Tuesday, November 29, 2011

San Jose Wants a Union Station

Like I said, the railroad- and fruit industry-related history on-line gets skewed heavily towards team bowling scores and lawsuits. Luckily, transportation law--whether Interstate Commerce Commission or California Railroad Commission--is filled with lots of fun details for the model railroader.

For example, City of San Jose vs. Southern Pacific in 1918 documents the fights going on around the time that the Western Pacific started building south. WP's proposed line looped down the east side of San Jose, across the south side well past where the canneries stopped and the open fields began, and then looped up through Willow Glen and the west side of town to a new freight depot just off the Alameda. San Jose, instead, fought for a union passenger and freight station to limit the trouble from the WP tracks.

The full article has a bunch of nice tidbits about railroad history in San Jose. Southern Pacific lost its franchise to run down the middle of Fourth Street in 1918. They'd started talking with the City in 1906 about getting the mainline tracks off of the downtown streets as early as 1906, and bought the land for the bypass through Willow Glen in 1913 for a bit less than a million dollars. It took the railroad (and the city, and the neighbors) until 1935 to actually agree on the details of the re-routing and build the tracks.

There's also all sorts of numbers and building costs, details of the routing, and hints at streets that changed names. Polhemus is what we now call Taylor Street, and Senter St. is a phantom street that's now fully occupied by the tracks approaching Diridon station. There's also reference to whether the WP's plan to build an independent and parallel track from Fremont to Milpitas was justified, or whether they could run on the SP's track to avoid the cost and duplication of effort. The California Railroad Commission is obviously worrying about whether the extra line is justified and worth building, but they're leaving that question to the "Director General of Railroads" because the case is taking place during the World War I government control of the U.S. railroads.

It's also interesting to see that the California Railroad Commission made sure to accent the e in San Jose in every use. I don't know if they did that because of the legal name of My Fair City, or if it's an affection because of the popularity of the Missions and Spanish/Mexican California in those days, but it's an amusing detail that must have made the typesetter curse.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What's With Those Crazy Railroad Historians?

I suspect there's at least some readers out there who see the recent chain of articles on the history of the apricot and prune industry, and just don't get it. "Why bother to look at a bunch of dusty old books" (or, for that matter, dusty old PDFs.) "It's not helping you run trains."

Well, maybe... but where else am I going to find that perfect period Sunsweet logo for the side of Sunsweet Plant #1? The plant on Lincoln Ave. in San Jose had one painted prominently.

Luckily, a Sunsweet promotional book from the 1920's was kindly scanned in by the Library of Congress and made available to the public. With a few minutes of capturing the image from the PDF version of the book, I've got a logo, ready for trimming and photoshopping to turn it into a suitable decal.

The book also has a nice picture of the Hyde drying yard, looking north towards downtown Campbell. The original halftone image is rough, so it's hard to make out details. There's also some nice shots of prune grading machinery if you're looking to superdetail your dryer or packer scene. There's also a sample "Inspection Certificate" showing the documentation provided to a buyer. Note that the packer is the mythical A. & C. Ham I've seen mentioned, and the boxcar bound for Chicago had 1,500 twenty-five pounds boxes of prunes for a total of 37,500 pounds of prunes. We also see that the sale was in January of 1918, reminding us that the packers stored the fruit til the sales came in.

We also see that Iron Chef didn't originate in Japan, but in 1920's San Francisco. A "Prune and Apricot Battle" was waged by Victor Hirtzler, "maitre de cuisine of the Hotel St. Francis, San Francisco", who prepared a dinner using Sunsweet's apricots and prunes:
Prunes en Supreme
Chicken Soup
Salted Almonds
Filet of Sole with Sunsweet Prunes
Stuffed Squab Chicken with Sunsweet Apricots
Peas etudes, Potato Chateau
Prune and Apricot Salad
Pudding Glace Prune et Apricot
Assorted Cakes
Demi Tasse
Prune and Apricot Punch, Prune Bread, Apricot Rolls
One wonders how Iron Chef Morimoto would have responded to challenger Hirtzler.

Sunsweet declares that recipes will be furnished on request; I'm tempted to call them up and see if they're still honoring that offer.

I found the book "A Fact and Picture Story of the Prune and Apricot Industry" when doing a search on Amazon for Sunsweet-related books; the seller mentioned their $12 book was "a scan of a period document", and the lack of any photos of the book made me very suspicious that they, like some of the eBay photo sellers, were just doing cheap prints of material already available out on the Internet. If you see interesting historic documents out on eBay or Amazon, always do a quick search to see if they're available elsewhere for free.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Collecting Packing Houses

And for those of you who wonder how I'm finding and remembering all these details about the different packing houses of San Jose, check out my list of all the fruit-related businesses in San Jose and nearby. I've been keeping up this document for the last several months. I've been most interested in keeping track of locations - which businesses were at which locations (and thus where they were on the railroad), but it's been interesting to see just how incestuous the various businesses were as salesmen jumped off to form their own packing houses, packers occupied the spaces of defunct businesses, and 1940's and 1950's mergers combined the packing houses like playing cards.

If I was more of a game player, I'd be so tempted to make a collectible card game based on the dried fruit industry. If you've got a salesman and contract card, you trump the grower, unless the grower has a "bad weather - small harvest" card. Packers generally win against the growers unless they all team up, or someone has a "form fruit pool" or "co-operative!" card. And woe be on everyone if someone plays the "speculators accidentally short the market" card and everyone from a broker card has to rush to buy as many prunes as possible.

Gem City Packing becomes Sunsweet Becomes Sewall Brown

The research for the Sunsweet #1 plant hinted at a pair of packing houses in Los Gatos: Curtis Packing and Gem City Packing. I didn't know anything about either, but I've been trying to fill in the holes in my fruit business knowledge in hopes of finding railroad-related details. Some judicious Google searches turned up more on Gem City.

Gem City Packing (whose name refers to an old nickname of Los Gatos) existed from before through 1918. There's not much about it; in the usual fashion, the few tidbits we get are from the crime pages. The packing house was built in 1902, according to a newspaper report on the fire that destroyed it. The plant's location can be guessed based on California Railroad Commission case debating whether San Jose Water Company or the Los Gatos Municipal Water should be building a half-mile line down the County Road (Winchester Ave.) to serve the plant.

Nice location, that - it's next to the main road, it's got a seven car siding on the Vasona branch (according to a 1931 SP industry list), and there's plenty of orchards nearby.

But when Sunsweet starts building up the core set of packing houses to serve as their initial plants, Gem City joins up:

The Prune and Apricot Growers Association will convert one of its packing house plants into an institution for cracking apricot pits and nothing else. The pits from other packing plants will be collected and shipped to the Gem City packing house at Vasona.

General Manager Mr Willes has numbered the packing houses as follows, each plant being called a “Sunsweet Plant”:

Campbell Farmers’ Union, Campbell, 1; Morgan Hill Farmers Union, Morgan Hill, 2; Gilroy Farmers’ Union, Gilroy, 3; O. A. Harlan & Co., San Jose, 4; Hemet Apricot Growers Association, Hemet,5; G. N. Herbert, San Jose, 6; Gem City Packing Company, Vasona, Campbell, 7; O. A. HArlan & Co., Mountain View, 8; Hollister Packing Company, Hollister, 9; G. Frank Fruit Company, San Jose, 10; A & C Ham Company, San Jose, 11; F. H. Holmes, San Jose, 12.

So in 1918, Gem City gets swallowed up by Sunsweet, the old name plate gets taken off over the door, and the employees get to work breaking large apricot pits into small apricot pits. Sewall Brown rolls into town with his Stanford diploma around 1921, and takes over as superintendent of the plant, and they keep breaking large apricot pits into smaller ones. By 1934, Sewall Brown buys the plant off Sunsweet. He christens the business Sewall Brown & Co and runs it for another twenty years until all four million pounds of apricot kernels on-site catches fire and destroys the plant in 1955.

The Los Gatos Times - Saratoga Observer reporter knew how to turn a phrase when describing the fire:

The three-story, red-painted main plant literally burst at the seams as the wooden siding gave way under the flames and apricot pits stacked 50-feet high in burlap sacks steamed in huge mounds from cracks and corners of the walls.

The processing shed, a well-known landmark, dates back to 1902 when the original building was constructed by the late Sewall Brown, who died three years ago...

I'll trust the "Three story, red painted main building" quote, and the "bags of apricot pits fifty feet high" gives an idea of what sort of volume of apricot pits you need to get four million pounds. We do know Sewall Brown didn't build it, but I'll be generous and let the inaccuracy slide.

And (long) after the fire, Netflix put their offices on the site, and if you take a good whiff of your Netflix envelope, you might just smell the faint tang of burned apricot pits left over from the fire.

There's at least three packing houses listed there I'm clueless about: A & C Ham, G. Frank, and F & H Holmes. Those of you getting tired of packing house talk might check out cute pictures of cats for a little while...

Sunsweet Plant #1: Progress

Back in August, I mentioned how the SP valuation maps had convinced me I needed to redo the tracks in Campbell. I finally decided to fix two major flaws: to add a team track and move the Hyde Cannery down a foot so I'd have room for Sunsweet (California Prune and Apricot Growers) Plant #1.

The track changes were done within a couple weeks, but the Sunsweet packing house has been lingering for a few weeks. Here's some photos to show my progress.

But first, let's check out the prototype building!

Sunsweet Plant #1 started out as the Campbell Farmers Union Packing company. Farmers Union was a co-operative - a packing house owned by the local growers. The growers would promise to send their crops to the co-op, and the co-op would use its larger volume to better deal with the East Coast brokers. Co-ops were popular because the growers never trusted many of the independent packers, and the packers played enough shady games to deserve their reputation. The previous co-operative in town, the Campbell Fruit Growers Union, had started in 1892 and had initially done well, but slowly started losing the support of growers and eventually sold out to George Hyde in 1913. Farmers Union must have done okay; they built their own modern packing house along the railroad tracks in 1912, just south of Campbell Ave, just north of the separate Hyde Cannery.

(If I was modeling a few years later than my chosen 1932, I wouldn't need separate buildings for Hyde and Sunsweet; Hyde sold out to Sunsweet in 1937, and the Hyde Cannery became the Campbell Cooperative Dryer. That site was famous for a forty-eight tunnel dehydrator that could process 480 tons of fruit a day.)

By 1917, after several co-operative collapses, speculator binges, and arguing, the rest of the prune and apricot growers were thinking that joining a single, large co-op might help them. Those growers, as well as forty five packing houses in California, signed up to join this single, new co-operative - the California Prune and Apricot Growers. The list of initial packers included all the big names I've been seeing in my research: A & C Ham, George Herbert, J.W. Chilton, O. A. Harlan, Warren Dried Fruit, Pacific Fruit Products, Inderrieden (all in San Jose), George Hyde and Farmers Union in Campbell, Gem City Packing Company and Curtis Fruit Company in Los Gatos, and a scattering of other packing houses from Red Bluff to Santa Paula. The co-op had the production and storage capacity, and had enough of the market to get decent prices for their crops. The Campbell plant, for some reason, got labeled Plant #1.

And Sunsweet did well - well enough that it still exists, and still controls two-thirds of the world's prune supply. It had its drama - Couchman's The Sunsweet Story is filled with the troubles facing the industry and the co-operative. Reading it's a bit like reading the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, with all sorts of names, ancient battles, grand monuments (like Plant #7 on the south side of San Jose) and cunning ploys, but in between, it's scattered with enough facts to help me with my modeling.

Plant #1, however, only did well as long as there was fruit in the area to dry and pack.As suburbs ate the remaining orchards, Sunsweet closed the Campbell plant in 1971. The building was converted to office space, and still sits next to the railroad tracks that processed just south of Campbell Ave.

Regular readers can guess at what the plant looked like. The fruit was driven in by truck from the drying yard, and a scale at the plant weighed the incoming fruit. It would have been hauled upstairs to the top floor for grading, and dumped into bins by size. When the fruit was ready for sale (perhaps months later), it would be taken out of the bins by wheelbarrow, washed and hydrated, inspected, and boxed for sale. The John C. Gordon photos shows what the inside of the Campbell facility probably looked like with modern equipment and hordes of men and women packing the Sunsweet prunes into attractive Sunsweet boxes. A 20,000 fuel oil tank in the ground ran the boiler for the steam and hot water.

It must not have been a fun place if you were a truck driver. The plant is squashed tight against the Campbell Ave. businesses on the north, and has a remarkably small lot on the south end which must have been a pain for maneuvering trucks. Some photos from the 1960's hint show forklifts and crates littering Central Ave.

Finally, here's my model as it currently exists. I've placed the windows on the front walls based on the 1915-era photos of the plant because I haven't found any good photos from later times. Construction is straightforward - 1/16" styrene sheet with 1/2" strip styrene to fight warping, and Campbell corrugated siding on all the walls. The loading docks are scratchbuilt from strip and sheet styrene. As usual, I'm scratchbuilding my own freight doors from scribed sheet and tiny (1x3) strip styrene for the various bracing.

Unfortunately, it's a cramped space, so I'm not planning on building any of the building extensions seen on the Campbell map, and I'll hold off on any of the accessory buildings until I've figured out what will fit in the allotted space.

Sunsweet Plant #1 has been a bit going slow; first, I had problems with warping because of the solvent in the contact cement, then held off on building the platforms until I restocked my double stick tape from the local art supply store. I'll need to work to get the freight doors and loading docks painted before I can start assembling the model. It's amazing how those little hiccups can slow down a model.

Next step: painting, assembling, and detailing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Sixty Millions of Prunes Still on the Floors of Warehouses"

So it wasn't just the Great Depression that was making life difficult for prune growers; the problems mentioned last time in 1931-1932 were problems for the industry even back in 1927, as the San Jose News commented on at length on Thursday, July 21, 1927.

In a front page editorial on July 21, 1927, the San Jose News highlighted the awful figures: Four hundred million pounds of prunes on California trees for the upcoming season. Sixty million pounds of prunes still on the floors of the warehouses. Only two hundred and sixty million pounds of prunes sold the previous years.

"It can be seen by anyone that if 460,000,000 pounds of prunes are dumped on a market which is capable of absorbing only about half that amount, ruinous prices are going to be the result. There is no element of chance, of luck. It is dead certainty."

Their plan: get all the growers and packers together into a single organization that could control most of the acreage. The new California Prune Producers concept had the approval of ninety-five percent of the packers, and half of the growers (all already members of Sunsweet). But that still meant that half the growers weren't ready to sign a contract with the new organization.

So, in late July, meetings and personal pleadings took over. Standard Oil lent ten crack salesmen to the Prune Producers for the remainder of the drive for contracts on prune acreage. The president of the Lawrence Terminal Co. of Oakland was sending staff to help with the drive. Santa Rosa's business men were pleading with the local growers.

In San Jose, mass-meetings were planned that evening at the Union Grammar School, Los Gatos Town Hall, and Evergreen grammar school. Contracts were being offered at all the packing houses:
  • California Packing Corporation at San Fernando and Bush
  • Rosenberg Brothers on Railroad Ave. in Santa Clara
  • Richmond Chase at 64 West Santa Clara Street in San Jose
  • Guggenheim & Co at Julian and Pleasant St.
  • Interrieden Company at 200 Ryland St.
  • O. A. Harlan & Co. at Fourth and Margaret
  • Libby McNeil and Libby at Fourth and Lewis
  • Pacific Coast Canners at Third and Keyes

The San Jose News closed with a quote from the manager of Hart's Department Store: "There is a grave necessity that something be done to save the prune industry, and that is something before us in this co-operative campaign. It is the most important task before San Jose now."

And if they thought the situation in 1927 was bad, it'll be much worse in just four years.

Also in the news: $80,000 of opium seized from a steamship docking at San Francisco. Aimee Semple McPherson rushes home to Los Angeles because of an "odd shortage of funds" at Angelus Temple, and local blacksmith Russell P. Kenyon dies the day before he inherits a half million dollars. Meanwhile, Union Furniture Co at 353 South First Street offers an entire bedroom set for $49.75, or $1.00 a week, as well as "smart new lamps" and a "General Electric Midget Radio."

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Dark Story of Higgins-Hyde Packing

Oh, that poor little packing house across the tracks from the Del Monte Cannery. When I first built my layout, I saw that the building had been Pacific Fruit Products in 1915, and Abinante and Nola in 1950, so I declared my model would be Abinante and Nola because I liked the name better.

Then I discovered an old city directory, and found that J.S. Roberts occupied that big, rambling barn, at least between 1936 and 1949.

Then I found that photo of the J.S. Roberts plant, and it didn't look anything like my building.

Good thing I didn't start rebuilding my packing house model… or lettering a new model.

Ken Middlebrook, another local railfan, just sent along a 1931-era Southern Pacific list of sidings in the San Jose area, both with the name of the industry at each siding, its length, and the capacity of the plant or warehouse. It gives me a whole bunch of new data points about the businesses around Santa Clara County. More importantly, it tells me about the local fruit industry just as the Great Depression's about to completely shake up the industry. Up on Ryland St., the Chicago grocer J.B. Inderridden is still around, and Winchester Dried Fruit hasn't yet occupied the space.

When I got Ken's e-mail, I downloaded his scan of the document on my phone and went straight for the area around the Del Monte Cannery. And J.S. Roberts isn't there - in 1931, it looks like the building was occupied by Higgins-Hyde Packing, owners of the Sun-Glo brand.

There's not a lot about them out on the Internet. A couple of their prune crates are for sale on Ebay. There's even one Higgins-Hyde crate being used as a ballot box in Vermont, and hopefully is encouraging regular and productive voting.

But there's one place you'll find lots of mention of Higgins-Hyde Packing, and that's on the front pages of the San Jose News between mid-July and mid-August of 1932. That's one of the oddities of the Internet; the bits of history we discover are biased towards the news sources that have survived. For a typical fruit business, all I ever find are how their bowling team did (Abinante and Nola: very well!), and the court cases they got caught in (Winchester Dried Fruit blending offgrade fruit into their boxes in 1936: bad!).

But Higgins-Hyde - well, that's a bit special, so let's go through the story.

The depression hits the Santa Clara Valley in 1930 and 1931. The American economy is in horrible shape. Crops are huge. Packers are trying to sell dried fruit as soon as it comes in so they can get cash for the crop before prices drop further… and that makes prices drop even faster. Attempts by Sunsweet (California Prune and Apricot Growers) to control tonnage going into the market and increase marketing to consumers languishes over the winter of 1931-1932 and prices plummet. Finally, the independent growers and Sunsweet come to an agreement: together, they'll work to control 85% of the prune production, and they'll form a "United Prune Growers of California" stabilization pool in order to (1) regulate the amount of prunes going into the market, stabilize values, establish standard grades for fruit, and increase consumer demand. Most are for this because of the horrible prices of the last couple years. The San Jose Chamber of Commerce jumps in to help with management support, all the major growers and packers volunteer to be involved. Only four packers decide not to join the Prune Pool.

And in mid-July, it turns out one packer - Higgins-Hyde - has been silently soliciting growers to sign its contract and sell outside the program. Worse, it appears Higgins-Hyde was misrepresenting their position:

"With Regard to the Higgins-Hyde Pool, Mr. Boland reported he found definite misrepresentations had been made to growers, among them that the pool would enter the United Prune Growers; that the growers joining the pool would be exempt from the industry prune advertising charge; that united prune pool members could not hope to get all their money prior to from ten months to two years after delivery, while Higgins-Hyde members would receive 90 per cent of their money before January 1 of the following year and the balance not later than the April or May following. (San Jose News, July 28, 1932)


A.A. Higgins didn't think his pool was a problem; he'd been running a prune pool for the last four years, but probably spreading less fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the competition in previous years. But the Prune Pool didn't appreciate his attempts to break the pool and send prices lower, so they argue against the remaining wildcat packers and demand an investigation of Higgins-Hyde claim.

And they win, and the world starts believing the California Prune Pool will cause prices to go up. By August 13, the price of prunes in London (yes, San Jose was affecting London!) went up 1/2 cent per pound (on a crop selling for 2-3 cents a pound) on the assumption that the Prune Pool would go through, and Fred Lester and Otto Van Dorsten walked away from their contracts with Higgins-Hyde. By August 23, Higgins-Hyde explicitly released the others who had signed contracts with them. With that, the Prune Pool controlled 160,000 tons of California prunes, with all the major packers - California Packing Corporation, Guggenhime, Libby, Richmond-Chase, Roseberg Brothers, Anchorage Farms, Hamlin Packing, Herbert Packing, Inderrieden, Napa Dried Fruit, Warren Dried Fruit, and Harter Packing… but no Higgins-Hyde.

The Prune Pool slowly foundered over the next couple years. They suffered from off-grade prunes getting sold on the market and dropping prices further. They argued with New Deal architects about whether advertising would help, or whether it would just steal demand from some other industry. Mostly, though, they suffered from supplies that exceeded demand so significantly that there was little chance that growers could make a profit. The 1935 crop was 256,000 tons. The Great Depression was just too big for the world to buy all those prunes.

And Higgins-Hyde disappears from the news. Maybe they were doing the pool in a last-ditch effort to make their own mortgage payments. Maybe they thought they could make more by selling ahead of the Prune Pool, and pissed off the rest of the industry and the Valley. Maybe they just got doomed by the lack of any market to sell what prunes they could get. For whatever reason, there's not a trace of A. A. Higgins or Higgins-Hyde in the 1936 San Jose city directory.

So for my model railroad set in Spring, 1932, Higgins-Hyde Packing ought to be in that building, and if I'm particularly snarky I'll make sure to include a model of the salesman who thought he could sneak one past the Prune Pool by signing some farmers with a slight bit of misinformation...

(If you're interested in the gory details of prune prices, growers associations, and the effect of the Great Depression in the Santa Clara Valley, search for a copy of "The Sunsweet Story" by Couchman which provides more dtails than you'd ever want.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

And you thought nit-picking model railroaders were bad!

Model railroaders tend to be an opinionated lot, and it's always interesting when an expert on a particular area sees a model and highlights the incorrect detail:

* Rio Grande didn't use that logo until 1945 - I thought your layout was set in the 1930's?!
* The barbed wire is on the wrong side of the posts - it should be on the cow side!
* Why didn't you update all the reweigh stencils to match your target year?

Turns out that Los Angeles historians can be just as picky, as the gang writing a blog about Los Angeles in the 1940's show in their critique of the LA Noire video game. Personally, I'm impressed the video game designers did as well as they did, even if they had 1959-era lettering on a 1947-era building:

We're careening up Fig, and in the distance, the Architects Building, but see those letters atop? They read "Douglas Oil" and weren't placed there until after Douglas purchased the building in 1959. Guess you should probably be more worried about the big scary car crashing into you, and all the flying sparks, but, well, we each have our own issues.

They're still nice people over there, and I've found their On Bunker Hill website has some nice photos and stories of Los Angeles's Bunker Hill neighborhood before it got razed for redevelopment in the late 1950's and early 1960's. If you're a fan of film noir movies filmed in the area, there's still some great articles here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

And Down At Fifth and Martha...

I may seem completely biased towards the canneries and packing houses along the Espee's Los Gatos Branch, but that doesn't mean I'm bigoted towards other parts of San Jose. Some of my favorite canneries, in fact, are in other parts of San Jose.

Take, for example, the Barron-Gray Packing Co. located just south of downtown San Jose at Fifth and Martha. It started out as the J. F. Pyle Cannery, located on Mr. Pyle's ranch out in Berryessa at King and Mabury, but moved along side the old SP mainline down Fourth Street in 1907. Standing on its loading dock, you could have watched all the name trains - the Lark, the Daylight, the Sunset Limited, the... uh... Coast Mail - gathering up speed. They'd just finished a sedate trip down the middle of Fourth Street through the center of San Jose, and the enginemen were probably fed up with vegetable trucks and crazed pedestrians, and just waiting for the chance to let the engine "show what she can do."

By 1922, 300 people worked there during the season, and Western Canner and Packer includes a blurb that same year describing their new building at Fourth and Margaret (now under I-280), needed thanks to a "large tomato pack" the previous year. Ernest Barron and Herbert Gray bought it that year or the next, depending on the source. Like the Internet companies today, Barron was an outsider who worked his way up, and decided it was time for him to hit the big time. He'd come over from England on the Lusitania in 1915, and after several years at the Ainsley Cannery, decided Campbell wasn't big enough for him, so he went off to do his own startup.

Barron-Gray also changed the world in their own way by bringing us fruit cocktail. (Heck, we saw them making that very fruit cocktail at movie night a couple weeks ago!) However, by adding pineapple chunks to that mix, they sowed the seeds of their own destruction.

This photo, from the latest Willow Glen Resident paper, shows the Pyle Cannery around 1915-1920. It doesn't capture my image of a top-brand company; the corrugated steel for the garages and wooden water towers seem a bit functional, even for the 'teens, but it does hint at some very photogenic projects for the layout.

So now dash forward twenty years to May 1948. After the Second World War, "merger" seemed to be the key word as smaller canneries and packing houses got bought by the larger operators, and Barron-Gray gets an offer they can't refuse from the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, a.k.a. Dole. Dole's Pine Parade newsletter (placed online by the Lanai Culture Heritage Center) gives news of the buyout, but more importantly shows this great aerial photo showing the sheer size of the Barron-Gray plant and the American Can Company's plant nestled in the center.

And this is what industry should be. American Can stretches for an entire city block down the former SP mainline in the center of the picture. They need a separate yard just for fruit receiving and for storing the boxes for fruit. There's six buildings dedicated to warehouse space, one just for the pears, and four probably devoted to storing the year's canned crop and to dribble out a bit at a time to the grocers - the A&P, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, the mythical corner store. Better, it wasn't just a string of modern buildings, but a hodge-podge of modern concrete buildings, modernist office buildings, and old brick warehouses from the turn of the century. (Obligatory model railroad reference: Silicon Valley Lines is in the building between warehouse 9 and warehouse 11, which I'd strongly suspect was part of the Barron-Gray plant.)

And if you're a model railroader, this ought to tell you to think big. The canneries needed huge amounts of space and and huge amounts of labor - room for marshalling the trucks of fruit, all arriving during the harvest rush. (Remember the comments from Vincent Nola about how his dad liked the San Carlos St. plant because it was easy for the truckers to bring in the dried fruit?) Room for the can company, because no one wants to ship the fragile, light, cheap cans all over, and the can company needs to work all year to have enough stock for the month or two of the canning season. Room for processing the fruit - the processing lines, the hundreds of women cutting fruit, the cooking rooms, and the boxes and packaging. And finally room for the finished goods, the cans of pears that were going to sit for months until the broker found a buyer for the fruit. And this is just one of the canneries that would have been running full-tilt back in the Santa Clara Valley's heyday as a fruit and vegetable processing center - the same chaos would have been happening around Contadina, Del Monte, Pratt-Low, or Libby's. It makes Internet startups seem sedate.

So don't put a single plastic building next to a siding on your layout and call it a cannery. Put ten.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SwitchList: Keep Those Sidings Open!

If there's one problem all small layouts have, it's space. There's never enough yard tracks for the incoming freight cars, and the sidings never are long enough to hold the arriving cars.

The new version of SwitchList keeps your sidings from overflowing. SwitchList 0.9.0 now lets you name the length of each siding. If SwitchList notes that an arriving car will cause the siding to overflow, it'll hold that car at its current location till space opens up.

Don't worry, you don't have to go and measure all your sidings right now. Like SwitchList's door spotting location feature, you can turn the siding length checks on and off. SwitchList also doesn't demand you fill in every single detail about your layout. You can fill in the lengths of only the troublesome or short sidings, and then add information for the rest of your layout when you've got time. SwitchList works just fine with partial information.

Also in SwitchList 0.9.0: The new version also allows you to design your own report styles, just as you can design your own switchlists. If your railroad has a custom or recognizable style of paperwork for yard crews, you can now provide a template for SwitchList that matches that look, and SwitchList will print that report exactly the way you want. You can do this for the common report styles. The industry reports that show locations of cars grouped by siding, car reports that list cars in reporting mark order, and yard reports that show the train for each outgoing car all can be customized.

Check out the example custom reports in the Handwritten, Southern Pacific Narrow, and Line Printer reports inside SwitchList. Check out the documentation on how to write your own switchlist and report styles at the SwitchList development site, and consider sharing your favorite switchlist style with the rest of the SwitchList user community.

Finally, our next stop is SwitchList 1.0! What features do you think SwitchList needs before it can be declared "complete"? Add your suggestions on SwitchList's bug list, and join the SwitchList mailing list and discuss your ideas, and consider making your own changes to SwitchList!

[Photo: Snoboy transload facility on Seth Neumann's Niles Canyon layout.]