Thursday, October 27, 2011

Movie Night 2: Watching Fruit Cocktail Get Made

Just as the Sunsweet video a couple months ago showed us what happened at a fruit dryer and packing house, this video from Dole shows what happens in a cannery. Dole's cannery in San Jose was at Fifth and Martha, and had been (up until 1948) the Barron-Gray Packing Co. cannery. Some say fruit cocktail was invented there, and the video shows how to make several million cans of fruit cocktail in a season.

Dole closed the cannery in the 1970's; the Dole headquarters building on East Virginia St. still stands as an example of modernist architecture in San Jose.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WP and SP: Like Cats and Dogs, or Best Friends Forever?

After the discussion a while back about the 'Friendly' Southern Pacific and Western Pacific's fight over Valley Wholesale Grocery's spur in Sacramento back in 1935, I'd have assumed that the two railroads would never get along, and certainly wouldn't encourage customers on their line to use the competitor even a bit.

Then we get photos like this one, again from the John C. Gordon collection at San Jose State. Go off and look at the full photo for a moment, then come back here; it's worth examining in detail.

Now, the photo's pretty innocuous - brick warehouse, lots of Western Pacific cars, non-specific industry name, some late 1920's color (like billboards and probably a Model A). My first guess would be that it's some random industry on the WP in San Jose, but a quick glance through Track and Time's track diagrams don't hint at any likely sites around San Jose... nor in Oakland.

But let's stare at that photo a little closer. The far right shows a long straightaway, and a masonry building off in the distance (along with a flat car full of lumber or telephone poles.) The isolated passenger cars suggest we're near a station, but the only passenger station on the WP would be over on the east side of San Jose near Santa Clara Ave. and 26th Street, and there's no signs of any industries over there. That building looks a bit like the PG&E generating plant just off Montgomery Street in San Jose, next to the Santa Cruz branch (and eventually just south of Diridon Station), but... nah, can't be - why would WP boxcars be there?

The warehouse itself gives us no clues, so let's look on the left side of the photo. Hmmm... gas holder - there were the ones at the current site of the HP Pavilion, but unless this warehouse sat on the eventual location of Plant 51, there's no way a railroad track would be in line with the gas holder. There's a building in front: "Henry Cowell B... and Cement". A quick check of an old city directory shows Cowell Cement's retail operation was at 583 West Santa Clara Street... right where HP Pavilion and the Shark Tank is now. Zoom in on the building, and see the number "591" suggesting that we've got the address right.

And if we look carefully to the extreme left, we see a *tiny* bit of wood trim that might match the original South Pacific Coast's West San Jose station. In fact, photos of that station in "South Pacific Coast: A Centennial" show the billboards behind the station.

So what we really have here is a photo of a warehouse along the former Cahill Street just south of the Alameda / Santa Clara Street and north of San Fernando Street. These warehouses would be disappearing in a few years, torn down so Diridon Station can be built on this exact location. If I could read that truck license plate towards the right of the photo, I might even be able to guess at the year of the photo, or perhaps the "Kopp's Transfer" gives another detail.

The warehouses appear on a 1915 Sanborn map, which correctly notes that the two side structures are 25 feet high, but the central warehouse section is 31 feet high. Sanborn also labels all as owned by the SP at the time. The Sanborn maps completely ignore the spur track in front of the warehouses, though. Behind the photographer would be the bulk of California Packing Corporation's Plant 51.

I still have no clue why Material Supply Corp. is receiving so many WP cars. Maybe the SP was remarkably friendly during the 1920's about spotting cars for the WP. Maybe those ICC reciprocal switching rules were iron-clad, even when the cars needed to be delivered to an SP-owned building. Or maybe Material Supply was getting most of its incoming supplies from the WP...

But the photo does highlight what the West San Jose area looked like before Diridon Station went in, and it almost convinces me to backdate my layout a couple years. I've modeled this area as if the construction and track raising for Diridon Station had started in 1932 or 1933, but the area for these warehouses is just an underused siding and a temporary station in a passenger car up on blocks. If I was willing to get rid of the Alameda underpass and the slightly raised ground level, I could get a lot of traffic from that warehouse... and I'd also get the advantage of the insane traffic levels that would be prototypical in the late 1920s.

Got ideas why there's so many WP boxcars spotted here, see something interesting in the picture, or got an opinion on whether I should move my layout back a few years? Add a comment and throw in your two cents!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The *Definitive* History of Abinante and Nola

Just when I thought I was done, I got contacted by one of Frank Nola's son who filled in even more details on Abinante and Nola. The result is a more complete, more detailed history of Abinante and Nola, along with photos and excerpts of Sanborn maps showing the various packing plants they occupied.

And one more thing... many packing plants list "shook storage" where the boxes waiting to be assembled would be stored. This California Railroad Commission case explains why you shouldn't just dump the materials for boxes on the end of your spur, and assume the railroad will switch you twice a day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Train Orders on a Small Layout? Answer Hazy.

Thanks to the fortunate arrival of a coworker from out of town, I had my first operating session in months today, and it went well.  One fatality - a brakeman was brutally run over by the Santa Cruz Passenger.  Although all crews are warned to use flagmen on the broad curve between Campbell and San Jose, I need to warn folks to put the flagman far enough out so a crew in the aisle might see it.  All the trains also ran, even the San Jose Turn with its mixed freight that had twice as much to do because it didn't fully run last time.  The new track at Campbell for the Hyde Cannery and Sunsweet packing house worked well, though it would have worked better if the track didn't get filled with eight cars by session end.  (For those of you wishing that SwitchList would avoid sending cars to overflowing sidings, lets just say I feel your pain.

More importantly, I tried out my idea of simple train orders for trains going between Vasona Branch and Santa Cruz.  On the good side, I think it did encourage the crews to think a little bit about where they were going and where they'd have to meet those other trains, and it did encourage some of the typical railroader "oh, great, we're stuck at lowest priority."  I did make sure to write the orders at the last minute so no one ended up stuck on a siding for an hour because of bad planning.  On the bad side, there was still an awful lot of paper to write up, and for the crews going from San Jose to Los Gatos, the amount of interpretation they needed to go that last two feet from Vasona Junction to Los Gatos was a little annoying.

But a good time was had by all, and except for a couple balky cars, one unpowered frog, some dirty track, and a tree leaning into the right-of-way, things went well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Training Wheels for Train Orders

I'm prepping for an operating session this weekend, and after my experience writing train orders at the La Mesa club's Tehachapi layout, I thought I'd try running trains a bit more formally than just calling out "yeah, come on down the hill."

I'd already suggested keeping simple train orders on hand to give out to crews, but needed some forms to make them realistic.  Some work with the word processor and a lot of block printing gave me some basic train orders to give out on Sunday.  The orders are simple; the photo shows the clearance card and train order for the Campbell cannery job; nothing else will be on the railroad when it's out, so the train order and clearance card merely says "you've got the railroad from 6:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. except for the passenger trains."  I also wrote up orders for three trains that will running in the second half of the session; we'll see whether my plan on where those trains will meet will stand up to reality.

I've done much of the work ahead of time, just to cut my stress.  Most of the orders to give out will already have been written up, and can be handed to the crews with no work on my part.

You can do this too! Here are PDF files for blank train orders and clearance cards; right-click on the links to download them to your computer.  Print them out on your favorite printer, cut them apart, and fill them in.  The train order sheet prints two orders per 8.5 x 11 inch sheet; the clearance card sheet prints three cards per sheet.

If you're unfamiliar with train orders, go over to the Dome of Foam, my favorite railroad site that's filled with Bay Area and Southern Pacific information, and read through their very informative lessons one and two of train orders.  Poke around on the site; there's also lots of stories of life during the time of train orders.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Operating Sessions in a Nutshell

Yep, that's what an operating session looks like. Some moments of quiet and distraction, other moments of frantic repair (in the background), and yet the trains keep running.

[From tonight's operating session at David Parks' Cumberland West layout, where many trains ran.]