Monday, November 21, 2011

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.


  1. Robert,
    In the early 1970's, this structure held a rock-n-roll bar called the "Bodega". Bands such as Y&T, The Dobbie Brothers, Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Ratt and others played on a regular basis.
    For a time, I worked as a bouncer across Campbell Avenue upstairs in the Geo Hyde building at a nightclub called "The Parlor".
    Yes and interesting time.

  2. Hello Robert, I wanted to let you know the I have a picture of this building from 1982 and I would love to send it to you. I was the manager of the Bodega and Zapp's for 7 years and walked that mostly empty building many times to take a break from the business. There were dried prunes and can labels, old carts and some of the machinery from way back. I loved that building. Let me know where I can send the photo and I will get it too you.