rest of his life. He depended on his brothers and his sisters when he wasn’t - like one time I remember, we didn’t work for about two or three months it rained so much here that he had to ask them for money all the time to keep us going, you know. I remember he used to charge groceries at Field’s Store in Campbell and I was working and I would take my check to Field’s Store and cash it and pay so much to Fields on dad’s bill and take some down to the gas station and Fred, I forget his last name, anyway, the guy who owned the gas station - He had a charge there, and I’d pay him, too. And I had, outside of the sorry part here, my aunt and uncle, my uncle George and my aunt Aileen — after my uncle George had died, my aunt Aileen told me, "You know George and I were figuring on sending you to college, but we figured you were too irresponsible. And here I was taking all my money that I earned for five years — all of it went home, except for what I did spend to buy that Model T Ford. All of it went home to help my mother and dad with the grocery bills and whatever else they needed. The only thing I kept out was for a haircut and a little bit to go to a show once in a while, something like that. (Perley Payne, Jr.)

Jacobs, meanwhile, managed to do reasonably well with the property, running the cannery through the 1920s and early 1930’s. But the Great Depression was lethal for canners, and California Canneries declared bankruptcy in 1932. The Campbell property went to Fred Drew, who had just bought the Ainsley Cannery. The flagship San Francisco plant went to Jacob’s broker, Moritz Feibusch, who rebranded the company as Calbear Canneries. Feibusch died in the fire on the Hindenburg airship in 1937, putting an end to California Canneries.

The Place

There’s not much evidence of California Canneries. I’ve seen its name on Sanborn maps and on an SP track diagram, but I’ve never seen a photo of the cannery. There’s a corrugated iron warehouse just south of Fry’s on Salmar Ave that must have been built for the cannery, but a tin building with a linoleum dealer and an irrigation contractor is nowhere near as photogenic as Hyde Cannery’s brick buildings closer to downtown. (The Campbell Museum does have a photo of the warehouse along Salmar Ave., but we don't see the cannery in that photo.)

California Canneries, Campbell Ca. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1920

In the 1920 Sanborn map, Harrison to the left and the railroad tracks cut across the page from southwest to northeast. Ainsley Cannery is on the bottom. Perley Payne grew up in the house on the corner of Harrison and Hopkins. Hopkins no longer exists; both canneries are now under a row of townhouses.

The 1920 map shows four structures: the cannery (one story, 15’ high, corrugated iron with a wood floor), a separate boiler house, a box nailing shed, and a 10,000 gallon water tank. Southern Pacific railroad valuation maps suggest the railroad spur was installed in 1919 as part of the Jacobs improvements, and extended further to the north in 1926. The railroad map also describes the cannery building as 83 x 138 feet, but doesn’t list the size of the warehouse.

Havens-Semaira Cannery, Campbell Ca. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1928-1935

On the 1928-1935 Sanborn map, we see Havens-Semaira Cannery running the cannery; they were founded in 1935 by John Havens of Oakland and S. J. Samaira of San Francisco. Havens had run the Sebatina Canning Company in Sonoma; S. J. Semaira had been importing dried fruits and nuts. The Sunburn map shows that the cannery expanded to take more of the lot, and the turf dealer warehouse appears to the north. The boiler house has moved, and there’s several more accessory buildings including the kindergarten, and garages. The building is still wood, and the loading platforms are now on the north side.

And A Photos Turns Up

That’s awfully dry. We know the size of the building, the materials, the size of the fuel oil tank, and the size of the kindergarten. But we don’t know anything else about the cannery and the people.

Luckily, David turned up with an employee photo from 1926. Many large companies had group panoramic photos taken during the 1920’s, and the cannery photos are particularly interesting because they give us an idea about both the number of folks working at a cannery, and the ethnic groups that made it up.

David has the photo because it contained four of his family - his great grandfather and great grandmother, his grandmother, and her future husband. His great grandfather was a carpenter; his great-grandmother and her two daughters worked at the canning tables. David was also told his grandfather is somewhere in the photo; he likely met his future wife working one summer.

1926 Employee Photo, California Canneries, Campbell. Courtesy David Pereira

View the photo in high resolution here (7 MB). Spot anything interesting? Mention it in the comments!

There’s a lot in this photo - more than 200 workers (48 men, 7 women who look like office workers, and 158 women from the canning tables.) There’s a shot of the tin building that held the cannery. There’s a box car, and houses.

The People

Let’s start with the people. We’ve got five sources to tell us something about the people in this photo: the 1920 census, a 1920 San Jose City Directory, David’s family story from 1919, Edith Daley’s article from the same summer, and Perley Payne’s stories of growing up in Campbell.

The People: The Census

Census data gives us a starting point about who was living in Campbell. The 1920 census had around 1300 people in Campbell township. Most were American; if we count the families where at least the head of the household was foreign born, we find about 25% of Campbell came from immigrant households. There were 59 Italians, 52 Portuguese, 44 English, 28 Swedes, 25 Canadians, 15 Danes, 12 Germans, 12 Austrians, 10 French, 9 Japanese, 7 Norwegians, 6 Spaniards, 5 Scots, 4 Swiss, two Finns, two Russians, and one Australian, one Irish, and one Pole.

These numbers seem a bit lower than I would have expected. By 1920, immigrants were huge part of cannery workforces in other places (as evidenced by Del Monte's employee newsletter having sections in multiple languages, and the size of the Italian and Portuguese communities in San Jose and Santa Clara.) However, the group photo shows more workers that look American than I expected. I could imagine Campbell wasn't as interesting a place for new immigrants. The land was probably expensive because it was good soil and well irrigated (compared to the east side); projects like the Kirk ditch brought water from Los Gatos Creek to orchards as far away as Willow Glen. The land had also been settled early. Lesser quality land - drier land, or hillside land - might have been all that the new immigrants could afford to work. Campbell also might have been a little less welcoming of new immigrants; a 1930 editorial cartoon in the Campbell Interurban Express sounded like they still weren't terribly pleased by the newcomers, ten years after the Johnson-Reed act in 1924 limited the number of immigrants from Southern Europe, and banned Asian immigration completely.

The ethnic makeup does match Perley Payne's memories:

Interviewer: “I know there were lots of Mexicans in Campbell.” “We had no Mexicans in high school at all - or grammar school. We had Italians, Portuguese, Yugoslav, two Japanese, and that was about it. The rest of us were just uh, people…. A bunch of [cannery workers] came out of Dos Palos every year [to work at Ainsley].

(Listen to the Perley Payne Jr. interview or read the transcript.)

About a hundred of the Campbell residents listed occupations related to canning. (See this spreadsheet for a list of all the cannery workers in the 1920 census.) Most were “laborer, canning factory", with the occasional owner, superintendent, or foreman or forewoman. Those numbers are a bit skewed; the census was taken in January, so it omits temporary help. The people willing to list occupations were likely also the workers with sufficient seniority or skill to stay around Campbell during the off-season. (Still, although there's a lot of older men declaring themselves to be cannery workers, there's also still some twenty-somethings declaring that canning is in their blood.) We also only see occupations for the men. Very few women listed cannery work as their occupation.

Generally, only the professional women show up in the occupations. Of the hundreds of women who must have worked at the cutting tables, only Mary King of Sunnyside Ave. listed her occupation as “pitter”. Four women declared themselves as forewomen: Alice V. Hutchins, 55 years old; Clara B. Baldwin, 42; Lulu V. Holmes, 34; and Minnie Lewis, 65; they were responsible for managing the cutting floor - choosing where people sat, handling discipline, ensuring quality. All the other women who spoke of their canning connection were clerical. Emma Swope, 52, was a bookkeeper at Ainsley (and listed as corporate secretary in the 1920 city directory.) Elizabeth B. Hall, 18, was a bookkeeper. Charlotte Thiltgen from Meridian Road, 17, listed her occupation as “saleswoman”. Mary Miller, 36, listed herself as manager of one of the cannery cafeterias. None were recent immigrants, or even children of recent immigrants.

We’ve got Perley Payne, builder of the Payne Cannery still listing himself as owner of a canning factory, while Solomon Jacobs, operating the cannery, listed his job as “manager, canning factory.” Warren Shelly, superintendent, will eventually be the Vice President of the Ainsley cannery in 1933.

On the men’s side, most of the cannery workers are British or American. Archibald Braydon, 32, born in England, lists himself as foreman at a canning factory. So does Leigh Sauders, 49, living at 26 Rincon Ave, and Thomas Mendel, 53. Braydon and Mendel explicitly list themselves as Ainsley employees in the city directory, and Saunders certainly seems a likely Ainsley employee. (If this was modern day, I could imagine salesmen from the London office spending a year working at the cannery so they can better extol the virtues of Santa Clara valley fruit in England and Scotland.) George Sloat, 57; Claude Gard, 42; Clarence Whitney, 54 all show up as foremen. There’s a couple night watchmen; Dudley Chaffee, 61, is boarding with Solomon Jacobs, so we can guess he’s working at California Canneries; Edward P. Green, 60, from Wisconsin, is also serving as night watchman for one of the other canneries. Harry Bloom, 49, and Arthur Cramer, 48, list their occupation as stationary engineers, running the steam boilers. There’s also some hints about which occupations might be more prestigious. Frank Peterbaugh, 19, lists himself as weigher, which I assume required literacy and a certain amount of responsibility. John F. Cooper, a Scotsman living at 27 Campbell Ave., declares himself a shipping clerk. William E. Spreegle, 29, of 21 Everett Street (where’s that?) is a box maker.

The majority of laborers are Americans. Out of 58 laborers, there’s 14 that are either foreign or children of recent immigrants: 5 Portuguese, three Italian, two Irish, two Canadian, and one Russian.

The other big surprise is that most of the fruit-related processing jobs were canning. There were exactly two workers in all of Campbell who said they worked in packing houses: Frank Pererbaugh (19, weigher), and Fred Griggle (34, laborer).

The People: David's Family

So let's compare that with David's family stories.


We think of the Santa Clara Valley as primarily settlers from the rest of the U.S., with new arrivals in the 1880-1920 time range coming from Italy or Portugal. The census data suggests that Campbell was still predominantly native-born. Anton, David’s great-grandfather, wasn’t; he was born in the Ukraine. He’d been a machinist in Portland, Oregon, but he became a carpenter in the Santa Clara valley, perhaps working in box-making, or perhaps on maintenance of the cannery. His wife, Lena, was from Hungary. The family lived on Harmon Ave in San Jose (Meridian Ave. near Auzerais), just on this side of the Del Monte cannery. Lena and her daughters were working the cannery line; all three were seated in the front row for the photo. From the census data, they were a bit of outliers; there weren't a lot of chances to talk in German (which David said was their primary language.)

Lena and her daughters

David’s grandfather, a Portuguese kid, was somewhere in the crowd according to the family story; he might have been one of the overexposed faces on the right side of the photo - a mix of young and old men who might have been ferrying the fruit into the canning machines. Some of those men would have been the laborers showing up in the census (though I imagine many of the folks we see in the photo are summer workers who didn't show up in the census records at all.) Perley Payne Jr. would have had jobs like this, too.

The Laborers

 We also get a bit of story from Perley Payne, Jr. He worked in the canneries when he was a teenager, always waiting until he was 18 when he could work more than 8 hours and make 40c an hour like the men. Although Perley's father had been a business owner, Perley went straight to the socialists, organizing for the cannery unions and eventually leaving for the Spanish Civil War to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. His oral history not only documents his time as a labor organizer, but hints at who lived in Campbell and who worked in Campbell’s cannery.

(Listen to the Perley Payne Jr. interview or read the transcript.)

Mostly it was Italians and Portuguese women that worked in the cannery. My grandmother worked there. My mother worked in the cannery. My sisters all worked in the cannery…
[Most of the Cannery workers] lived in Campbell, and they knew Mr. Ainsley. They knew the man who owns it. They knew who he was and he had a restaurant for them for lunch. He had a camp where people would come and stay from Dos Palos and other parts of the Valley, they could come and stay during the summer. Of course, us young guys were always down there looking for girlfriends, you know.

Perley's story definitely matches the census records. The two Japanese families, the Makadas and Jios, lived over on Leigh Ave. Wakichi Jio and Suyezo Makada were farmworkers. Portuguese and Italian families both were farmworkers and farm owners; the women of the families represent a lot of the faces in David's photo, even if they didn't explicitly refer to their work in the canneries. Perley's mother also didn't include cannery work as her occupation, but she also had four kids under the age of 7 in 1920.

The older, no-nonsense women in the front row might have been Perley's family, and perhaps floor ladies, managing the women at the cannery. Minnie Lewis or Alice Hutchins might be one of the older women in the front row.

The Floor Ladies

The Women Perley Tried to Date

The young women workers might have been the ones he was chasing after work, or might have been some of the folks from the Central Valley who came to work in the cooler Campbell climate.

Edith Daley, meanwhile, talked about the iconic and stereotypical. There was the city girl who was in Campbell for spending money. The girl with the gingham and the bow, perhaps, and the oh-so modern haircut? Or was she working in the office?

"The City Girl"

"The '80's Material Girls"

The two girls who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1980’s new wave club looks like they’re having a good summer. 

There was the San Francisco family, here as much for the change of pace as the pay. Their tent might have been the one with the Victrola.

"The City Family"

There was the little Italian girl, the hardest worker of the lot, who would make sure she’d hit 5 or 6 dollars a day. She was a new immigrant, and she was getting money to live on.

"Edith Daley's Hardest Working Italian Girl"

There were also the bookkeepers and clerks running the office, much like Jennie Besana would have been doing this season down at the Contadina cannery in San Jose. The woman with the upturned hair and the long necklace is a giveaway - that's the last thing she would have had around the fruit side of the cannery because of all the exposed machinery. Any of these women could have been the bookkeeper or saleswomen we saw in the census data.

"The Bookkeeper"


I’m torn whether this stern looking woman is a floor lady, or a woman from the business or sales side of California Canneries. The pearls are a much safer choice for cannery jewelry, and the haircut’s quite a modern length. Or perhaps this is Mary Miller, the no-nonsense queen of a cannery cafeteria?

For a final photo, here's a close up of the men on the left hand side of the photo. The leftmost kid has what appears to be a holster; at first I thought he had shears, but didn't see any other men with similar equipment. Then I remember my dad's summer job - he worked at Hunt's in Hayward one summer, and was responsible for punching a worker's ticket when she completed packing a tray of cans. I suspect this is the kid responsible for doing the punching at California Canneries that summer.

The Punch Kid

The Plant

Meanwhile, the machinery didn’t stop humming. Newspaper articles mentioned that Jacobs overhauled the plant in 1919, the peak year for many canneries. He started construction on May 13, but they were shipping apricots by July 9. The photo of the building shows the corrugated iron and simple posts for the cannery; it’s definitely designed for quick construction. For us model railroaders, the corrugated-iron buildings are very familiar; one of the long-time kit manufacturers, Campbell Scale Models, had a bunch of building kits that duplicated these sorts of structures. Campbell got most of their inspiration from the Los Angeles, area, but the California Canneries photo highlights that quick-and-dirty corrugated iron buildings were popular up here in Northern California, too.

The photo takes place on the angled loading dock along Hopkins Ave., a dead-end street paralleling Campbell Ave. that started at Harrison Ave., passed between California Canneries and the Ainsley Cannery, and quickly crossed the SP tracks to end at the cannery housing for the Ainsley cannery. Perley Payne grew up in the house at Hopkins and Harrison, hidden in the trees in the photo. Perley’s father must have hated the traffic from the cars coming to his former cannery. There's a bunch of cars all parked along Hopkins there; the cannery must have generated quite a bit of traffic and parking problems for Campbell.

The Sanborn map shows three houses along Hopkins that might have been annoyed by the traffic. The westernmost house was 80 Harrison, at the corner of Harrison and Hopkins. The Paynes still lived there in 1920, even though the records hint they no longer owned the cannery. 25 Hopkins Ave was next; George Sprague and his extended family were living there; George declared himself a cannery laborer. I'd guess he was a California Canneries employee, and he's probably one of the fifty-something men in the photo. His son-in-law, George Archibald, had the easier job; he was a salesman at a (presumably not-self-service) grocery store. The house closest to the cannery, 35 Hopkins Ave., apparently went with the cannery, for Solomon Jacobs, the manager, lived there in 1920. Dudley Chaffee, the night watchman, boarded with him.

Left side of photo towards Harrison Ave.

The location for California Canneries must have been sweet; I've heard from children of packing house owners that dealing with the line of trucks waiting to drop off fruit in season can be quite a chore; having their own dead-end street must have given California Canneries a bit more wiggle room when the trucks backed up.

By the time Havens-Semaira was running the cannery in 1935, the loading dock where this photo was taken was long gone; the cannery had built out to the edge of the street right-of-way, and the loading dock was now around back in the middle of the lot. For the houses that bordered the property along Harrison, they must have had a lot more problems with trucks idling and noisy unloading.

So now we know what California Canneries looked like. We know why Perley Payne was bitter about losing his cannery. We've got an idea about the ethnic make-up of Campbell in 1920. (I wonder how much things change in 1930?) And finally, we've also got some faces and names to put next to all those workers who canned the Santa Clara Valley's apricots in the summer of 1926. David's family stories, Edith Daley's observations, Perley Payne's memories, and the census data all give us some hints about those folks in David's photo.

Great thanks to David Pereira for sharing the photo and allowing me to include it here. The Perley Payne interview was recorded in 1999 by San Francisco State University's Labor Archives and Research Center. Census data came from, though I could have avoided a ton of typing if all the data was available in a processed way.

Spot anything interesting in the photo? Talk about it in the comments!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Installing the Interlocking Machine at West San Jose

I'd shown the interlocking machine for the WP crossing a couple posts back. Now that I've shared it, it's given me a good kick-in-the-butt to actually install it on the layout. After a couple of weekend work sessions, I'm proud to say it's installed now. See the video above to see it in action, or read on and learn some of the details about installing it.

I've argued I need the interlocking because crews will otherwise forget the crossing is there. In case you doubt it, here's a photo from an early op session showing someone dropping cars directly across the crossing.

And finally, some details about the scene:

The Derails

The West San Jose tower was a mechanical interlocking - that is, the levers on the interlocking machine moved piping which would cause switches, derails, and signals to change position and state. Seeing the Barriger photo of the crossing from the 1930's, I really wanted to model the control devices - the derails that would push cars off the tracks, and the movable rods that would move a derail out of the way so a train could pass.

I'd thought about doing something physical to block the tracks, but the alternatives I thought about, such adding a switch point in the track or dropping a derailing device on the rail, seemed both fragile and troublesome. I chose to do something less prototypical, embedding an LED between ties. The LED glows red if the derail is set, encouraging crews not to roll through. The lights don't force crews to deal with the interlocking, but they're at least an encouragement.

I'd also considered laying out the actual rodding to control the signals and derails. That idea also ended pretty quickly; I realized most solutions wouldn't be able to stand up to the aggressive track cleaning needed for a garage layout. I'd considered using something substantial such as piano wire for the rodding, but immediately had thoughts of poking a bit of rod straight through one finger. (Perhaps I could bend right angles at each end of a section of pipe so the ends are firmly in the roadbed?) For now, there will be no piping.

The Signals

The real West San Jose crossing would have been protected by tall semaphore signals - one set of signals close to the crossing, and another about a mile back. Semaphore signals wouldn't survive last long at this point on the model railroad. The area around Auzerais Street requires a lot of reaching in to couple and uncouple cars, and the low upper deck means operators need to reach right in. Rather than watch semaphores get destroyed each session, I decided to use dwarf signals at the crossing. Like all modelers, I've usually got some interesting stuff in the scrap box for a project. The scrap box held some dwarf signal castings I'd probably bought at the Trains-Nothing-But-Trains closing sale back in 1983, but I only had two of those left.

Instead, I fell back on my favorite crutch - the 3d printer. With about an hour of work, I'd sketched up a signal and had it printing on the 3d printer. I needed to refine the design widen the holes so they'd fit my chosen LEDs, but still had usable signals within a day of changing my plan. The design may seem a bit simple, but it's got all the same detail that my 1970's era white metal signal had... and I don't need to run to the hobby store to get more.

The Switches

The interlocking machine controls a pair of track switches for the interchange track between the WP and SP. (Full disclosure: there was no such track here. When the SP and WP interchanged cars, they did so at a small yard along South Fourth Street. Switching interest won out over accurate trackage.) Like all switches on my layout, I use Tortoise switch machines to control them, both so crews don't need to reach into the scene to throw switches and so I've got electrical contacts to avoid dead frogs. The Tortoises work by reversing polarity, so the switches on the fascia are DPDT switches wired as reversing switches. That won't work with the Modratec contacts - it provides SPDT contacts for each lever.

Instead, I replaced the Tortoises with the the MP5 switch motors I'd used on the Market Street modular layout. The switch machines can be controlled via SPDT contacts. They're also easier to install - the position of the throw wire can be adjusted after the switch machine is screwed onto the layout. The MP5s do use tiny screws for mounting, but I've worked around this by mounting them to thin plywood with #2 screws at the workbench, then using larger screws to attach the plywood to the benchwork.

The Lights

The area around the Western Pacific crossing hasn't gotten a lot of attention; apart from a coat of paint soon after the track was laid, there's been little work on the area for the last... oh, ten years. I did build a model of Western Pacific's tower years ago.

Putting in the interlocking also forced me to do a few other jobs - I added dirt to hide the bare homasote, glued down a fence leading to the Del Monte cannery. I also ended up improving the lighting. When I started on the Vasona Branch, I used under-the-counter fluorescent fixtures. They worked ok, but there wasn't always enough space for the twenty inch long fixtures. I also was always a little hesitant about threading 120 volt wire through the layout just in case the wrong wire got chafed or cut. When I'd checked out LED strip lighting years ago, I found the lights weren't really bright enough for layout lighting, and the printed circuit carriers weren't easy to mount.

Last year, I'd spotted some cool LED units in Fry's electronics components aisle. These were 12 volt LED modules, with white LEDs on a plastic carrier. At $1.50 a unit, they were too pricey for an entire layout. Searching on eBay, however, I found the same modules were often used for hollow sign lighting, and that I could buy strips of a hundred of these lights for almost nothing. These are still available on Ebay (like this - search for "LED module 5050" (5050 is the part number for the bright white LEDs) and there's some that exactly match mine, and a lot of other similar fixtures. I like the waterproof ones; they've got sealed packages. I use 12 volt power supplies for laptops to power them - they're cheap ($10), come with a cord and plug, and don't cover up outlets like wall warts.

Next step: get some operators to actually test out the interlocking!