Thursday, September 29, 2011

San Jose's Japantown, and CalPak's Pickle Factory

Even with all the historical articles lately, I'm still building models. The California Prune and Apricot Growers (Sunsweet) Plant #1 for Campbell is on my desk. The thick styrene walls still warped from the contact cement and Campbell corrugated siding. I also built the first plastic models I've touched in a while - Walther's interlocking tower, which was nicely designed so that trim and clapboards could be painted separately. The tower will stand in for San Jose's Fourth Street tower on my Market Street layout, guarding the east end of the passenger station and the switches leading either to Milpitas or Los Angeles.

But some quick searches turned up this great map of San Jose's Japantown in 1940, and shows track arrangements around the two Del Monte plants on the east side of San Jose - California Packing Corporation Plant #4 and Plant #339, the pickle factories. They cover three blocks east of Japantown.

It's also an attractive and detailed map, with color coding for the different types of buildings (businesses, industries, etc), comments on history, and details about the occupants in the 1940's. Go check it out.

San Jose's Japantown is still an active neighborhood, so wander over to check out the Nichibei Busson department store and have lunch, or stop by for one of the regular festivals in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Photo of Another Abinante and Nola site

Another photo in the Gordon Collection captured a glimpse of another Abinante and Nola plant site. This time, a photo of Albers Brothers Milling on Ryland St. shows the back side of the packing sheds on the north side of the tracks near the San Jose Market Street station.

Here's the full photo if you want to see what other details you can find.

In the full photo, Albers Bros. Milling is at the corner of San Pedro and Ryland (either 100 Ryland St. or 395 N. San Pedro St, depending on the occupying company. Beyond that is 200 Ryland St. with the "FRUIT CO." sign - it probably holds Warren Dried Fruit right now, but about 1944, it'll become Abinante and Nola, and they'll redo the foundation as seen in the building permit. The larger building is Rosenberg Brothers, and past it is J. B. Inderridden as I mentioned in March. That posting in March showed the opposite side of these buildings, and the aerial view.

That corner looks a little different now; it's under the Coleman Ave. overpass.

This was a hard photo to track down; the Sanborn maps show that Albers was on the south side of the tracks, but the shadows and the weedy distance didn't match with the position of the San Jose Freight Depot just visible to the left of the building. Luckily, I realized those ventilators on the roof were uncommon, and matched the photos from the other side of the tracks.

By the way, this photo, like many of the photos I've found in the different libraries, is catalogued over on Lookback Maps so I can remember which photos I've found near a specific location. Why not mark where some of your favorite historical photos were taken?

Monday, September 26, 2011

More Photos from the Gordon Collection

And if you need some other HO scale structure projects, how about:

Post if you find any other interesting photos in the Gordon collection.  Note that all of San Jose State's digital collections provide a RSS feed so you can watch as new photos are added to each collection.

Paydirt: Photo of Abinante and Nola Packing House!

All the research I've been doing on Abinante and Nola started with a single question: what did the packing house at 750 West San Carlos St. look like? Although aerial photos on Historic Aerials show a rough silhouette and Sanborn fire insurance maps show the floor plan, I've never found photos of the actual building.

Luckily, one of the rules of research is to keep looking till you do find something. When I did a recent search for "J. S. Roberts", the previous owner of the packing house, some new panorama photos from the 1930's turned up at San Jose State's John C. Gordon Collection. (The Gordon collection is a great set of photos for anyone interested in San Jose in the 1930's.) An image of the San Carlos St. viaduct shows one building for Del Monte Plant #3, a row of maintenance-of-way cars along the tracks, and the J.S. Roberts dried fruit plant. The photo is also from 1934 - pretty much my era.

Full photo here.
So let's compare the photo with the scene I actually built:
  • The packing house is large and barn-like with clapboard siding and a corrugated tin roof. It's definitely different from the model I built, and much plainer.
  • Hidden in the trees, you can just barely see the tiny boiler house made of corrugate steel, with what appears to be a tall smokestack twenty feet in the air. The boiler house looks like it's behind a worn, whitewashed fence,.
  • The railroad crossing on the former street is blocked off at the bridge; that fence is still there, as far as I know, but the bridge was removed long before. That line of parked cars behind the barrier would be a great detail in the scene. I'm not modeling Los Gatos Creek, but modeling at least part of the bridge and creek would be a great bit of detail for the scene. I don't have room for both sides of the creek, but I wish I could add the sign on the telephone pole just before the bridge: "BRIDGE UNSAFE: NO MORE THAN 6 TON EXCEPT RR R.T.WAY SPEED LIMIT 8 MILES".

    Also note the road on this side of the creek is bordered by the creek, and has the nice boardwalk and railing to protect the locals from falling. On the other side of the road, the Del Monte property has its own fence to protect folks from falling in the creek.
  • The bridge supports have an unusual shape, with the actual supports narrower than the bridge. Those might be a good project for the 3d printer. The last portion of the viaduct is solid - again details to get right in the model.
  • I'd forgotten the stairs from the viaduct - they're still there, and I assume were designed for workers the Del Monte workers - again a detail to reproduce.

    On the far side of the viaduct, there's a line of what appear to be maintenance of way cars with windows and steps. The static maintenance-of-way cars might be a nice addition to my scene, as the curve on that side of the viaduct is pretty bare.
  • There's telephone poles and wires everywhere, some power, and some (on the viaduct) for the trolleys and Peninsular Railway interurban line.
  • One surprise for me is that there's little sign of construction of the new mainline in this phot. The Park Ave. underpass is obviously in place off in the distance, but I don't see any track other than the Los Gatos branch in the scene. However, if I look at another photo of the viaduct, taken from a lower angle, I can see a great deal of construction activity hidden behind the viaduct - debris, a maintenance of way shed, and several boxcars.
By the way, the current mainline SP tracks will pass just in front of the solid viaduct support, between that barricade and the bridge. Google Earth shows the relationship of the tracks and the viaduct piers quite nicely. This photo from Google Street View (a few years old, considering that walls of the Del Monte cannery are still standing) shows how the scene has changed in the last 80 years.

This photo again shows why I like modeling real scenes. Much of the set dressing - the abandoned bridge, blocked street and line of parked cars; the plain packing house building, the stairway from the viaduct, the odd supports, and the row of maintenance-of-way cars - they are all details I would not have placed on my own.

Stay tuned for a future episode where I'll describe plans to redo the Abinante and Nola scene!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

History of a Dried Fruit Packer: Abinante and Nola

Early on in the planning for my Vasona Branch model railroad layout, I poked through old Sanborn fire insurance maps for ideas about industries. One of my finds was a dried fruit packing house next to the tracks at 750 West San Carlos St. in San Jose. It sat across the street from Del Monte Plant #3, the huge cannery in San Jose that I was already planning to model. Depending on the year, the building was either labeled as Pacific Fruit Products (1915) or Abinante and Nola (1950).

The Sanborn maps hinted at a building that would make a great model: tall (30'), multiple floors for processing fruit, additions (sulphur box on the second floor), and a boiler and oil tank along San Carlos St. Model railroads need lots of industries to ship enough cars to make an operating system fun, and this place looked like the kind of shipper I needed on my railroad - busy, rambling, and photogenic.

The Vasona Branch is modeling 1932, but at the time I didn't know whose name should be on that building. I flipped a coin, annointed Abinante and Nola the current owner, built my model, and many crews have shipped dried fruit from the place ever since.

But I was still curious about Abinante and Nola. What did the building really looked like? How did the dried fruit packing business work? There's a reason for my curiosity; my grandmother grew up on the family fruit ranch in Hayward, and similar families in the San Jose area would have been selling apricots and prunes to Abinante and Nola and the other local packers. So I kept searching around for information about that packing house.

Luckily, I started trading e-mails with Don Abinante, son of one of the founders, and learned a bunch about dried fruit packing. Here's a quick history of Abinante and Nola, and some quick notes on what the business was really like (as opposed to how it appears on the
model railroad.)

Abinante and Nola's History: Abinante and Nola actually was founded a bit after the era for my railroad. Abinante and Nola Packing Co. was started in 1935 by Sam Abinante and Frank Nola. Sam had been a fruit buyer for other companies in the Valley, and Frank knew how to run the processing plant, so they teamed up, started the business in a barn owned by Frank's parents, and ran their own show.

By 1940, they must have been doing well. They moved to a new property on Stevens Creek Road, a couple blocks away from the current Nissan dealership. (If you're eager for exact location, let's guess at Woodhams Road between Lawrence and San Tomas Expressways.) A 1940 issue of Engineering News-Record notes the request for bids for the new warehouse in September, 1940.

The Stevens Creek Road plant burned down in 1945 (arson, according to Don, and an event that almost made Sam give up on the business, according to a granddaughter. For a couple years the company primarily acted as brokers for fruit processed by others: Valley View Packing (run by the Rubino family down on Hillsdale Ave. near the Guadalupe River) and CalPak (California Packing Corporation, aka Del Monte). There's also signs they were developing additional warehouse and packing space. A 1944 San Jose city building permit shows them doing repairs to the old Warren Dried Fruit plant at 200 Ryland Street, just across the tracks from the old San Jose Freight Depot near Bassett Street and San Pedro St. They were still in the building through at least 1949 according to another building permit (for the addition of a canopy), as well as entries in San Jose phone directories of the time.

In the late '40's, they finally moved to that building that I model at 750 West San Carlos St, but kept the building on Ryland St. Within a few years, though, they bought a former Mayfair Packing Plant #2 at 631 Sunol St. (Mayfair was one of the larger independent packers in the San Jose area, and was moving to their new, modern plant over on South Seventh St.) Abinante's new plant was on the Western Pacific, and a late 1950's WP track diagram in Track and Time marks the building as Abinante and Nola. That building still stands, by the way, occupied by a roofing supply house at a new addresss of 991 Lonus St.

By 1966, though, the encroaching suburbs were eating up the remaining prune orchards in the Bay Area, and the fruit to pack was coming from further afield. Abinante and Nola moved to a modern prune processing plant in Fairfield to be closer to the farmers supplying the fruit, and thus leaves our story.

The Business: Abinante and Nola's primary business was packing prunes, but they also handled smaller amounts of dried apricots, peaches, and pears. They produced a good quantity of fruit-typically around five or six million pounds a year.

To understand what Abinante and Nola's packing houses was like, Sunsweet's 1950 video gives a good overview of the dried fruit packing business. The fruit packer had already bought the crop before harvest, estimating price based on the buyer's rough guess of what would be produced and the fruit rancher's past yield. Farmers would dry the fruit before delivery, either in their own drying yard or at a commercial dryer. When the fruit first went to the dryer, it would be washed then run through the dehydrator to reduce the water content and preserve the fruit. The dried fruit would then be delivered in sacks (early days) or in 2000 pound wooden containers (later years) to the fruit packer.

The fruit would arrive at the Abinante and Nola in August and September. Upon arrival, the packer would sort the fruit, then store it until sales came in. Packers generally sold the fruit bit by bit over the year, so the packing house needed enough storage space to hold the year's crop. When the fruit was ready to sell, it would be inspected, washed in hot water, and steamed for easier processing and sanitizing. It would be inspected again, re-hydrated to 20% humidity for consistency, and boxed as appropriate for sale. At Sunsweet, the fruit would have been boxed for individual sale, but Abinante and Nola were processing for others to distribute. In the early days, they exported the fruit to Europe and even Cuba, but as time went on, they started selling in addition to brokers and retailers on East Coast, Chicago, and Texas. From the 1930's to the 1950's, most fruit would have been packed in 25 pound containers (first made of wood, then cardboard).

It's interesting that all of Abinante and Nola's facilities (except for that first one on Stevens Creek Road) had rail access. Much of their fruit was exported via ship in San Francisco, and so was usually sent by truck in the 1950's. When the company shipped product to the east coast in the same era, it would tend to go via rail, and they'd ship only two or three cars a month. Either rail was an acceptable way to send cargo to the piers in San Francisco in the 1940's, or the large warehouses that Abinante and Nola needed just happened to be next to the tracks.

Abinante and Nola wasn't the only dried fruit packer in the valley. Mayfair Packing and Valley View were two other privately held fruit packers, and were considered "friendly competitors" by Abinante and Nola -- not cutthroat, but each company had to be aware of the other's prices when trying to make sales. Guggenhime & Co (which had plants over by the San Jose Market Street Station) handled both dried and fresh fruit, but was a smaller competitor. The big producer - then and now - was California Prune and Apricot Growers (Sunsweet); they had a major effect on prices, but tended to sell into retail and didn't compete directly with Abinante and Nola.

Sunsweet still dominates the industry; check out the Prune Barganing Association's history to see how 60% of prunes are still sold through Sunsweet.

I'd assumed that canners would have been competing for the same fruit, but each crop and farmer tended to specialize in either fruit for drying or canning. Del Monte, Stapleton and Spence, Filice and Perelli, and Rosenberg Brothers were primarily canners, and did not compete with Abinante and Nola. Although Del Monte had a bit of a dried fruit business, they didn't cross paths with Abinante and Nola because of the size of the market and the fact that Del Monte was processing for their own label.

The Building: 750 West San Carlos: According to the Sanborn maps, 750 West San Carlos St. was four stories tall. The top floor was for grading and storage. The third floor stored the unprocessed fruit waiting to be sold. The second floor had the processing machinery and the sulfur box for re-treating apricots just before packing and sale. The first floor was for packing, storage of finished product, and the office. Separate from the main building and out by San Carlos St was the small boiler house for the hot water and steam and an underground 6000 gallon tank. That's a big tank - think eight feet in diameter and sixteen
feet long.

The San Carlos St. building, like all of Abinante and Nola's buildings other than the one on Sunol, is gone; Historic Aerials shows the building disappeared some time between 1948 and 1956.

The Model: So that's what I know about Abinante and Nola. The building with their name on it on the Vasona Branch was theirs only for a few years, and if I were more earnest, I'd change the name to J.S. Roberts, the actual occupant in 1932. But I like it, and now that I've learned about Abinante and Nola, I'm not too interested in correcting the anachronism.

All this research also hints that I might need to run the layout differently. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the business would have been run the same way by the building's occupant in 1932.

  • I should consider loading fewer freight cars at Abinante and Nola. With most fruit going to Europe, I ought to have fewer east coast boxcars loading there, and either direct more fruit out in SP boxcars (for traffic being sent to the piers) or cut the total number of cars and put
    more trucks in the scene.
  • Ship fewer cars. I set my layout during a fruit rush (either early for apricots or later for other crops), but because Abinante and Nola was shipping continuously during the year, it wouldn't have been the same beehive of outgoing activity that I would have seen in the canneries.
  • Don't bring tank cars to Abinante and Nola. Because of the size of the oil tank, it's unlikely they would have gotten oil via rail. I'll bet the oil dealer would have stopped by every few weeks to top off the tank.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Idea: Train Orders on the Vasona Branch

And one last train order note:

Although most of the Vasona Branch track is in yard limits (and so trains don't need permission to move), everything uphill from Vasona Jct. is outside yard limits and does require permission. Currently, we dispatch informally; I'll tell a train what they're to do, or if I'm being obnoxious, I'll give them a cryptically-worded command formed from the likely train order.

"Can we come downhill?"

"Oh, I should do that as a train order. Engine 2174 run extra from Santa Cruz to San Jose and return, protecting against Extra 2721. Extra 2721 has rights over Extra 2174 from Los Gatos to Campbell."

That pretty much says that the little engine 2174 will be bringing the gravel train down from Santa Cruz, but he'll have to wait at Los Gatos til Engine 2721 (switching San Jose and Los Gatos) is done with his work. Those orders have a bit of the flavor of real train orders, but trying to parse that sentence in your head is tricky.

I'd thought about having pre-printed train orders ready for the crews, with faint lettering in the place of locomotive numbers for easy customization:

Locomotive (gravel train) run extra Santa Cruz to West San Jose and return.  Locomotive (San Jose Turn) run extra from San Jose to Los Gatos and return.  Extra (San Jose Turn) has rights over Extra (gravel train) between Vasona Junction and Los Gatos.
That doesn't have any of the repeating and transcribing of the operator job, but it does give the crew a piece of paper to examine as they think about what their train must do. Operations on the Vasona Branch may never be complicated enough to need serious train orders, but little orders like this could help new operators get a feel for what train order operations feels like.

I'll try this on the next operating session, and let y'all know how it goes!

Lessons Learned at La Mesa

Not surprisingly, I learned quite a bit about train orders from my trial-by-fire at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum last weekend.

Number one: OS's ("on sheet") where the operator warns the dispatcher when a train leaves a station gives the dispatcher some very important information so he knows when a track is occupied. On La Mesa, the dispatcher is "hungry" for any information like that, so it's ok to barge into the middle of an existing conversation on the phone to warn the dispatcher of a train's location. I barged in.

Number two: I'd assumed that train orders were addressed to all trains mentioned so the crew knew what other crews knew about the order. Wrong; I learned after my first set of orders that the dispatcher would warn the operator who was supposed to receive each set of orders, and I'd record only the names of the train receiving the orders at my station.

Number three: Most model railroads have a tiny amount of track between towns, but the La Mesa Club can have fifty or a hundred feet of track between stations. As a result, it's possible to reproduce one aspect of a train order operator - warning the dispatcher about a train approaching. I'd call out "Woodford coming west" on the phone when I saw a train approaching in the distance, and the dispatcher would tell me who it was, and if there were no more orders he intended for that train, warn me "No more", and I'd clear the train order signal and let the train go past. Several times, I couldn't barge into a conversation fast enough to warn the dispatcher; the layout rules said that if I couldn't reach the dispatcher, I'd have to let the train stop, then I'd have to create a clearance card indicating "no orders" and let the train through on the assumption the dispatcher had no more plans.

Number four: I almost freaked when I realized I still had an order for the second section of train 806 that was supposed to meet Extra 4230. Did I forget to give out the order? I later figured out that Extra 4230 left its siding before the second section arrived. Hopefully 2-806 was watching train numbers as it climbed out of Bakersfield and realized the train it was already waiting for had high-tailed it downhill ahead of its orders.

Optimist's Weekend

If I was the gambling sort, I'd never go to Vegas again. I just used up my lifetime supply of good luck.

Dear Wife and I were in San Diego this weekend, she for classes and me for tagging along. While she was in classes on Saturday, I ran off into the mountains to visit the San Diego Railroad Museum in Campo, about an hour and a half east of town. I'd always meant to visit the SDRM, but had never gotten around to it when we lived in San Diego. Among other things, they have two pieces of equipment I really wanted to see because they're common locomotives on my layout: a restored SP T-31 steam locomotive and an ex-San Diego and Arizona Eastern / Southern Pacific C-8 Consolidation. I've never seen a real version of either locomotive, and really wanted a sense of what these locomotives were like in real life.

I also saw they were having train rides Saturday afternoon from Campo down to the Mexican border, and that sounded fun. Better yet, for $35, they'd give a cab ride in the little diesel switcher they use on the excursions.

Unfortunately, when I got to Campo, I found out the little switcher wasn't working, and they'd had to delay the morning ride. They did have another working locomotive - their big GP-9 diesel locomotive - but it was buried behind a couple of other non-running locomotives, so they'd have to do a bit of shuffling to get the locomotive free, then transfer diesel fuel to the new locomotive.

And they did, though it took a lot of work on the part of the volunteer crew. So, around 2:30, I got up on the Geep, sat in the fireman's seat, and watched the world go by from the engine. It was a lot smoother than I thought, and I got to hear the radio chatter between the conductor and engineer as they confirmed speed restrictions, worked the air brakes and dynamic brakes on the downhill ride, and pushed the engine up the hill on the uphill ride. The two memorable parts were looking down from the locomotive as we crossed the high bridge just in front of the tunnel to Mexico (what keeps the locomotive on that narrow bridge?!), and seeing real railroading as the company officer doing a check ride questioned the engineer on the rule book.

That's how I got to spend Saturday afternoon cruising through the desert.

But that's only half the lucky break.

Now, there's the joke that once you've gone through college, you'll continue to have nightmares where you show up to a random class and find out to your surprise that a final's being given... and you're not prepared. Whoops!

Christine and I went over to Balboa Park on Sunday to check out the art museums. I also wanted to see the model railroad museum and the La Mesa Model Railroad Club's famous Tehachapi Loop layout. The La Mesa club's fame comes from a layout that accurately models a major bit of mainline railroad, with wide curves, long trains, and realistic scenery. Since I was last there in the 1990's, they'd built a second level on the layout and built a model of the Tehachapi Loop itself.

So we go to the museum, and I point out the Bakersfield yard area to Christine, show the realistic scene at Ilmon, and the sidings and horseshoe curve at Caliente. While we're there, we see a fair number of operators around on the layout; they're from another model railroad club, and visiting today as part of one of La Mesa's operating sessions where they use 1950's railroad practices to control the layout and run a realistic set of trains. The operators probably spent the last couple days reading the rule books to make sure they could run the train in a prototypical manner. The crew I'm talking to are stuck up on the hill waiting for a meet so they can finish their trip down to Bakersfield.

As we're talking, someone comes out of the staff area - a friend from the National Convention in Sacramento in July. "Robert! Great to see you, we could use some more crew. Can you stay til 8 p.m.?" Turns out they're a couple crew short for this operating session, and it's keeping them from getting realistic traffic levels. I can't do 8 p.m. thanks to a flight out, but I can make it til 6:30, and when he suggests running a train, I suggest, "well, I could even take one of the operator positions", knowing that most folks like to run trains and the operator positions usually aren't sought-after.

He likes that, and leads me upstairs to Woodford to relieve the current train order operator who'd love a chance to run trains today.

Now, on the real railroad, the train order operator at Woodford sits in the depot at a siding about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, transcribes phone messages from the dispatcher exactly, and hands them as expected to the train crews as they go by. The operator also controls the train order signals to stop oncoming trains for which orders exist.

On the model, the operator sits at a desk in front of one of the few remaining unscenicked areas of the layout, hidden from the public by an air duct. He has a pad of train order sheets, a pile of carbon paper for making copies, and a headset and microphone for communicating with the dispatcher.

And then comes that "today's the final" image. The previous operator sits me down, gives me the headset, and shows me the paperwork and starts to lead me through the job. But the buzzer buzzes, and I step on the talk button and respond "Woodford!"

"Woodford, prepare to copy one train order, Mojave prepare to copy one train order... Mojave: To extra 4280, Woodford to First 806..." Ooops. I figure out that they direct the order to each train separately, but I figure that out only as the dispatcher starts rattling along.

"Engine E-N-G forty-two-thirty FOUR-TWO-THREE-NOUGHT run extra E-X-T-R-A Mojave M-O-J-A-V-E to Kern Junction K-E-R-N-J-C-T..."

And I get half the words, and catch the rest as the Mojave operator reads back his copy as a test of accuracy. I mess up mine, the dispatcher re-reads, I correct my copy, and my instructor explains what I'd missed, and how I'd better set up another pair of train orders with the carbon paper so I'm ready for next call from the dispatcher.

And that's how the next six hours ran, with some moments of terror as I made sure I set the train order signal (masonite flags on a 2x2 with string to set - works well, even if they're not pretty) and learned how to write up a clearance card and check with the dispatcher for correctness, and wrote another ten train orders. I also had a bunch of idle time in between to look at the nearby layout, because the story of the railroad is "hurry up and wait."

But I survived, and even got some compliments for a not-horrible first day as an operator. And I'd even go back and do it again.

And those nightmares about the unexpected final don't seem so scary any more.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

So You Think You Can Design A Switch List?

One of the more photogenic features of my
car assignment program is that the switch lists it displays are attractive and realistic. Many of the commercial programs out there just do computerized lists that could have been printed on a 1980's dot matrix printer. I'm pleased SwitchList doesn't do that (or doesn't just do that) - it can fool people into thinking I've been up all night writing my switchlists by hand, can imitate the standard SP switchlist form, the San Francisco Belt Line's form B-7, or (thanks to James McNab) the PICL-style computerized car list form.

Doing attractive and realistic switchlists is nice, but one of the common requests I hear is to allow others to design their own switchlists, even if they're not Macintosh programmers.

Y'all have got your wish.

The newest version of SwitchList, version 0.8.0, now allows you to design your own switchlist style, then use it both for printed switchlists and for the web-based switchlists you can view on your iPad or iPhone during an operating session. Creating a switchlist requires a bit of knowledge of HTML and making web pages, but you can get pretty far without any sophisticated knowledge of how to make web pages, and there's lots of people out there who can give you advice.

Why would you want your own custom forms?
* Change font sizes or arrangements of the standard switchlists to meet your special needs.
* Duplicate your prototype railroad's switch list form.
* Experiment with better ways to help your operators see what work is to be done.
* Make switchlists that *really look* like they've been printed on a dot-matrix printer.

Or maybe you'll just want to do something crazy, and design a switchlist for the Thomas the Tank Engine crowd. I have had a lot of four year old operators, now that I think of it.

Documentation on creating your own switch list is available on the SwitchList open source page. More documentation's probably needed, so make sure to ask questions over on the SwitchList mailing list so I know what needs improving.

And don't forget to share your final results! I'm looking forward to seeing what y'all can do!

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.