Monday, April 3, 2017

Live in Bakersfield: 3D-Printing Freight Cars at Home

By the way, if you've been following my stories about 3d-printing the Hart convertible gondolas, flat cars, and those 1902-era Battleship gondolas, note that you'll get a chance to hear about them in person.

I'll be giving a clinic on 3d-printing freight cars at the NMRA Pacific Coast Region's annual convention in Bakersfield this month. If you've been reading the saga so far, you'll be familiar with what I've been up to. However, you're still likely to enjoy the specific stories about what went well and what went badly. I'll also bring many of the models so you can see the 3d printed cars in person.

Jack Burgess is also offering a clinic on Saturday morning with a nuts-and-bolts description of using SketchUp software and Shapeways print-on-demand service to print out detail parts.

The PCR's convention is April 19-23 at the Doubletree in Bakersfield; there's more information about the convention at the PCR web site. My talk will be Friday, April 21 at 2:30.

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Coupon-Cutting Thursday I: Ainsley Dessert Fruits On Sale!

And now for the inaugural episode of what hopefully will be a regular feature: Coupon-Cutting Thursday, with newspaper ads related to Santa Clara Valley industry. No guarantees given that the vendors listed will honor these prices.

Apr 27, 1912 St. Andrews Citizen.

March 19, 1926 Kent and Sussex Courier

It's always a bit surprising to me how the Santa Clara valley fruit industry really was international, even as far back as the turn of the century. Vince Nola told me stories about playing on the burlap sacks to ship prunes to Germany. The San Jose Evening News in 1903 remarked on 200,000 pounds of A&C Ham Company's prunes sold in Antwerp in 1903. The U.S. Products cannery, run by the Dutch Vlessing company, exported canned fruit back to Europe.

But the most memorable for me is John Colpitts Ainsley's Ainsley Cannery in Campbell. Ainsley, an immigrant from Britain, worked with family back home to export fruit from the 1890's through the late 1930's. Ainsley was also known for its fruit packed quite attractively in glass jars. Although the most successful of the Campbell canneries, the plant itself is long gone; it's former location, north of the railroad tracks along Harrison Ave., is now townhouses.

April 20, 1928 Sevenoaks Chronicle

I'll admit I was always a bit curious about exporting fruit to England. I'd heard that each European country had its own preferences on fruit - prunes to Germany, apricots to England. But I didn't know much about what fruit they got, or how they used it. Luckily, with all the old newspapers scanned and put on the Internet, we've got a chance to see.

These three ads came from the 'teens and twenties. Ainsley was primarily known for its dessert fruits, at least according to the 1920's ads, advertising peaches, pears and apricots from the Valley to the Brits as they escaped the long winter. Ainsley also apparently did fruit salad and pineapple slices as well. The first sight to my modern eyes is the sheer size of the packaging - 2/12 lb apricots, peaches, and pears in cans, or glass-packed fruit for twice the price.

The earlier ad - from 1912 - highlights how folks were using canned fruit differently than how I grew up. I think of canned fruit as an old-fashioned and handy dessert source, but Ainsley was instead selling "Californian Apricot Pulp" for jam and marmalade making in seven pound tins. They even include the handy instructions for making jam at home - just add sugar and bitter almonds.

Possible Wired article intro sent back in time that inspired the St. Andrew's Citizen's typesetter.

I'll also highlight the sheer number of typefaces used in that St. Andrews newspaper advertisement, with at least eight typefaces appearing in the same ad - not just mainstays like a roman font and sans-serif font, but a stencil font *and* an Old Western typeface, all sitting there together. I might guess that a copy of Wired's Style Guide got sent back in time to land on the typesetter's desk, though it's a shame he couldn't also print the ad in several different contrasting colors.

I found these ads in the British Newspaper Archive, which also turned up a reporter's visit to San Jose in 1850:

"The valley of San Jose has quite won us by its extremely fine balmy climate and quietness... to us one of the pleasantest attractions of the place were the fine old orchards and vineyards attached to some of the old residences of the native Californians. Spacious and extensive, they are filled with sturdy and thrifty pear, apple quince, and other fruit trees, literally breaking down from the weight of the luscious burdens they bear...
We were quite surprised at the extent to which cultivation has been carried in the vicinity of San Jose, within two or three miles, quite a number of Americans have brought under cultivation large tracts of land, and with the greatest success. The labour has been mostly performed by Indians, who have been paid five to six dollars a week, we are informed. We heard of one gentleman having one patch of potatoes covering upwards of 60 acres. (October 24, 1850 Fife Herald)."

I never would have expected the Fife Herald to be featuring an article on San Jose agriculture (and a trip to the Almaden mines) just a couple years after the discovery of Gold, but we were certainly interesting enough to fill some column inches on a slow Thursday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Before the Cannery, the Winery

One of the big themes in the Santa Clara Valley has been the changes in industry, both in the recent and distant past. If you’re looking at modern Silicon Valley, you’ll find that the seeds of Google and Apple were planted back in the 1920’s when vacuum tube makers located out here to get far away from the patent holders on the east coast. Vacuum tubes led to high-power radio and microwave; high power radio’s material scientists had all the skills to make semiconductors, semiconductors led to microprocessors, which led to personal computers, software, and eventually to hipster chicken day care. (Making Silicon Valley gives a nice overview of Silicon Valley's early history, if you're curious.)

For the agricultural Santa Clara Valley, we see a similar progression. The cattle ranches of the Mexican-era ranchos became wheat fields as the anglo farmers exported huge amounts of wheat to Europe. The wheat fields turned into vineyards. Various setbacks turned the vineyards into orchards; the orchards brought the canneries, which in turn replaced the orchards with manufacturing, can-making, and other industry. If you wander around, you’ll find signs of that past, whether a cannery now holding a microbrewery in San Jose, a grain shed in an empty field in Tres Pinos , or a remnant of a former winery in the middle of suburban Sunnyvale. Each economic or technical change created a new set of successful businesses, but caused hardship for the folks stuck on whatever was the previous boom.

I also run across those reminders of change in historical research. When I was tracking down the history of the Hunt Brothers cannery in Los Gatos, I found a reference that the new cannery was using buildings left over from the “Delpech Winery”. The name was new, but some research turned up two familiar stories: an immgrant making wine just like in the Old Country, and the fall of the wine industry and rising of the fruit industry in the Santa Clara Valley.

Amedee and Germaine Delpech

The immigrant in question was Amedee Delpech, an immigrant from Lot in southern France. Amedee came to California in 1876. It's unclear what Delpech did upon arriving, but I can suspect the common story: he worked for several years, saved up a bank-roll, then either bought or leased land for his own farm. All the good land in the Valley was already taken, so Delpech, like the new Italian, Portuguese, or Yugoslav immigrants, was pushed up into the marginal foothill lands. In Delpech’s case, he a small amount of acreage at Patchen, at the summit of the hill between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. Hints from land sales suggest his farm was on Summit Road, just west of the current Highway 17.

Amedee planted his land in grapes, and quickly set to work making wines and brandies. In 1888, Delpech presented his wines at the 6th Annual Viticultural Convention in San Francisco, offering up a Sauvignon Vert, White Pinot, as well as mission and peach brandies, all from the 1886 and 1887 vintage. (His nearby neighbor, E. Meyer in Wrights, was meanwhile making some lighter red wines -Carignan, Ploussard, and a Zinfandel-Mataro blend.) For the 1892 and 1896 voter registration, he listed his occupation quite solidly as winemaker. By 1903, he'd moved up in the world; a city directory listed him as a “Wine Manufacturer.”

Possible location of the Delpech vineyard at 22231 Summit Road. Perhaps that's even the Delpech barn?

It was an odd time to be in the wine business; although Santa Clara County had been a center for wine-growing, the trade had been in decline since the 1880s thanks to a glut of wine on the market and the plague of phylloxera. The disease hit the Santa Clara Valley just before Delpech decided on the Los Gatos expansion. Cupertino, for example, had been a center for vineyards. (Vineyards were preferred over fruit because it only took three years, rather than five, to start getting marketable crops.) Between 1895 and 1905, phylloxera hit Cupertino and decimated the vines. By the end, almost all the vineyards had been replaced with fruit trees. The effect was also seen in the wineries. The California Wine Company along the narrow gauge railroad at San Fernando Street became Griffin and Skelley's dried fruit plant in the early 20th century. Zicovich’s Winery, a competitor in the wine and brandy trade, burned down in 1899 during the Great San Carlos Street Just West of the Railroad Tracks fire. There's no indication it was rebuilt.

Gustav Hueter's Mountain Springs Ranch. See if you can spot the rolling tree stumps! From Los Gatos Public Library, Linda Ward collection.

Delpech also apparently continued to expand his vineyards. In 1899, he managed to annoy his downhill neighbor by rolling tree stumps onto his property. The neighbor, Gustav Hueter, the San Francisco varnish king, appeared to be a bit high-strung, suing his downhill neighbors over water rights in Sheppard Gulch creek, and spending more on the lawsuit against Delpech than he claimed in damages. Delpech, in his defense, declared that his workers brought the errant stumps back:

In the Superior Court defendant Delpesch contended that although some of the rolling stumps had invaded the premises of Heuter they had done no harm except to bend over two madrone and three tanbark trees, and furthermore it was claimed that when a hired man of Delpesch had learned that some of the stumps had gone beyond their legitimate moorings they hitched onto them and hauled them up the hill again where they were blocked up to prevent their rolling tendencies.

If you ever thought the early landowner's life in the Santa Cruz Mountains was easy, just imagine trying to haul a bunch of huge redwood tree stumps back up a hill before your cranky downhill neighbor got annoyed. Almost makes wrestling a bear sound fun.

Hueter turns up in a couple other news stories, including one about some drunken yahoos shooting up the stuffed bear he placed at the entrance to his property on the Old Santa Cruz Highway. Then, in 1905, 65 year old Hueter was shot and killed by his thirty-three year old wife after he threatened her during a fight. The grand jury discovered that Kate Hueter had been overly friendly with the Los Gatos doctor which had spurred the row. Hueter had been in the process of contracting for oil drilling on his property to see if the Moody Gulch oil strikes might be repeated on his land. Hueter's land is now the Redwood Estates development.

By 1898, Amedee, was beginning to appear quite successful. His wife Germaine, and daughter Marguerite, had moved to San Jose, living in the Liberte Hotel (San Pedro and Post), then at 312 El Dorado (now Post) St - just about the time his daughter, Margaret, would have been starting school. They also had a small lot near the railroad tracks in Alma, bought in 1900, and another lot in San Jose downtown. Amedee was also active in politics, serving as a delegate for James G. Maguire for governor in the 1898 State Democratic Convention.

1900 was also the time for Amedee to try to grab at the gold ring of business. That year, he started building a winery in Los Gatos, at the intersection of the Saratoga Road and Santa Cruz Ave, with Jacob Lenzen and son designing the building, and Z. O. Field building the structure. The winery itself was incorporated in early 1903 as the “Los Gatos Winery”, with A. Berryman, P. J. Arnerich, J. J. Stanfield, and J. Bazus as directors - all proud burghers of Los Gatos business.

But even as the winery was built, its future fell into doubt. Amedee Delpech died suddenly in August, 1903:

"Amedee Delpech the well known winemaker of Los Gatos died at his home in that city on Wednesday from an attack of pneumonia.  The remains were forwarded to San Francisco today and the funeral will take place in that city on Friday at 2 o'clock under the auspices of the I. O. O. F. of which he was a member.  He was a native of France and was 52 years of age."
His friends in the Franco-American Lodge of the I.O.O.F. described him more explicitly in an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Prominent Vineyardist Dead
Amedee Delpech, one of the best-known vineyardists and wine men of this county, died at his home near Los Gatos today. He was a native of France, aged 52 years. The funeral will be held in San Francisco tomorrow under the auspices of the Franco-American Lodge, I. O. O. F., of which he was a member.

His wife, Germaine, had the task of settling the estate; a sequence of real estate sales showed up in newspapers for the next couple years, selling the property at Patchen to Joseph McKiernan in 1904, and selling the downtown San Jose land in 1906. She later moved to San Francisco, “four children and one child still living.” Germaine ran a candy store for a bit, worked as a dress maker, and held a couple other jobs. In 1928, she lived in the Marina district.

The new winery itself spent a few years in limbo. At first, there was talk about the Los Gatos Cannery using the building for dried fruit packing in the 1906 season. The Los Gatos Fruit Growers’ Union, associated with George Hooke, claimed to have secured a lease for the 100 x 150 foot building, “half of which will be floored immediately and a model packing house will be arranged. Whether the union will pack its own fruit or not will depend on the prices offered in the bins by packers.” (August 27, 1906 San Jose Mercury News.) Another article claimed that quite substantial work was already in progress. After that, little can be found on the Los Gatos Fruit Grower’s Union.

That same year, George Hooke, the owner of the Los Gatos Canneries, decided he didn’t have enough excitement in his life, and decided growing a new cannery would be more fun than running the old one. Hooke sold the Los Gatos Canneries to the Hunt Brothers Packing Company, and left to manage new canneries in Watsonville and Sunnyvale. The Hunt Brothers needed to modernize the very victorian plant in the middle of Los Gatos’s downtown; by the next spring, Hunt decided that the best solution would be to build a modern plant, and saw the Delpech cannery as the perfect location - a huge space, easy rail access, and an existing building ready for reuse. Hunts also brought in their own people; Hooke had claimed Hunts would keep the existing management in place, but the manager and other staff were replaced within a year by Hunt veterans.

Hunt Brothers Making Extensive Improvements for New Canning Plant” - April 16, 1907 San Jose Mercury News.
“Very few people realize the vastness of the improvements that are underway at the Hunt Brothers big cannery at the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and the Saratoga Road. The immense winery building that was erected by the late A. Delpech has been ceiled overhead, and a floor three feet above the ground, and ventilator and light shafts installed at convenient distances. At the north of the main building boilers are being installed, and when that is completed a suitable building will enclose it. The southwest corner of the lot has been covered with a high one story building that will be used as a receiving room, and as the fruit is processed it will finally be placed in the large warehouse alongside the track, the foundations of which are already laid. This building will be eighty feet wide by a length of two hundred and twenty five feet, and on the east side of it for the whole length is the spur track adjoining the main track of the Southern Pacific Company... Their superintendent C. C. Van Eaton has made his home here permanently. All the operations of moving from the old plant, which they purchased from the Los Gatos Canneries, has been made under his personal supervision. He brings with him skillful assistants in several departments who have been with him a number of years."

And with that, Delpech’s dream of a winery in Los Gatos instead helped the canning industry expand - the industry that chased the vineyards out of the Santa Clara Valley. Delpech’s would eventually see wine again; after Hunt Brothers closed their doors in the early 1930’s, the building was sold to Paul Masson (then owned by Seagrams), who used the former cannery for storage.

Delpech's winery and the Hunt buildings were torn down in the late 1950s; a strip mall took over the land in the late 1960's. If you go to the site of the old Delpech winery today, you’ll find a rather nice little wine-bar where you can enjoy some very good wines, and wonder what Amedee Delpech would have thought.

Amedee Delpech's story isn't that uncommon. There are shades of it in my great-grandfather's own story - immigrant comes to the United States, buys his own (marginal) land, and makes a home, vineyard, and farm. Delpech's story also matches Paul Masson, another French immigrant. Masson, who came to work for Charles LeFranc in his Almaden vineyards, later created his own winery that became world famous - probably just the ending Amedee Delpech was hoping for.

Photo of Amedee and Germaine Delpech courtesy of Sandy Herve. Mountain Springs Ranch photo from Los Gatos Public Library; they have several other photos of the Heuter property.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Los Gatos Plan

A few years back, I confessed that “Los Gatos was always sort of a compromise, a town crammed into too tight a space, added because I needed a destination but didn’t have room to do it justice.”

I’d written that before I started scenery - not that there was much space for scenery. A main track, passing track, and spur fill the foot-wide shelf it sits on; my layout’s main staging yard sits right in front of and below the town site. The Los Gatos space also short - just a six foot siding, with one end curving away behind a backdrop and into the helix, and the other end right up against the Vasona Junction scene. For a town with multiple photogenic locations - the station area, team track behind the downtown strip, Hunt's cannery, rural stretches - there wasn’t room to fit all of these, let alone do them justice.

Panorama of Los Gatos with staging exposed.

Well, I’m finally trying to do it justice. I started scenery last year. My plan is pretty simple - omit the station area, let the downtown buildings serve as backdrop for much of the scene, and let the Hunt Brothers cannery serve as the dominant element - not too surprising for a model railroad where the freight trains are the interesting part.

Railroad tracks at Elm Street, Los Gatos. California Railroad Commission photo, Los Gatos Public Library collection.

My inspiration came out of a small set of photos. The California Railroad Commission (now the California Public Utilities Commission) came through Los Gatos in 1928 to check out the safety of the grade crossings, and photographed many of the intersections in downtown. The photos are particularly interesting - in that “lots of weeds and the back sides of buildings and fences” sense of interesting that would make a civic booster cringe. The photos show tracks running through an isolated right-of-way, with downtown buildings on the edge of the photo, and the back fences of houses along University Ave. framing the opposite side.

Railroad tracks at Grays Lane, Los Gatos. California Railroad Commission photo, Los Gatos Public Library collection.

Occasionally, a business shows up - a lumber yard at Elm and University (not rail-served) a modest building that was apparently an ice cream factory on the other side of Elm, and a corrugated iron building doing auto body work at Grays Lane. All this seemed just right for a freight railroad - a modest and industrial scene showing what was happening on the other side of the back fences. The location also still exists and is identifiable by visitors to my layout; the former railroad right-of-way now serves as the parking lots behind downtown Los Gatos. When I point out a scene, folks will be walking there the next weekend.

Of course, I needed more space to do all this justice. Years ago, Dave Bayless, a model railroader, suggested building a shelf over the staging yard. I finally took his advice, and added a simple plywood shelf over the staging yard. The new shelf was just the right place for the houses and back fences that the scene required. Better yet, the scenery could be taken out during operations. That whole back-fence scene means that there were no industries or details critical to operation, and the fence itself served as a nice way to block the gap between the real scenery and the movable scenery. When I’m showing the layout, the shelves stay on; when operators come over, the shelves come out.

Panorama of Los Gatos with staging covered.

All this leads to a few buildings to build:

  • flats for the downtown area
  • the lumberyard and its low sheds (originally Lynden and Sylverson, though operated as Sterling Lumber in my era. )
  • additional buildings, such as the ice cream factory
  • the Hunts cannery.
  • Houses and backyards for the foreground (representing the houses along University Ave.)

Downtown buildings: Downtown Los Gatos dates from the 1870’s, so the downtown strip is a collection of brick and frame buildings. It’ll be easy to model with bits of plastic kits or scratchbuilt flats.

Lumber yard: Sterling Lumber, had been at that location since the 1860’s, though it never had its own railroad spur. Instead, it relied on the team track across the tracks. The lumberyard’s low sheds and fancy gate on the south end of the yard were obvious details to model.

Ice Cream Factory: The ice cream factory was the work of Hans Nielsen and the Eatmore Ice Cream Company. Sanborn maps show a simple concrete block building with an eye-catching cooling tower at its back. Old stories of Los Gatos remember Eatmore, so it’s worth adding.

The houses along University Ave.: sometimes I'll model the house, and sometimes the back yards. To be thoroughly correct, the houses would need to be a mix of Victorian, craftsman, and traditional.

And finally, the Hunts cannery - the focal point for both the scene and for operations.

So that's the plan - extend the shelf so there's more room for scenery, build the unfashionable parts of Los Gatos, and deal with the disapproval of the Chamber of Commerce for ignoring the attractive parts of Los Gatos. I’ll talk about each of these in turn and show some of the work needed to model each.

Photo of Elm Street railroad crossing taken by California Railroad Commission as part of a study. From the Baggerly collection, Los Gatos Public Library.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How the Freeway Came to LA, and other links

Time to share a bunch of interesting links related to the 1930's.

If you're interested in maps, geography, and civil engineering check out Matt Roth's talk on "Concrete Utopia: Roads and Freeways in Los Angeles", which he gave at the Huntington Library a few years ago. It's an interesting lecture, talking a bit about how the LA freeways came about, as well as the challenges of getting folks to pay for major infrastructure improvements at any time in the past.

Available here, or in the "California and the West" series of talks in iTunes.

I found this as part of my search for interesting podcasts. I've been listening to a bunch on my drive into work - both oral histories such as interviews with Los Gatos resident Richard Mors, as well as You Can't Eat the Sunshine, a Los Angeles history-and architecture series that interviews folks interested in Los Angeles and its downtown. The creators of "You Can't Eat the Sunshine" also worked on the 1947 Project and On Bunker Hill. Both websites documented the seedier side of Los Angeles through newspaper articles, crime stories, and historical research on old hotels.

If you're modeling the 1930's and want some reminders of what life was really like, Frederick Lewis Allen's Since Yesterday documents life in the United States from September 1929 (just before the great depression until September 1939 (just before World War II). It's a remarkably readable book, combining major news items, trivia, and a strong sense of how our grandparents might have seen the changes occurring before their eyes. Allen wrote a similar book, "Only Yesterday", about the 1920's.

And finally, for some San Francisco content: the YouTube channel Dirty Old Bar visits old-style neighborhood bars around San Francisco to meet the folks who run them and who visit them. The visits hint at San Francisco history; for example, their visit to Clooney's, a Mission-district working-man's bar that opens at 6:00am, lets you one of the last bars catering to swing-shift workers coming off duty. It's easy to imagine the place filled with cannery workers, machinists, and longshoremen; the Vasona Branch deserves a bar like that.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

3d Printing a Bean Spray Track-Pull Tractor

See the previous article for a history of the Bean Spray Track-Pull Tractor.

Normally, I’m not much of a fan of making models “because they’re cool”; I’d prefer to focus on models that I can use on my model railroad, rather than build some cute models that will just get in the way. I'll usually describe projects that aren't appropriate for the layout as "spec(ulative) projects" in a pejorative sense. I don't have much storage space for random models, and would prefer to focus on stuff that will improve the layout.

However, the Track-Pull caught my attention because of a great publicity photo, the San Jose connection, and because - to be blunt - I was bored.

Track-Pull Tractors in front of Anderson-Barngrover. History San Jose collection.

The publicity photo, from History San Jose’s collection, shows a whole herd of Track-Pulls rolling in front of Bean Spray Pump on their way to the Southern Pacific freight house on San Pedro Street. It’s a great shot, both for the Track-Pulls and the Mission-style Anderson Barngrover headquarters in the back of the photo. When I saw the image a few years back, I knew I wanted to do something with that scene, and saved it away in a set of photos I keep around for inspiration.

Last month, I was looking for a little 3d printing project, and remembered those wacky Bean Spray tractors. “Huh, I wonder if I could 3d print one of these.”

Unlike some of the other models I’ve done, there’s precious little information available on the Track-Pulls, and only a few examples still in existence. (If I was smart, I’d also drive by a few lots around San Jose that have rusty farm machinery, just in case there's an actual Track-Pull tractor hiding nearby.) The nearest actual Track-Pull is at a museum up in the Sacramento Valley - reachable, but I'm not enough of a tractor fan to drive up there just to get measurements of a model.

I did a bit of searching on the Internet, turning up a few historical documents and a bunch of photos from the tractor restoration crowd. The best I found was an article from the October 30, 1919 issue of Motor Age, where the magazine reviews the tractor. Motor Age describes the Track-Pull’s engine portion as 30 inches wide, 43 inches high, and six feet long. The tricycle rear wheels were 66 inches apart (though a separate magazine review claimed it was only five feet wide), and the whole machine had a length of 110 inches. Beyond these rough numbers, there’s no other data on the Track-Pull apart from photos.

First part of design: tread

Full model

With the little information I had, I started trying to draw the Track-Pull. Like most of my models, I sketched my version of the Track-Pull in SketchUp. I used the rough dimensions, but eyeballed nearly everything else from the few photos.

To get started, I first modeled the Track-Pull in terms of rough shapes, and slowly refined and detailed the model. The caterpillar tread assembly was the first bit; I guessed at an overall size, drew its overall shape, then slowly added the treads and machinery. To increase my confidence, I printed out that assembly on its own just to prove that it could print, and so I could actually see the model in the flesh. (That's a nice aspect of having a 3d printer in my office - I can print out half-done models just for the encouragement, rather than having to send to Shapeways only when I've got a model that I'm willing to spend the money to print.)

Once I had the tread, I started roughing out additional parts of the model - first the gross details such as the outriggers, then the rough shape of the engine and radiator. I then started throwing detail on each piece, sort of how movie model makers throw on "greebles" - random detail - to make their models look more realistic.

Detail at front of model - node mount for fan bearing

This model was a good deal more complex than many of the models I've done for the model railroad. One trick was to work in terms of subassemblies. I used SketchUp's "group" command to make the larger assemblies (the tread, radiator, fuel tank, and outriggers) into single elements. When I needed to get to a hard-to-reach section of the model, I'd select the group that blocked access, and would move it so it was ten feet above or below the model. I could then move the part back into place easily.

I also added 3d parts for much of the piping, such as from the radiator to the engine and back. Normally, SketchUp has lots of problems with curved and round surfaces; having pipes intersect or turn right angles is particularly painful. Because many of these pipes were small (at most 2-3 inches across), I instead drew all the piping with hexagon shapes, and hand-edited the intersections between piping.

HO scale version

O scale version

For this model, I also printed the model in HO and in O scale both to see the detail and just for the fun of making a larger model. The HO model can print as one piece (with some extra supports to cut away); the O scale model had to be printed with the engine and tread as one piece, and the two wheeled outriggers as a separate part.

These models aren't complete and are still missing features. One obvious omission are the dual wheels for controlling steering and engine speed. As is, these are still impressive models.

Now, the Track-Pull isn't my usual sort of model to build, but it was a fun project. Better yet, it's a nice reminder how the 3d printer really broadens my modeling. Even a few years ago, my only choices for an orchard tractor would have been a die cast or plastic model (maybe one of those modern John Deeres I bought a while back), or else a detailed but pricey white metal kit such as any of the really nice Holt bulldozer tractor kits available from Rio Grande Models. 3d printing gives us the chance to get a wider selection of models.

Drawing those models also gave me the chance to find some interesting stories about how one particularly crazy tractor design came from San Jose. Crazy startups aren't just a 21st century creation of Silicon Valley.

Great thanks to the Flickr user who took pictures of the Track-Pull at the Hendricks Agricultural Museum up in Woodland.

Crazy Ideas in the Valley of Hearts Delight

Track-Pull Tractors in front of Anderson-Barngrover. History San Jose collection.

Out here in Silicon Valley, we’re a little crazy.

Well... a lot, actually.

We come up with crazy ideas: dog food delivered in bulk by drone. Uber for sharing underwear. Self-driving unicycles. Luxury chicken day care.

And, after all, it’s a tradition out here. We've been coming up with crazy ideas since the 1880's. We saw that in the past with stories of Victor Greco’s early adventures in the tomato paste business, Stanley Hiller’s apricot-pit charcoal gamble, or Johnathan Coykendall's prune coffee.

Or even Alfred Johnson's single footed tricycle-style caterpillar tractor.

Oh my, you haven’t heard about the Bean Spray Track-Pull?

At the turn of the century, San Jose had several businesses making farming equipment, all finding success by filling the needs for the orchardists and canneries filling the Santa Clara Valley. The Anderson Prune Dipper Company, Barngrover-Hull, and Knapp Plow are all well known. There was also the quite successful Bean Spray Pump Company, founded by John Bean back in 1884.

John Bean, the Steve Jobs of orchard spraying equipment.

John Bean was a prolific inventor, designing farm equipment and vehicles in the midwest. When he sold his design for a deep well pump for a significant payday, he decided to leave the midwest and find a climate better for his tuberculosis. He settled on an almond orchard near Los Gatos, prepared for a quiet retirement. However, like many gardeners, he quickly got frustrated with garden pests as scale infested his orchard. When he found that commercial sprayers were poorly designed and couldn't reach the tops of the trees in his orchard, he invented his own… and founded a new pump-making company in 1884. That company grew to produce many different sorts of machinery for agriculture.

The Crazy Startup Guys

By 1915, the Bean Spray Pump Company was a big, established company in the Valley, and its namesake inventor was long-retired. Just like today's big tech companies, Bean Spray had to search around for their inspiration for products to keep growing, either from folks inside the company, hiring new designers in-house (such as acqi-hiring engine design expertise by purchasing the Cushman company in Nebraska), or sometimes seeking help from some crazy startup guys.

The startup guys, in this case, were Alfred C. Johnson, James H. McCollough, and Fred D. Calkins. Alfred was the machinist and entrepreneur, Calkins the assistant, and McCollough apparently was the business guy.

Alfred Johnson had been quite the tractor entrepreneur. Although only in his mid thirties, he'd already convinced his family to join him in previous crazy tractor projects. The Johnson family, originally from Iowa, moved to Dixon (near Davis) before 1900. Alfred must have been quite the precocious engineer, for in 1907, the family appears in Sunnyvale (just after the arrival of the Hendy Iron Works in town.) Together, Alfred and his father started the Johnson Traction Engine Company, eventually pulling in brothers and assorted helpers to the cause.

Johnson Toe-Hold Tractor, built by Hendy Iron Works. Photo from Bancroft Library collection

Their first design, the "Toe-Hold Tractor", was a low-power, low-to-the-ground model suited for orchard work first sold in 1911. The Toe-Hold tractor's "secret sauce" were the fins on the wheel, particularly suitable for traction in wet soil. Alfred and his brothers originally prototyped the idea by welding horseshoes on a wheel, but the patented design used steel fins instead. The Johnson family sold the design to the Hendy Iron Works folks, which put the design into production in 1911. In 1913, Hendy shared the rights to the design with the Rumely Company from Indiana (but continued producing the tractor). Rumely claimed forty tractor sales as soon as they bought the design, even as they struggled to open their San Francisco sales office.

Johnson also designed a variant called the "Johnson Improved Tractor" for Hendy, (the recumbent bike of the tractor world). The Improved Tractor was similar to the Toe-Hold, but had additional sheet metal covering the motors, moving parts, and wheels, probably to avoid snagging tree branches in the orchard. Johnson, his father, and Calkins patented several of the improvements from their tractors in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, McCollough was just out of U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Commerce in 1904. He apparently was searching for his chance at great glory, but meanwhile worked various jobs, running a dry goods store in Sunnyvale and running the San Jose Roofing Company for a couple years (according to old city directories.) Johnson, McCollough, and Calkins must have met up around 1910 in Sunnyvale, and decided that designing tractors wasn't a bad way of life.

Yuba Ball Tread Tractor. From Yuba Construction Company catalog, Wisconsin Historical Society collection..

The new team decided to take a second crack at the tractor market. Together, Johnson, McCollough, and Calkins bought a patent for a "ball tread" tractor from Clarence Henneuse, a tractor designer working for the Best Tractor company in Oakland. Henneuse's design had simplified caterpillar tread design by using huge ball bearings between the caterpillar track and race. Although Best didn't think much of the design, our three heroes apparently saw its virtues. Johnson worked to make it practical and designed a transmission for the new tractor design. The three then pulled in some manufacturing help from Detroit, and built the "Calkins & Johnson Ball Tread" tractor, which outwardly resembled the early Best caterpillar tractors. The three ran a business selling them in San Jose for a very short time, but after a quick bankruptcy sold out to the Yuba Construction Company around 1913 which continued making the design.

Advertisement, Track-Pull tractor.

All these designs were large, bulky tractors. Their next focus was going to be quite the other way.

The Crazy Startup Guys Pitch Their Idea

In 1915, the trio took their next crazy idea to Bean Spray. "Orchards," the crazy startup guys said, "need small, light-duty tractors. Those caterpillar-style tractors are just the thing for orchards. But all the caterpillar-style tractors had two separate caterpillar treads - which seemed two times as much as any tractor really needs. Why not have a tractor with a single caterpillar tread?"

The Track-Pull tractor really did have all those features. It had a single caterpillar tread, and a tricycle-like rear body for the driver and to attach plows. The tractor was low-to-the-ground to move under the trees, and narrow enough to fit between orchard rows. The narrow and compact body was unlikely to snag on tree branches. It was lightweight and spread its weight so it wouldn't compact the ground under the trees. It could also turn on a dime, with a five foot turning radius.

Bean Spray Pump was convinced, and bought the idea; the new Track-Pull Tractor became quite the hit. The original model sold $419,000 in tractors in 1916, and $723,000 in 1917 in 1917; the photo of the Track-Pulls driving from the Bean Spray Pump plant to the Southern Pacific's freight station at San Pedro Street represents some of those sales. The era's equivalent of Consumer's Reports describing it as appropriate for two or three plows, and farms less than 160 acres.

The initial models had a four-cylinder engine mounted on the right side of the tractor, and a radiator on the opposite side, making for a boxy appearance even as the tractor balanced on its single tread. The initial Track-Pull was the 6-10 model (6 hp pulling, 10 hp on the tread), but the company eventually made models ranging from 10 horsepower to 32 horsepower. Regardless of the strangeness of a single-footed caterpillar tractor, Bean Spray sold these tractors through at least 1921, showing that crazy ideas could still be profitable.

Can't Take the Tractor Out of the Tractor Designer

McCollough, Johnson, and Calkins each took their own path after the Bean Spray purchase.

Fred Calkins apparently took the quiet way out, appearing as an orchardist in Sunnyvale from 1919 on; the 1920 census shows him as a fruit buyer, living with his sister and brother in law on Murphy Ave. By 1940, Calkins was President of the Santa Clara Valley Fruit Exchange, and living on Alta Vista Way in San Jose's eastern foothills (as if there were ever a better address for a startup guy.)

McCollough and Johnson both joined Bean Spray, and each took a different path with the big company.

Johnson continued, now with the title "mechanical engineer" at Bean Spray and later Anderson-Barngrover through at least 1926. In 1945, patents with his name on them were still being filed by Food Machinery Corporation.

Although McCollough was working for Bean Spray Pump Company in 1918 when he registered for the World War I draft, he was a bit... detached... from his job in Big Tech. He listed his occupation as "fruit ranch proprietor, also promotor and head of Tractor Repair, Bean Spray Pump Co." He was also still living with his mother at 57 South 19th Street, on the unfashionable side of Coyote Creek.

By 1919, McCollough cut out of the big company, listing himself as a "machinery promoter" on his 1919 passport application and "promoter, traction engine" in the 1930 census. City directories from 1922-1925 show McCollough continued working on tractor designs out of an office in the First National Bank building. Soon after, he switched to real estate.

The tractor bug bit both men again; in 1935, McCollough and Johnson again pushed a new design called the "Unitrack". The new tractor had a family resemblance to the Track-Pull, but with a solid body that suspiciously resembles a Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars. Its small size and low price certainly would have been handy in those post-Depression days. The new tractor shows up in ads in the Santa Cruz Evening News in May of 1938:

Farmers Attention: Before you buy any small tractor on which you can ride, investigate the new Unitrack tractor, the most complete track laying tractor of its kind. Very economical in operation. Price $495.00 plus tax. Demonstration given. Kroneder & Son sole agent, Glen Canyon, CA. [near Santa Cruz]

By April 1942, when McCollough registered for the World War II draft, he was living in Santa Cruz while working for the Irving Lee & Co. investment company back in San Jose. Johnson, always looking for interesting things to design, was in Long Beach, designing and building airplanes, but continued consulting and designing for FMC, Bean Spray's successor. "Alf" Johnson died with his boots on; he died in 1954 while field-testing a new tractor in Sunnyvale.

Five designs, three designs purchased by large companies, one fire sale, and one bankruptcy. Not bad for a set of crazy Silicon Valley tractor entrepreneurs.

Next time:3d-Printing a Bean Spray Pump Track-Pull.

Photo of Track-Pulls on a rampage on Santa Clara Street comes from History San Jose, and dates to around 1917. Thanks to the many tractor enthusiasts who have written about the Track-Pulls over the years, especially September 1985 Gas Engine Magazine. Bill's Page supplied much of the history of Johnson, McCollough, and Calkins's tractor startups.