Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Packing Houses in Hayward

Let's go far north of San Jose almost thirty miles for our next story…

I'd heard family stories that my grandmother worked for a while for Earl Warren. It turns out I'd gotten the story wrong, but the story reminded my mom to pull out a couple old letters describing where Grandma did work.

My grandmother actually worked for a fresh vegetable packer called "Farm Products Sales Company" in Hayward as a bookkeeper from the mid-twenties through 1937, leaving to help my grandfather with the family cleaning business. Farm Product Sales was run by Frank J. Cunha, and started out on C Street and Castro St. in Hayward, but moved to a new 300x50 foot warehouse (8 cars long!) at B Street and Soto (now Montgomery) Street next to the old Western Pacific Depot and the current Hayward BART station. Frank Cunha must have done quite well; he was a town trustee and mayor from 1928 to 1936, and was cited as a large local landowner in an article on the Portuguese landowners in the April 21, 1974 issue of the Hayward Daily Review. Cunha must have been a good employer; my grandmother's best friend and sister also worked in the office at times.

Farm Products Sales used the "King Tut Farms" brand, as seen in this fruit label from one of the collector label sales sites.

In 1935, FPS was packing fresh peas and tomatoes from packing houses in Hayward, Milpitas, and Oceano. They'd also opened a branch back in 1929 in the Imperial Valley to market produce "for eight large Imperial Valley growers on a 2000 acre tract", irrigated with the new Boulder Dam's water. That was going to lead to mixed fruit and vegetables, grapefruit, and early lettuce. A comment from Mr. Cunha in the Hayward Review in the 1920's highlighted how Southern California often made more on produce because they could ship the first crops of the year to eager shoppers back east, and in a bad year Northern California would get the extra business; I'd guess the Imperial Valley deal was an attempt to get more of those lucrative early season sales.

Farm Product Sales and Frank Cunha other bit of immortality comes in an article on Migratory Labor in the California Market Pea Crop, an article from 1938. That article highlights how peas were a huge business in California in the 1930's, but a troublesome one because of the huge amount of fieldhands needed to harvest the crop during the very short window in the spring. That created all sorts of problems. Some years there wouldn't be enough farmworkers; other years, the neighbors would complain when the farmworkers showed up and hung around town waiting for the crop. Then there were the times when the farmworkers didn't like the pay being offered. Pea field strikes in April 1933 were referred to as the "War of 1933" in the article, and cite anger from local officials like Cunha, and how a local judge was denying county aid to any able-bodied relief workers who wasn't willing to work on the pea harvest.

My grandmother saved a couple of interesting documents from her time at Farm Products Sales. This first page shows the routing instructions for cars being delivered around the U.S., and includes notes citing the different produce brokers and stores FPS sold to. (Note that all the routing starts at WP because the warehouse was at WP.)

The second document is the balance sheet for Farm Products Sales in 1935. Immediately obvious is that the company was doing good at sales - $380,000 for the year in just peas and tomatoes. It's also interesting to see where the costs were - pea picking costs were much larger than tomatoes (but without sales ratios, we don't know if they sold twice as many peas as tomatoes, or if peas were just more expensive to pick.) Brokerage fees were surprisingly low, but car icing ($11,777) sticks out as a huge expense. There's also no line item for transportation costs, making me wonder if the buyers were expected to pay for shipping. It seems odd that car icing would appear as a cost for the business, but not freight for their product.

I'm also curious about the ranch - whether Cunha was primarily selling produce from his own ranch, or if the ranch was just a small part of the Farm Products Sales business.

Now, these numbers can help us guess at the size of the rail traffic leaving the Farm Products Sales packing house. The 1935 production was $381,000, and let's guess (for argument's sake) that's half tomatoes and half peas. That's $190,000 of pea sales and tomato sales. Newspapers from 1933 show that peas were selling for 2c a pound, and tomatoes for $1 a crate. At those figures, Farm Products Sales would have sold around 9 million pounds of peas - enough for 190 cars, and (at 25 pounds per crate), about 4.5 million pounds of potatoes. That would be about 3-6 cars a day during the a two month season, perhaps divided between Hayward, Milpitas, and Oceano. I'd go check the Sanborn maps to see if there were any interesting tidbits on Cunha in any of those places, but I'll need to get my library card renewed first.

Those numbers suggest that having a few cars a day leaving Farm Product Sales's warehouse wouldn't be out of line (and in fact they were shipping 3 cars a day of corn at the end of the season in the 1920's.) The sorts of traffic density I have on my layout don't seem too unprototypical...

If anyone's got observations on the balance sheet, I'd be interested in hearing them.

1 comment:

  1. BTW, my dad's guess is that the car icing would have been the initial car icing cost, and the cost of shipping never appears because the consignee was buying the peas FOB Hayward.