Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another source for San Jose historical photos

The Sorisseau Academy for State and Local History, located at San Jose State University, has some interesting commercial photos from the 1950's taken by Arnold Del Carlo, including many aerial photos of the area. Their searching tools aren't as easy to use as San Jose State's primary historical collection, but there's occasional good finds. Here's the Accent flavor enhancer plant (Stauffer Chemical) in San Jose that made MSG from sugar beets. They had their own switching locomotive for the plant; if someone needs a prototype for a small industrial switching layout, this might be a good choice.

The Accent plant was between Stauffer Blvd. and the SP spur on the west side of Monterey Highway south of downtown San Jose. The plant was torn down in the late 1980's, and now has modern warehouses. See this page of the San Jose SPINS maps for more details. As an added bonus for an interesting layout, the other side of the tracks held the General Electric San Jose plant, with spurs both for the "motor plant" and "atomic plant". Just the thing for your glow-in-the-dark paint schemes...

I'm also a sucker for mid-century modern buildings, and this grocery store definitely catches my eye. I have no idea where the Story Book Market was.

[Both photos from Sorisseau Academy. I was really hoping to find one of the Moody Gulch oil field photos from "Santa Clara: Harvest of Plenty", but not much of their collection is online. Time to visit San Jose State.]

Oil Wells in Los Gatos Canyon?

[I really wanted to end that title with "Mooo!", but I suspect many readers wouldn't get the Berkeley Farms tagline.]

I've commented in the past on oil wells in Los Gatos Canyon, but I'd lost the original citation that there had been a siding on the railroad for the oil wells. The quote came from "Santa Clara County: Harvest of Change" in a section on Moody Gulch. ("Harvest of Change" is half history and half vanity publication for valley businesses; as cheap as it can be found used, it's probably a better book to find in the library.]

According to the book, the Moody Gulch oil wells were discovered in 1861, and serious development started in 1877 as a fuel source for Garden City Gas Company. In 1879, the developers laid a 2 inch pipeline from the drilling site to a 250 barrel tank at Alma, and the South Pacific Railroad constructed a 400 foot siding. There was even talk of building a refinery in Alma because the nearest refinery at the time was 400 miles away at Andrews Station near Newhall. The Santa Clarita Valley history has a bunch of other details on the Moody Gulch project. Later, the oil went by rail to Alameda and the Alameda Point Oil Company's refinery.

The oil deposit never produced that much - maybe 10 barrels a day, and 24,000 by 1886. There was another
attempt in the 1920's to extract oil from Moody Gulch that was abandoned after 1938 with an estimated 98,000 barrels of oil produced in total. Here's what Moody Gulcy looks like today.

Maybe there's still time for a boom. There still was an oil well
in Los Gatos a few years ago, though I never was able to find it. The USGS report on oil in the Santa Clara Valley also throws in occasional tidbits.

I hadn't known that they were still pumping oil in Alma in the 1930's. Maybe the crazy idea of a (non-prototypical) branch to an oil spur near Moody Gulch isn't so far-fetched.

Monday, February 21, 2011

SwitchList: Now with SP-style switchlists!

It's always interesting during an operating session to see who picks up one of the prepared switchlists and asks me how my penmanship got so good. I always have to confess that my switchlist generation program did all that fine lettering, including the random position jitters to make it look more human.

That program, SwitchList, now generates paper switchlists that resemble the Southern Pacific's own switchlists for that oh-so-prototypical look and feel. It'll even do a rushed scribble down a column of cars going to the same location. Download SwitchList and check it out yourself. If you've got questions or want to suggest some ideas for improvement, let me know at the SwitchList mailing list.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gems in Documents

The San Jose Library's digital collection has more documents than I thought; they've also scanned several city directories, including this
1910 San Jose directory.

A quick glance through the section on fruit packers listed all the different companies I've already seen when checking out the Market Street warehouses: J. B. Inderrieden at 200 Ryland, H.E. Loss on San Pedro, Earl Fruit on the other side of the tracks on Bassett at the northeast corner of Terraine. There's also some names I don't recognize down by what will become Del Monte Plant #3 and elsewhere on the west side of downtown.

They also list some of the packers outside town, including an Earl Fruit Co. branch in Wrights. That's unexpected to me; Wrights was a small hamlet and I wouldn't have imagined the farmers in the hills would have produced enough fruit to support a packing operation... even if I've modeled one of the warehouse buildings in Wrights that probably held them. However, Earl Fruit's presence in Wrights does connect some dots, for this photo from the Los Gatos Museum shows several narrow gauge cars on the short spur at Wrights loading fruit, with the Earl Fruit Co. placards displayed prominently on each car. Coincidentally, this photo convinced me to model that siding as well as Wrights on my layout.

And if anyone ever challenges me on whether Wrights deserves a refrigerator car or two for fruit occasionally, I'll show them the city directory.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hard Times in San Jose

As much as my layout might show a busy, productive valley in 1932, the truth wasn't always as nice. As I've mentioned before, the market for fruit was so bad in 1931 and 1932 that the Hunts Cannery in Los Gatos didn't even bother to open both years (after canning six million pounds of pears the previous year), and the Drew Canning Company co-operative in Campbell (represented on the layout) paid the Olson Family $15.21 in December 1932 for their 1931 harvest of eight tons of apricots. Getting paid a year late and $2.00/ton must have hurt; Mr. Olson held onto the letter and showed it to anyone for years afterwards who suggested he should join another co-op.

These two photos from the Library of Congress show pea pickers in the San Jose area in 1939. Both were taken by Dorothea Lange. The caption on the second is 'Idle migrants. Foothills north of San Jose, California. "If the sun shines tomorrow and nothin' happens, we'll pick.".' I suspect car encampments of migrant workers were a frequent sight in the Valley in the 1930's. Some day I'll comb through the contemporary newspapers looking for stories.

[Professional research trick: if you ever see interesting photo reproductions available on Ebay, and they don't look like family photos, go poking around the Library of Congress and other museum sites for the same photo. For an even easier search, just type in the photo/auction caption into Google. I found these photos when tracking down some photos of the "Mine Hill School, Englishtown" at New Almaden; the photos at Ebay looked suspiciously like Historic American Building Survey materials, and a bit of poking found the original photos available for free.]

Photos of New Almaden

San Jose State's Digital Collections department has been preserving some great photos from the 1930's taken by John C. Gordon, and I've been watching their feed of new photos in Google Reader to watch when new photos appear. They scanned a bunch of photos of the New Almaden mercury mines in their last installment, and several capture the feeling of rural life in Santa Clara County in the 1930's.

Here's two photos of old hotel buildings, both probably in the town of New Almaden near the reduction works. The Hacienda Hotel, the first photo, is most likely the current home of La Foret, New Almaden's very fine game restaurant. (They're also New Almaden's only restaurant, so if I want to get some casual food after a long hike, I usually have to head back to civilization. The Burger Pit on Blossom Hill Road is my particular favorite.) I'm not sure about the second hotel building; perhaps it was on the other side of Alamitos Creek near the current Hacienda entrance to Almaden Quicksilver County Park.

This photo shows some of the remains of the Englishtown settlement on top of the hill, and gives some hints on modeling abandoned and collapsing buildings. When the mines started in the 1840's, most of the mining was close to the surface and on the other side of Mine Hill. The initial miners were from Central and South America, and the settlement on the other side of the hill became known as Spanishtown. In the 1870's, the mines started going deeper (eventually down to about 300 feet below sea level, or 2000 feet below the summit of Mine Hill), and Cornish miners used to hard rock and deep mines took over. Their settlement was Englishtown, pictured here. If you go hiking in the park, you'll probably sit on a picnic bench under that eucalyptus.

There's lots of other great photos in the collection of San Jose in the '30's; check them out.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

SwitchList's New Feature: Spotting Cars at Specific Doors

On large layouts, it's easy to add to the challenge of operation and switching. You just throw more freight cars at the poor crew... or more industries, or more interrupting trains. With smaller layouts like mine, finding ways to challenge the operators and slow them down is a big problem. If they can dash through a switching assignment in 15 minutes, then I've got to find other realistic projects for them to do. If I can drag that switching assignment out to an hour by realistic, interesting, challenging problems, I'll need to do less to keep them entertained.

One way I increase the challenge is to specify which door a freight car must be placed at. Large industries often had specific rules about where cars would be placed. In an auto plant, boxcars of parts needed to be placed closest to the part of the assembly line using those parts. A cannery or packing house might want the freight car for a load placed closest to where the cargo is in the warehouse. On my layout, several industries are large enough to have multiple doors or spotting locations, such as Del Monte Plant 51, the large dried fruit packing plant just off the Alameda west of downtown San Jose.

But writing down door spotting assignments is tedious and annoying, and the computer ought to be able to do it as well. My program for automatically generating switchlists, Switchlist, has always had space to indicate when an industry cared about doors, but it's never been hooked up... til now.

The latest version of SwitchList, version 0.6.3, includes support for assigning cars to specific doors. It also includes a feature for importing freight car numbers from a text file so you can transfer your list of cars from another program into SwitchList. There's also new documentation.

Finally, my layout's in the garage, but my Mac with the switchlists is in the house. Checking that the layout and the software agree on car locations usually requires me to print out the locations of all cars, go to the garage, double-check it all, then come back inside and fix locations if needed. Instead, the new version of Switchlist can connect to an iPad or a web browser on another computer in the garage, and let you check car locations and (eventually) correct car locations from the iPad.