Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Life in Del Monte's Complaint Department

It's outside my era, but let's move away from the canning and dried fruit departments and see what life was like in Del Monte's complaints department in the 1980's.

Even if you don't like the article, at least there's a nice photo of China Basin Building east of the San Francisco train station. I hadn't realized that building had originally been built by Del Monte for importing bananas!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Campbell is Just a Tank Town Now"

When I started designing the Vasona Branch layout, I didn't realize that my preferred era - early 1930's - was also the time that The Peninsular Railway had interurban (long-distance electric trolley service) running from San Jose to Los Gatos by way of Campbell.

The Peninsular Railway covered the west end of the Santa Clara Valley, going from Mayfield (Palo Alto) through Los Altos to Cupertino, Cupertino to San Jose along Stevens Creek Road, Cupertino to Los Gatos along Highway 9, and Los Gatos via Willow Glen and Campbell. Although the line was abandoned by the late 1930's, rails were still visible in the middle of Meridian Ave. in San Jose well into the 1960's. For some photos of the Peninsular Railway, check out the Saratoga Historical Foundation's capsule history of the Peninsular Railway in Saratoga, or History Los Gatos's collection of photos.

Within Campbell, the Peninsular line came down Bascom, turned at what's now the Pruneyard, and went down Campbell Ave. to Railway Ave., turning south just before downtown. There's one photo of the Peninsular making the turn at Railway Ave. in Campbell: The Orchard City. A 1930's era photo postcard of the Campbell Depot (available from the Pomona Library and U.C.'s California Digital Library shows the trolley power line and rails passage in front of the depot.

But as cars became popular, ridership dwindled. The streetcars ran at a loss until the Great Depression forced some hard choices. The March 8, 1932 Campbell Press leads with the headline "Street Car Service to Campbell to be Discontinued Soon", remarking that the California Railroad Commission was allowing the Peninsular to abandon the San Jose-Campbell-Los Gatos line.

The CRC's decision reasons for allowing the closure: the need to expand the State Highway (Bascom Ave.), risks of having the train line next to the roadway, and the company's loss ($1,000 a month loss on cost to operate of $3,000 a month) all encouraged the choice. The CRC also noted that several chick hatcheries and egg suppliers in the Campbell area declared they needed the interurban to run their businesses, but the CRC thought the Campbell post office would be convenient enough. The Interurban had been willing to stop and pick up freight anywhere along the line, but that wasn't enough of a reason to keep it running.

By April 1, it was over. "LAST ELECTRIC CAR SERVED CAMPBELL THURSDAY NIGHT: The last car over the Peninsular railway between San Jose and Campbell ran Thursday evening, and new buses between the two towns started Friday Morning, April 1. Peerless Stages started running buses on the same route, if not at the same frequency.

But Campbell folks didn't like *that* sort of progress. The Chamber of Commerce went on the record against the buses in August, but Peerless wasn't willing to increase service. J. B. Held, the company manager, got quoted in September wit the colorful language "We can't play Santa Claus forever… we can't run buses at hours and places when there's no traffic to warrant it." Even the bus was losing $600 a month right after taking over the service, and conflicts with Greyhound's charter for routes through Los Gatos kept Peerless from adjusting the route so it would be more profitable.

And folks moved on to cars. The car problem was so obviously bad that the January, 19, 1933 issue of the Campbell Press highlighted that a stop sign had just been placed on Campbell Ave. on Winchester Road. One wonders how they dealt with the traffic jams that must have caused.

From a model railroad point of view, I'm planning to put in the tracks and wires for the trolley in front of my Campbell depot model. Although the area around the depot had a bit of work last year when I cleared space for the Sunsweet plant and added the team track, I've been delaying detailing the scene till after the Sunsweet plant and Hyde Cannery work is done.

As long as I'm modeling before April 1, 1933, I can even put the interurban car on the tracks. The Western Railroader's special issue on the Peninsular Railway notes that the 70 series cars were used on the line up until the twenties, then moved over to the San Jose Railroad local trolleys. The CTRC's San Jose Trolley #124 resembles the 70 series well, and can be seen in San Jose's Kelley Park. The 50 series cars were often used on this run in the late 1920's and early 1930's, so putting one in front of the depot would be a nice touch. At least one car - car 52 - survived and is now at the Western Railway Museum near Rio Vista.

Of course, any interurban details I add to Campbell also need to appear in Los Gatos, for the Peninsular survived there even longer. If I model downtown Los Gatos, then I'll also need to include the Peninsular Railway tracks crossing the SP at Main Street.

The disappearance of the Peninsular Railway wasn't the last of the affronts to Campbell. By March 8, 1935, the SP was also threatening to pull back on passenger service through Campbell and cancel the two San Francisco - Santa Cruz trains that went through Campbell. The paper lists that the trains would be cancelled by March 15, but the April 7, 1935 timetable still shows the trains as passing through Campbell and ready to make a flag stop if anyone wanted. The trains were still on the schedule in 1940, so either SP didn't cancel the trains, or did bring back service. Throughout, Campbell constantly worried whether the absence of rail service would force the decline of their fair city.

[Picture postcard of the Peninsular Railway on a trestle near Saratoga is from Hooked on Los Gatos / Los Gatos Public Library.]

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dateline: San Jose

And for a final post tonight, I'll throw in references to some breathless news articles I'd run across in the last couple weeks.

February 24, 1928: SP TO ASK FRANCHISE MONDAY, IS RUMOR. See also the article on the brazen Berkeley women who found San Jose a much less pleasant place to shoplift, and the conclusion of the Great Willow Glen Dog Hospital crisis (which started a few weeks earlier with the WILLOWS ACTS TO BAR DOG HOSPITAL, SICK PETS ARE HELD MENACE headline.

May 25, 1934: Conference to Speed Up R.R. Work Planned. San Jose tries to force SP to finish the bypass around San Jose so they can start building the Bayshore Highway.

February 15, 1928: The West San Jose area near the Del Monte plant had its own nickname: Pinard's Island. Although unincorporated, it was finally getting door-to-door mail service.

Also February 15, 1928: the prunes finally sold. "Time and good, careful management have brought about a great change. In a very short time the entire 1926 crop was disposed of, being exported to Germany, where it will not interfere with the sale of the 1927 crop."

Bad Years in the Valley

I've heard it said that all the worst mistakes on an engineering project happen on the first day when our assumptions and premature decisions appear on the whiteboard. We start building, then six months, a year, or five years later realize that reversing that mistake on day one will be near impossible.

That certainly happens with model railroads. We'll decide on the towns we absolutely must have, or we'll choose a prototype and setting that won't carry the traffic we want, or we'll overestimate (or underestimate) the number of operators we can easily fit.

My worst mistake, it appears, is right there at the top of my blurb about my Vasona Branch layout:

It's summer 1932, and the Great Depression has taken hold in the U.S. Even with the depression, Santa Clara's crops still head for Eastern markets. Apricots fresh and dried, prunes, and cherries from the Valley of Heart's Delight all are grown here, and all get exported to the rest of the country.

If I've learned anything over the last couple years, Santa Clara's crops were not heading for Eastern markets. Hunt's Cannery closed for 1931 and 1932. Crop prices were insanely low, and crop sizes were huge. Packers and farmers tried to sell their crops ahead of the rest of the market, causing prices to plummet further. California Packing Corporation (aka Del Monte) had earnings collapse from $6 per share in 1930 to 9 cents a share in 1931, and produced its worst year ever in 1932.

My visit to the Campbell library and quick glances at the Campbell Interurban Press highlighted how much worse it was. It turns out that the Hyde Cannery, one of the two canneries I model in Campbell, shut down in 1928; although there are hints in "The Orchard City" that it opened for a couple seasons, I doubt it. The March 30, 1930 issue quotes Mr Squibb, secretary for the cannery, declaring that the cannery will be open for the 1930 canning season. Not so; the advisory board for the company overruled him, and the July 1 issue included the front page banner "Hyde's Cannery Will Not Operate This Year, Is Decree of Directors."

Having the cannery news on the front page must have been a pretty big deal in town, as the Campbell Interurban Press rarely had business articles on the front page. I suspected it would cut into the column-inches that could be devoted to the local Sea Scouts chapter. (For the record, I have nothing against the Sea Scouts, but it was just a bit tedious to read through four years of meetings, and mysterious fires in their boat-house, etc. I'd also like to know why they even had Sea Scouts when the bay was miles away!)

Hyde must not have been open in 1931 either; the October 20, 1931 issue includes an article "Local C. of C. Asks Growers to use Hyde Plant" with explicit hopes of stealing 12-15 jobs from the association's San Jose packing plant:

The Directors of the Campbell Chamber of Commerce met Monday in a special meeting to ask the California Prune and Apricot association to consider the Hyde packing plant for processing and packing prunes. Thousands of tons of prunes are temporarily stored here by the association."

Hyde stayed dark till 1937 when Sunsweet bought the plant and turned it into the "Campbell Cooperative Dryer". Hyde's days as a cannery were, as far as I can tell, over way back in '28.

[Update: I spoke too soon. The "Campbell Packing Corporation" used the facility in 1933.]

Luckily, it appears, the Ainsley Cannery (which became the Drew Cannery in 1932/1933) kept running. A June 30, 1932 article mentions that Ainsley was "running 'cots" starting the next day. Although it was "a fair crop with regard to size and better than usual quality", the cannery production was going to be considerably lighter than usual because of "depressed business conditions throughout the world." There would also be fewer jobs, with folks who'd worked for Ainsley in previous seasons having priority for the available jobs. This same season was the one that paid the Olsons fifteen dollars for their entire 1932 crop of apricots. And they were lucky; one of the advantages of growing apricots was that the farmer could sell to the canner or the dryer depending on demand. The prune farmers had no such choice, and were completely at the mercy of the dried fruit prices.

But that's not the worst of the Depression stories. The Hunt's Cannery might have been closed for the 1931 and 1932 seasons, but that didn't mean it opened again afterwards. Hunts sold the cannery in 1942 after using it only as warehouse space for the intervening years. The cannery changed hands again in 1943 to Seagram's which must have been buying it as warehouse space for the Paul Masson wine business they'd recently bought. The May, 1943 article describing the sale mentioned "the cannery has not been in operation for 10 years. Recently, 13,000 of the 70,000 square feet it comprises were leased by Louis Devich of San Jose. He stated he would can apricots there this year."

I hope Devich managed to do some canning for the 1943 season, if only to perfume Los Gatos one last time with the smell of cooking apricots.

The Hunts cannery survived, by the way. Drive by the intersection of Highway 9 and Santa Cruz Ave. just north of downtown, check out the shopping center on the northeast corner now inhabiting the buildings.

Some of the disappearance of the canning industry in Campbell and Los Gatos was obviously caused by the Great Depression. I could also imagine that some of the pressure on Hyde and Hunts was from more modern and efficient plants in San Jose. Either way, Campbell and Los Gatos would have been a lot quieter in 1932 than I'm modeling them.

So I'm at a crossroads. Do I keep my 1932 era and pretend that the canneries were running full-bore? Do I push my era back a few years into the late 1920's when the cannery traffic would have been more appropriate? Or do I rethink my choice of industries, and keep 1932, but downplay the unused canneries and instead focus on the businesses that were running?

"Experts Find Valuable Oils in 'Cot Pits"

For those of you planning to model Sewall Brown's apricot pit plant, you've got another source of photos and background. Check out the July 23, 1928 issue of the San Jose News for more details about what those apricot pits were used for, and for more history of the plant. There's also a nice picture from the railroad side of the plant, and words from Mr. Brown himself.

Fun details: apricot pits turned out to contain bitter almond oil, used in Europe for cooking, perfume, and other products. The apricot kernels themselves were also useful for salads and baking. In the early days, the pits were shipped to Europe for processing. However, World War I stopped the sale of the pits, so Sunsweet started to do the processing themselves. The oils produced must have been valuable; the pits themselves would be bought for $55 per ton. Most of that pit-crushing business in the U.S. was right there on Winchester Blvd., where Sewall Brown and Co. processed a large chunk of California's 10,000 tons of apricot pits.

We'd already noted that the plant started off as Gem City Packing, then became a Sunsweet plant, but the article explains why it switched ownership. Sewall Brown got into the business when the Sunsweet co-op decided not to continue with the side business, so Sewall and his partner Harold Scott (the plant chemist) took over the business. Scott died within a few months, but Brown ran it until his death.

And if all these stories of Sewall Brown encourages you to break into the pit-cracking business, note that peach pits aren't at all profitable; the kernels are too small and it's too much work to get them out. Stick with apricots.

The News bills the article as one of a series of special articles on Valley businesses, so poke around on other Mondays in 1928 for more stories of Valley entrepreneurship back in the fruit salad days. The Faultless Bakery article was a bit dry, but the World's Largest Orchard Ladder Factory deserves its large billing. The Monday, August 20 paper doesn't appear to have a "local business of the day", but there is an article on the death of Wayne, California, a small station between San Jose and Milpitas which the SP no longer wishes to serve. "The crops shipped from there are... highly seasonal, and consist mostly of peppers, walnuts, and nursery products."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Campbell Depot News from the Campbell Interurban Press

The Campbell station on my layout wasn't the first Campbell train station; that honor goes to the early South Pacific Coast station built around
1886. The South Pacific Coast - the narrow gauge line from Oakland to Santa Cruz that broke the SP's monopoly on freight in the Valley - was building a new branch line down to the mercury mines at New Almaden, and the station appeared the same time, perhaps as a handy place for a train order operator, though there must be a good reason why the station was at Campbell rather than down by where the branch peeled off around modern-day Camden Ave. [Oops, just checked the SP valuation map for Campbell, and it shows that the New Almaden branch peeled off at the far end of the Campbell siding. Timetables also show that Campbell was a train order station in the 1930's, so my guess is that the Campbell station got its location because (1) it was close enough to where the New Almaden right-of-way started that it could serve as a train order and register station for the branch, and the existence of the Campbell family ranch and upcoming subdivision made it a fine spot for the station itself.]

The tiny depot that the narrow gauge built shows up in at least one photo, but it must have been replaced within a few years by the larger stick-style depot that my model represents.

I learned a bit more about the depot last week. I hadn't yet explored the Campbell library, and found they had copies of the Campbell Interurban Press newspaper on microfilm. After the fun of searching old newspapers and back issues of Western Canner and Packer on Google News and Google Books, stepping through the rolls of microfilms had a much more twentieth-century vibe. Two hours took me through the entire 1928 to 1932 roll. In the Tuesday, July 23, 1929 issue, I found some history about the Campbell Depot and its long-time agent, Charles Berry:

Charles Berry, 43 Years as S.P. Agent, to Retire Aug. 1

Charles Berry, one of Campbell's pioneers and first and only agent for the Southern Pacific company at this point, will retire Aug. 1 after a most faithful and conscientious performance of duty for the past 45 years.

Charley came to Campbell in April, 1886 as the young S.P. agent when but 21 years of age and sold tickets from the small "6x18" depot when the Almaden line was being laid. That building is still doing duty at Castro.

In December, 1890, he was married to Miss Gertrude A. Bell of Portsmouth, N. H., who has many times been his only assistant at the station. He purchased the first lot sold in the Campbell subdivision, that being the site of the present Kimmel house on South Central. At this time most of the valley was hay and grain fields with but little fruit. F.M. Righter shipped the first fruit from this station, some ten boxes of apricots.

As a bit of comparison, the first month's business was $5.10 for tickets sold as against an annual monthly shipment of 25,000,000 tons of gravel and fruit today.
Mr. Berry was elected to the school board at the time for and against the creation of a high school district and he, winning out, sided in the beginning of our high school. He served on the board for 13 years. He has always been a worker for…

An article the next year (August 19,1930) showed that the Campbell Chamber of Commerce found the depot I model not modern enough for Their Fair City, and managed to corner the division superintendent and lobby for a modern station:

Campbell Will Not Get a New Depot, Report

The Campbell Chamber of Commerce, in their efforts to secure a new depot for Campbell, met last week with E. R. Anthony, division superintendent of the Southern Pacific, who came to Campbell Friday evening.

Mr. Anthony was not at all in favor of spending any money for railroad improvements in Campbell, stating that the patronage of the railroad did not warrant the expenditure. He remarked on the competition of the bus and truck-freight lines.

Chamber of Commerce committeemen felt that Improved facilities would serve to increase railroad business here, but Mr. Anthony told them, bluntly, that there would have to be some guarantee of that before the company could see its way clear to spend the money necessary to make the required improvements free.

The railroad- or industry- related articles in the newspaper were few and far between, but the coverage of the local social scene and the Sea Scouts was pretty impressive. Fast-forwarding through four years of small-town newspapers is worth doing occasionally, but definitely choose a day when you can handle the tedium. Luckily, the Campbell Interurban Press was only weekly, and stepped down from eight to four pages as soon as the depression hit Campbell.

A final story from the Interurban Press highlights just what we can - and can't - trust about Sanborn maps. The Campbell map from 1930 shows that the area between the depot and Campbell Ave. was described as "Park", which immediately made me think of the tended gardens that the SP had around other depots in California. Unfortunately, it wasn't so; in March, 1930, the Interurban Press railed against the SP Park, that unkept piece of land that had become the dumping ground for old machinery and dead cars. So be careful with Sanborn maps; not only can they be occasionally inaccurate on track diagrams, but they can make a neighborhood seem much more pleasant than it was in real life!

Watch this space for more news from Campbell; I've got other tidbits worth sharing.

[Photo shamelessly stolen from www.campbellmuseums.org.]

[2/14/2014: corrected location of original station. I'd mistyped "Campbell"; the Campbell Interurban Press actually reported the tiny original station was at "Castro".]

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Places I Won't Model II: San Jose Brick Company

As I mentioned a while back, there were some photogenic or interesting industries along the San Jose - Santa Cruz branch that I just am unwilling to represent on the layout, either because of space constraints, lack of traffic, or just the difficulty of representing those places convincingly.

This week's pick: the San Jose Brick Company. The San Jose Brick Company was located out on Fruitdale Avenue just west of Willow Glen. On the railroad, the location was called Foyle, though there was nothing except the brick company's siding and a sea of orchards there. The 1931 track directory lists its location as "Foyle" even as it groups the spurs (holding 18 and 15 cars) with the San Jose canneries near Lincoln Ave. San Jose Brick's actual address was 1916 Fruitdale Ave, which pinpoints their access road / driveway well, but misses on the plant which was between Fruitdale and the railroad tracks. San Jose Brick Co. was a prolific brick maker; San Jose Brick shipped 23 million bricks just in 1887, and its bricks built the Spreckles sugar plant down by Salinas.

I'd never seen any pictures of the brick works themselves, though Historic Aerials shows the plant well. The 1948, 1956, and 1968 photos show the plant layout reasonably. But suburbia slowly encroaches, and by 1980, the site is all tract homes. I don't know what they had to do to get rid of the clay pit, but there's no depression there today as far as I can see, though I'll bet the local gardeners dig up an awful lot of brick fragments whenever they plant tomatoes in their backyard.

But there are other photos out there, and a California Bricks collector site includes two great photos of the plant as well as a history of the firm. San Jose Brick's wooden plant office underneath a mature blue gum eucalyptus just screams "California industry!" to me. The industry overall would be a nice one for a model railroad; the production buildings, kilns, and chimneys are photogenic, and the long spur would provide lots of cars.

There's also a bit on the business in a biography of Fred Dreischmeyer, one of the founders. Also, as keeps happening, when there's nothing else saved about the company, there's always a juicy lawsuit to keep the name visible.

Unfortunately, San Jose Brick, like Sewall Brown, has a couple fatal flaws. First, it really deserves to be out in the middle of nowhere, and doesn't deserve the space that could be used for another town. Also, like Sewall Brown, it's a big industry that really needs to spread out to be represented well. So San Jose Brick won't appear on this layout, but maybe some day I'll have more space for the San Jose branch.