Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cahill Street Station Opens!

I'd said before that Google News Archive didn't have the December 30, 1935 edition of either the San Jose News or San Jose Evening News. That wasn't true, they were (at least electronically) stuck together, and being counted as part of the December 29, 1935 edition.

Here's that newspaper if you want to learn about the festivities. For best results, bring your computer outside and freeze in this week's cold San Jose weather, for the Evening News declares that the day of the opening had a "raw wind and threat of rain".

The Evening News did include details of the Special Train from the old Market Street Station to the new station via Fourth Ave. and Lick:

Throughout its short journey the train was the object of greetings by scattered groups along the right-of-way. On Fourth Street residents who have had trains rumbling in front of their homes for the last 67 years waved good-bye, rang bells and smiled.
To all appearances, the train was greeted with as much happiness along its new route as it received in farewell. As it entered the city after rumbling over the point where the Almaden [Road] subway is under construction, across other completed subways, and under the San Carlos St. viaduct, it was cheered and greeted by people who will have to live with main line traffic in years to come.
One woman patriotically saluted it with an American flag.
In the meantime, President A.D. McDonald of the Southern Pacific Company, sat in the last car with J. H. Dyer, vice-president in charge of operations, and watched intently, viewing the dangerous crossings which have been eliminated and looking over the work completed.
I'll still admit that I'm more a fan of the old Market Street station, so I'm one of those sentimental types who A. G. DuBrutz of the West Santa Clara Street Development Association disparaged in his speech:
Mr. DuBrutz expressed the appreciation of his association, and said that while some sentiment may attach themselves to the old station and Fourth Street line, the new ones mean a great step forward.
All this talk of the Market Street station has me guilty that my model of the old trainshed has been on hold for the last...six or seven years. Stay tuned for some progress on building that model!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movie Night X: Alma Bridge

And a couple more videos, this time about Los Gatos. The Secret History of Los Gatos wandered out to an old railroad trestle out by the former site of Alma.

They've also done a quick history of the SP in Los Gatos:

Also check out the Secret History of Los Gatos's other movies, including one on a strange water tank out in the same neighborhood.

Movie Night IX: Campbell/San Jose in 1996

If you want excitement and drama, you'll probably want to go back to the Good Wrinkles movie from Sunsweet. Tonight's movie won't have the action of the sweet Santa Clara prune fencing with the acidic prunes of Oregon.

But if you're borderline obsessive-compulsive, and enjoy minutely examining historic videotape for hints about San Jose's fruit industries, then check out the video below - a ride on a Siemens diesel railcar from Campbell to San Jose in 1996. There's not much to see, of course; even then, most of the signs of the fruit industry were long gone. There are points where the train ride goes past the former sites of canneries. At the 5:45 mark, you'll see the train going past the site of the Ainsley Cannery, now completely covered in houses. The sawtooth warehouses just north of the Ainsley Cannery are also visible. At the 19 minute mark, you'll see the train going past Race Street, and I was surprised by the hints about all the sidings for Contadina, U.S. Products, and Denver Meat either buried in the pavement or visible by the switch ties still visible under the track.

WP fans may want to look at the diamond at the WP crossing. Looks like there'd been three tracks crossing there at one point, though one track is long gone and the diamond carrying the other has been yanked up and dumped next to the tracks.

Monday, December 24, 2012

More Prototype Ideas

All those great model railroad skills might be useful for more than just building models. How about keeping older industrial buildings looking suitably worn for Hollywood filming?

I saw some cool industrial buildings in the Web tv series The Guild in the latest season. It turns out their shooting location is a collection of old LA buildings explicitly set up as movie locations. Check out this photo of one of the exteriors to see a mix of brick and corrugated steel buildings, varying rooflines, and lots of interesting loading doors and overhangs. Bonus points if you can figure out how to kitbash these buildings using commercially available kits.

We ought to thank Hollywood for another way to keep buildings like this in use, otherwise they would have been torn down for generic office buildings long ago.

And if you've got any rusty pieces of corrugated steel in your backyard, send 'em down so they can patch their also rusty shed roof with matching pieces!

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Old Sooty, Murky, Smoky Roundhouse"

If you were in San Jose seventy-eight years ago this week, you would have been celebrating in the streets, for the much-hated Southern Pacific main line running down Fourth Street through downtown was on its way out. Out went the freight trains blocking traffic and the worn-out old stick-style station at the top of Market Street. (The neighborhood around the station was rough enough that I've seen it described as "the waterfront".) In its place was a new mainline bypassing San Jose to the west, and a beautiful new station at Cahill Street - the current Diridon Station.

And it's possible through the old papers to read about the celebrations, but let's first recap why San Jose shoppers were having to dodge refrigerator cars when acting like good consumers.

The Southern Pacific built down Fourth Street from Julian to Keyes in the 1870's when they were first building south towards Gilroy, Salinas, and (eventually) Los Angeles. SP needed permission from the city to run on the city streets. Although they got their franchise, it was only good for fifty years. When the franchise ended in 1916, the city wanted the tracks out. SP already owned the land along a proposed new route bypassing the city to the west, but ten years of fights with the California Railroad Commission over the line ended just as the neighbors in the new Palm Haven subdivision in Willow Glen started protesting the arrival of trains near their houses. Willow Glen was against the railroad enough to incorporate in 1927 as their own city which they hoped could just pass laws banning the new train tracks. Other fights centered over the numerous street crossings: San Jose city wanted underpasses or overpasses to avoid get rid of the potentially deadly crossings they were certain would be created. The Great Depression slowed construction even as the critics were mollified with a more distant routing. Some underpasses were constructed by 1931; others only went in late 1935.

But eventually, the current routing was decided, the new station built, and it was time for the cut-over. And then the celebrations began.

I've always been interested in the Fourth Street line and in the old Market Street station, partially because of the incongruity of mainline trains running past Victorians on Fourth, and partially from my interest in the old depot (as seen in the Market Street station shelf layout I built. I'd never, however, read the newspaper from those happy days before the switchover, and I was pleasantly surprised when I finally did look.

So let's look at some of the celebration, shall we?

November 7, 1935 "Present indications are that the railroad job will be completed by the end of the year, and the old, North First Street station an abandoned building, soon to be destroyed."

Note the picture of the old station there. The train shed held only two tracks, so the passenger cars just in front of the shed must either be a third track, or cars awaiting being spotted in place. Even with two tracks, the Market Street station handled as many commute trains as Caltrain sees today, as well as several major passenger trains (Daylight, Lark, Coaster, Sunset Limited). The station personnel also handled all those trains while switching of engines and shuffling passenger cars across multiple downtown and residential grade crossings. I'd love to see how they managed to do all that without hitting cars and pedestrians hourly.

November 11,1935 The Bird Avenue underpass, eighth and last of the grade separations being built by the Southern Pacific... will be opened to traffic Thursday morning. The line still needs the bridge at Los Gatos Creek (just next to the San Carlos Street overpass) finished, though a bridge over Guadalupe Creek is just being completed. There's also an underpass at Almaden Road in the works, though it won't be done til next year.

November 16, 1935 has a photo of the new and old station compared, but the new station news got crowded out by the wreck of the Daylight passenger train in Gilroy, and the fright of a truck driver on Monterey Highway as the derailed locomotive charged at him.

November 22, 1935 Bridge across Los Gatos Creek supports its first train.

November 26, 1935 The San Jose News notes that one part of the old station will be moving to the new station: the fence that kept station patrons off the mainline tracks.

A historic ornamental iron fence between the main station of the Southern Pacific and the railroad tracks was removed yesterday, but it will not be discarded.
The fence, which has been in service for years, will be used at the new Southern Pacific station which is rapidly nearing completion. The fence originally encircled the first Southern Pacific hospital in San Francisco at Fourteenth and Mission Streets. It was originally designed by Dr. F. T. Ainsworth nearly half a century ago.
The fence was about all that remained of the hospital after the 1906 earthquake and because of its worth and design was stored away. In 1911, when W. C. Morrison was division engineer here and Peter N. Nelson of Minnesota Avenue was superintendent of bridges and buildings, they prevailed on the Southern Pacific to let them have the fence to place about the station built here in 1873... Only one bit of the fence will be missing, that which had to be cut by acetylene torches from around a sycamore tree, to save the tree."
(Wonder if that fence is still at Diridon station?)

December 9, 1935 George Clark, who rode the in the first South Pacific Coast narrow gauge train through San Jose in 1878, gets an invitation to ride on the first train over the new West Side line. Clark had also been an SP employee, losing both legs in different accidents, and having a hand crushed by a mishap with a third train.

December 9, 1935 Now that the Bird Ave. overpass is done, the last track can be laid at Home St.

December 20, 1935

The San Jose News leads with a photo and article on the last run of Train #108, the 8:30 a.m. arrival from points north to San Jose State. Train 108 was a 7:00 am run out of San Francisco, and although the timetables I've seen only show it running to the Market Street station, the news of its loss certainly shows the train ran further south to the San Jose state campus. The last train had 175 passengers, all of whom would be having to bus in from the new Cahill St. station come next term.

December 28, 1935 On December 28, we learn about the events planned for the grand day. They were appropriately grand, as grand as you'd expect from thirty years of waiting: a special train from the old Market Street station to south of San Jose, and then a return back to the new Cahill Street station, speeches, boy scout with flags, the Star Spangled Banner played by the Southern Pacific Band, and a luncheon back at the Hotel De Anza.

Buried on page three were the human interest stories about the workers moving from old to new station, and some reporter must've had a great time reporting "the new, elaborate, modern station… has its advantages, but to many of them the old, sooty, murky, smoky roundhouse has developed a sentimental attachment that is difficult to get away from." C.F. Quinn, ticket clerk looked forward to the new station, but reminisced:

The ticket room here is nothing to remark about, but it has served its purpose very well and I guess I'll miss the old tin ticket rack here and people yelling from three places at once for information about train schedules.
There's also a full history of the relocation thirty years in the making, including some half-insane suggested plans to elevate the main line above Fourth Street. I imagine trains full of sugar beets and other messy and open cars would have added some excitement to the lives of downtown residents.

The Merchants' Association secretary, William Baylor, sticks to the positive with "the railroad has given San Jose an excellent Christmas present. The whole project has put our railroad facilities in wonderful condition and in line with the times."

Charles Crothers, president of the realty board, in constrast goes negative. "Just as we were ashamed of the old station we will be proud of this beautiful new one, which is a fine building." Ashamed? That old building looked awfully cool to me!

December 30,1935 The big day. Today's paper isn't in Google's archive, and tomorrow's paper only mentions the switch to the new line in an editorial:

San Jose's big day has come and gone. Yesterday was cold and uncomfortable on the outside, but in the thousands of hearts of local people there glowed warmth and pleasure that at last the quarter-century-old project of railroad relocation was being completed, and not only if Fourth Street being cleared of trains but a station is being put into use that combines modern beauty with the utmost safety and convenience...
With the last few days of rain and cold, it's not hard to imagine what the ceremonies must have felt like to the participants.

If you want to see what the ceremony looked like, find a copy of Prune County Railroading, and check out page 72, where there's several photos of the special first train on the route (correctly approaching Cahill St. station from the south as we saw in the schedule of festivities), along with a couple staged shots of SP officials with the crew for the first train and speaking to the crowd.

(Update: Actually, Google News Archive does have the issue, but it's listed as part of the December 29 issue. Read more about that issue in a later blog post.)

December 31, 1935 Today's issue leads with the concrete indications of change - an action photo of the tracks at Monterey Road being pulled up. The Monterey Road crossing was particularly dangerous and the site of many a fatal accident. The main line here ran east of Monterey Road all the way to downtown, but just south of Oak Hill Cemetery, the lines cut over to the west side of the highway at an oblique angle. Even though the line switch had only occurred hours before, the line had been broken at Fourth and Julian and Monterey Road by afternoon. The industrial areas south of town (such as the Barron-Gray cannery and American Can) now could only be reached by a spur off to the new line.

January 1, 1936 And on January 1, 1936, it was all completely over. The San Jose News reported

Fourth Street flagmen, like the trains which they flagged, have been eliminated, with three exceptions, by the Southern Pacific relocation. Flag stations at Fourth and Virginia, Martha, and Keyes Streets will remain for the present, being in use in the industrial section, but these may be replaced with automatic wig-wags.
Approximately 30 men, many of them aged, who formerly warned the public of the approach of trains at crossings between Julian and Reed Streets, must now be placed in other railroad departments, according to Roadmaster S. R. Cupples. Many of them will be placed on the pension list.
The station houses will be moved in some cases. Others will be wreched.

I'd love to see what Edith Daley thought, but Google never scanned the late December, 1935 newspapers from the Evening News. (Even if they did, Edith was the San Jose librarian by then, and probably wasn't available for such articles.) Time for a trip to Main Library, perhaps, to see how the other newspapers handled the big day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lingering Projects

I'm taking some days off around Christmas, and I'm using the time to get through some lingering projects. The Western Pacific tower at West San Jose got glazing and some details, and it's prety much ready to go on the layout. Here's some current photos.

Note the bicycle against the wall. That came from the scrapbox; I don't even remember what plastic model kit it came from. It's pretty lame - just a flat injection molded piece - but with a bit of paint and Sharpie work to add color, it adds a bit of detail to make the building looked lived-in. Don't completely discount those cheap plastic kits!

Also getting some love and kindness is the Sunsweet Plant #1 in Campbell, which has been lingering half-built for at least a year. The roof went on this week, and as soon as some door castings are added, it'll be ready for some photos as well.

I'm glad for the blog if only to help me keep track of progress. I knew the Sunsweet building had been lingering, but I hadn't thought it had been that long!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Abinante and Nola In Flames

I've written a lot on Abinante and Nola, the dried fruit packer that operated across the tracks from the Del Monte cannery in the 1950's. Their name is still on the building on my layout even though the company didn't even exist in the early 1930's when my layout is set. Still, they're a favorite packer for me, so I keep an eye out for details about them when I'm doing online searches.

A recent newspaper search turned up the story of the loss of their first plant out on Stevens Creek Road towards Cupertino. I'd heard from the family that the plant had burned down some time in the 1940's, and the San Jose Evening News on May 20, 1940 confirms this - the plant went up in flames that morning. Photos in the paper show the boiler and metal wheels of carts for carrying dried fruit flats as the only survivors.

Fire of unknown origin destroyed the Abinante & Nola dried fruit packing plant on Stevens Creek Road and a large stock of dried punes stored in the building early this morning. Loss was not immediately estimated, but is expected to total several thousand dollars.
Discovered by passing motorists, the fire had swept through the entire plant and efforts of volunteers to save the burning building were unsuccessful. The blaze occurred outside the limits of any fire fighting district, but the Burbank fire district men and apparatus, led by Chief Jack Suratt, responded and saved adjacent buildings.
The Abinante & Nola plant, operated by Sam Abinante and Frank Nola, was formerly known as the West Side Fruit Company and was one of the oldest packing plants in the county.
I'd always suspected Abinante and Nola had occupied the West Side Fruit Growers Association property, but this confirms it. It's irrelevant for the model railroad, of course, but tying the story together is just as much fun!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Edith Daley visits Herbert Packing

Edith Daley was only a San Jose Evening News writer through about 1922. After that, she becomes the long-serving librarian for San Jose. Luckily, her few years on the paper left some gems, including her visit to the George Herbert Packing Co. at 3rd and Keyes south of downtown. George Herbert had been a dried fruit packer with a large, barn-like structure (pretty much the uniform for dried fruit packers) on Lincoln Ave. He sold out to Sunsweet in 1918, but must have wanted to stay in the fruit business, so he bought the Frank-Smith cannery at 3rd and Keyes and started canning.

Edith went to visit in July 1919, and her article in the July 19 Evening News certainly shows her excitement:

Mr. Barthold, the superintendent, grows enthusiastic over the big boilers and the 300 feet of spur track, the 40,000 square feet of warehouse space, the surrounding blocks of property owned by the company, and the fact that his is a "six line plant." The outside property means that the cannery will never be crowded and that all further improvements contemplated can be rapidly brought to completion. You learn how the syrup is made down stairs and then pumped upstairs in order to come down again and be "dished up" into the cans by that rotating "syrup-eating" machine so nearly human it is uncanny! (If anything can be uncanny in a canning factory!) There is a big comfortable free bus that makes the trips to East San Jose every day for the benefit of 35 of the employes. There is a cafeteria and a kindergarten! At the cafeteria everything is served from breakfast to dinner - a substantial hot dinner at night. There's everything from a sandwich to a home-made pie a la mode---and at moderate cost. There are dignified tables; but the long white counter is so attractive to the women workers that a sign has been found necessary. It reads: "as far as possible we want the counter for the men." Sitting at a counter to eat is simply one of man's inborn rights and no amount of suffrage can change it!"
I didn't know that thing about inborn rights and sitting at the counter. Time to claim my birthright at Denny's.
Then the superintendent proved that he is not only a packer but a poet! We went upstairs to visit the sunny offices and he called my attention to the "view". It was an attractive picture to look down over the immense fruit room with its rows and rows of cutting and canning tables splashed with bits of silver from the cans and the pans where the women in their blue aprons and white caps worked interestedly and happily. The blue and white and silver gleams of that picture with the contrasting soft colors of the apricots would make a poet of any superintendent with wide-awake eyes!"
And that's the greatest part of Edith's writing - where a few Sanborn maps might hint at a building, or photos might hint at the contents, articles like these highlight what the canneries were like when you were inside them: full of color, full of noise, full of smells, and chock-full of some awfully interesting people. If I was modeling the area around Third and Keyes, I'd be painting some figurines blue and white to represent those workers taking a quick smoke break outside and contemplating their pie-a-la-mode at dinner.

I'll let you read the rest of the article - last year's production, the cannery's friendliness to visitors, and the drying plant on Monterey Road - but I'll end with Edith's final words:

"Labor has presented not problem at the Herbert Packing Company. Things are well handled in this regard, but when the peaches begin to roll caneryward in carload lots there will be more women workers needed. There is work to do---work for everyone. Labor isn't any fly in the fruit. The real "terrors" in the cannery are prices of sugar and "shook!" Both necessary---and both going steadily up hand-in-hand. Where sugar used to be $4.00 a bag it is now $9.00! "Nevertheless" said Mr Barthold, "there's lots of sugar and there's plent of cans and there's always help enough and there's money in the world---we are going to have a big year!"

The George Herbert cannery still exists on the southeast corner of Third and Keyes in San Jose. Although the current occupants probably don't spell WELCOME with capital letters, you're certainly welcome to drive by and stare out the window or view the building on Google Street View.

In addition to serving as San Jose's library for a good twenty years, Edith Daley also published the War History of Santa Clara County about World War I as well as M"The Angel in the Sun", a book of poetry with no cannery content whatsoever.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Places I Won't Model IV: The Winchester House

One of the problems of being into model railroading as an outlet for a frustrated architect or architectural historian is that there's plenty of buildings that would be fun to treat as models, but won't fit on my model railroad.

I mean, if I'm modeling the Santa Clara Valley, how can I not want to build a model of the Winchester Mystery House?

I thought about this as I took on my self-appointed position as Edith Daley Fan Club president, for Edith published a two-part story on Sarah Winchester's house just after Sarah's death.

"That combination of sensations marked my first close-up impression of the Winchester place, or all [of the] Winchester place that could be seen by standing on the narrow cement sidewalk outside the grounds, with an inquisitive and unapologetic nose almost giving an Eskimo salutation to the cold iron of the elaborately grilled iron gate which was securely barred. Entrance gate, through which no one, unless 'on business', might enter.
Listening to the sounds of carpentry, sniffing at the odor of paint, one remembered a thing of common report: that the rich Mrs. Winchester who lives in this mysterious house with locked gates, is said to believe that when she stops building… she will die!"

Looks like those myths about Sarah's reasons for building aren't just a modern myth.

Edith's stories ran in the September 18 and September 19, 1922 San Jose Evening News, for those of you relentlessly consuming all of Edith's works.

Edith was a big deal for the Evening News. She also had her fiction published in the newspaper, but her adjective-laden reporting was probably what kept the paychecks coming. For example, consider Edith's reporting on William Hightower's murder trial for killing Rev. Father Patrick Heslin from Colma in the October 14, 1921 Evening News:

And "District Attorney Swart had a lot to say about that machine and the fact that Hightower confesses to having experimented with this rotary machine gun and poison gas. 'No good citizen', said Swart, 'will be experimenting with such things." ... The defense attorney explained "that the Chinaman who invented gunpowder was probably an inoffensive tea-drinking Oriental pursuing his experiments on the banks of a Chinese river --- without a thought of blowing up his countrymen!"
Hightower got life, BTW. His "dream girl", Peggy Curtis True, attempted to reach him when the verdict was read, but the guards held her back. Stories like this convince me we need to return to those happier and simpler days of traditional values when men experimented with machine guns and poison gas.

[Edith Daley hasn't written anything on the Southern Pacific that I've found, but I'll forgive her for that. The Winchester Mystery House still exists and is open for tours, but never had rail service and won't ever appear on my model railroad. Picture cribbed from the Wikipedia article on the Winchester Mystery House.]

Hyde Cannery Takes A Bow

My favorite people in the world are the journalists who write puff pieces about businesses.

No, really. Some of the greatest source of facts about particular businesses comes from such "interview local captain of industry" articles. Each of these articles throws in some facts and detailed description of the business and also adds some personal color about the business. We saw it with the matter-of-fact Sewall Brown apricot pit plant article in the San Jose News. We got to imagine Henry Hiller and his partner laughing about their pile of prune pits in Edith Daley's columns on Pacific By-Products in the July 19 and 20, 1921 issues of the San Jose Evening News. We learned about the Horatio Alger story of Larson Ladder, as described under an anonymous by-line in the August 6, 1928 San Jose News.

Finding them, however, is another thing. The newspapers on Google's News Archive are easy to search and browse; the newspapers available through (and also available through aren't as easy to browse and require subscribing for access, but give access to another large set of local papers that can turn up the key tidbits.

Being persistent also helps, and doing additional searches sometimes turns up new material that's just appeared on line. A recent, repeated search for the Hyde Cannery turned up this multi-page article in Canning Age's August 1921 issue. It takes a certain bit of perseverance to make it through the article and their almost unnatural fixation on gravity conveyors (as well as their constant theme of how "modern" the cannery is), but it's still worth a read. The photos from the article might look familiar if you've been studying the history of the Santa Clara Valley; some of the photos are part of a collection in the Bancroft Library and available online. I'd always wondered about the origin of those photos; now I suspect they were photographed and then saved because of the magazine article.

The article highlights that peaches were the key fruit packed by Hyde. Fruit was received both locally by truck and by railroad car, and outgoing product was shipped by train. Box shook arrived by train, and went directly to the second floor of the warehouse where the box making machinery was located. Hyde primarily used Berger and Carter products canning and processing equipment on the canning line, American Can Company machines for the canning, and Anderson Barngrover equipment on the dried fruit line. (So much for supporting the home-town favorite; Anderson Barngrover might have been closer with the head office in San Jose, but George Hyde still insisted on going all the way to San Francisco for the other equipment. I suspect it was the fault of those consultants/sales engineers at Mailler Searles in San Francisco who sandbagged the local guys.)

The article also focused on the syrup room as a key part of the cannery, located directly over the syrup machines. They detail the blending of the sugar and the sanitary nature of the room; other articles in Canning Age highlight how the syrup room is also important as a cost center. Sugar must have been costly, as a later column highlighted how easy it was to use too concentrated a syrup in the second-rate fruit, chasing profits away.

The article also mentioned how culled fruit (inappropriate for the regular canning line) went to the "pie foundry". Every time I read "pie foundry", I expect some strange steel mill-style cauldron of fire stamping out fruit cocktail. I can't tell if "pie foundry" was a reference to a different production line in the cannery, or if it's a reference to shipping the fruit out to a commercial pie-making bakery. There's at least one turn of the century article that uses the metaphor to describe one of Chicago's big pie factories, as well as a 1903-era "Autobiography of a Shopgirl" where the term seems to refer to an inexpensive diner. Later comments highlight that Hyde also did can cut fruit for pie filling, using a different line but the same canning and syruping machines. As the cans came out of the cookers, workers would have to sort the cans based on markings on the sides of the cans.

Also in the November issue of Canning Age: how to deal with itinerant cannery workers, which provides additional hints for detailing your scene. Because the canneries were never quite sure when they'd start running, workers would often start arriving in the area a week before canning actually started. Canneries needed to make sure that housing and food was available to keep the workers on-hand until the cannery opened. Some canneries gave out free food; in other cases, little tent cities would open up with multiple food sellers providing food for the waiting workers. The article highlights the importance of keeping the workers happy, both for the labor and to avoid antagonizing the neighbors. The "bread, coffee, and mulligan" line shows that the Grapes of Wrath wasn't just a 1930's phenomena.

And if that isn't enough details from the trade press, check out the articles on keeping workers safe, the popularity of American fruit in Scandinavia, and "when a buyer misrepresents himself". That last article might be useful if I need to detail my my figure of the Higgins-Hyde fruit buyer who thought he could buy ahead of the prune pool.

[Photo: Hyde Cannery syrup line. From Bancroft Library collection Geo. E. Hyde & Co, Canning Operations, 1915-1921.]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Richmond Chase Spoils Their Workers

Those Silicon Valley commute buses aren't such a new thing. The September 1921 Canning Age magazine highlights how progressive employers like San Jose's Richmond Chase Cannery provide bus service from home to cannery.
"The women expected the truck and trailer at a certain time and had only to step out of the home and climb aboard. After the day's work was done they were driven back to their door. Free transportation and a saving of their time made it possible for the cannery to get enough women to do the work, and a class of women who accomplished more and better work was obtained." "During the rush season the two cars were filled to overflowing, three trips per day being necessary to handle the 250 persons who rode to work via this motor train..."
No comment about whether the women were allowed to bring their dogs to work, though.

[Photo from Canning Age magazine, available on Google Book Search.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Virden Packing and Dreams of Great Business

I'm still thinking about whether to place the Virden Packing cannery on the layout. I did mock-up a paper model based on guessed measurements from the SP track drawings and Google StreetView photos, but it's looking awfully large and out of scale next to the gas station that I'd really prefer not to remove. Time for some more thought.

While we're thinking about whether to add the building, it's worth thiking about what makes the odd Virden Packing building special, and whether it helps with the story about what San Jose was like in the 1930's. Let's do a bit of historic research on that building, shall we?

The fact that 460 Lincoln Ave has survived is a pretty big accomplishment on its own. Before 1918, the building was just another lot on the western edge of San Jose. A 1915 Sanborn map shows it as additional storage for Santa Clara Valley Mill and Lumber's San Salvador Street yard, covered with twenty-foot-high piles of lumber. The odd-shaped lot was tiny compared with the main yard and mill further up along the track between Auzerais and San Carlos, but they must have needed the space.

Salsina Packing and Canning

Come 1918, things were changing in the valley. Straight from Western Canner and Packer:

Reviewing the canning industry of San Jose, the San Jose Mercury-Herald says six new canneries, representing an investment of $590,000, were constructed and put into operation in San Jose during the past year, making a total of 31 canneries now handling products of this county. This is in addition to the 30 packing houses. These six new canneries have outlined improvements which they expect to make immediately at the cost of $330,000.


The Salsina Canning Company, situated at the corner of Lincoln and San Salvador Streets, has an investment of about $200,000 at that site. The plant was installed during the past year and handled tomatoes and salsina exclusively. The company is now considering the advisability of constructing a new unit at a cost of $45,000 in time to handle fruits as well as tomatoes next year.

(The full article's worth reading, if only for the comments about the other canneries, the Santa Clara Valley orange business, and how all the canneries will operate cafeterias "with hot, nourishing food will be served to the workers in an attractive manner at cost." Sounds like Facebook or Google.)

Salsina Canning (misspelled as Salsini in a few places) was set up by "Italian interests in the Santa Clara Valley" according to California Fruit News. The name is telling; 'salsina' is the italian work for sauce (and perhaps implies tomato paste), highlighting that their market was the new immigrants and perhaps folks in the old country.

The original building wasn't enough; Salsina extended it in 1919 with a 60x600 warehouse according to a reference in American Architect and Architecture. Electrical World highlights how they're using fine electrical equipment for the new production line.

But what about those suspicious-sounding "italian interests" backing Salsina? They sound more upstanding when we look at old city directories, for it turns out the cannery is run by Gus (Gustave) F. Lion, son of German immigrants who arrived in San Jose in 1855. Gus was a serious mover-and-shaker: A Santa Clara University graduate, owner of one of San Jose's fine furniture stores, owner of the 5500 acre San Martin ranch out by Gilroy, banker, and even member of the Elks. A county history brags that he was involved both with the Republican and Democratic parties, back in the day when you could could straddle that fence. According to a 1919 San Jose City Directory, Gus was the president of Salsina, Alphonso Lambrosa was vice-president, and W. J. Leet was the treasurer.

Salsina didn't last long. By 1921, Lion was subdividing the San Martin ranch, and the same year sold Salsina to the Virden Packing Corporation.

Virden Packing

Virden's an interesting company. Charles Virden, the owner, had been active in the fruit business in Sacramento, and had worked for some of the large fruit distributors. He was also active in the Chamber of Commerce; internet research shows he broke the ground on a new country club east of Sacramento around 1920. Most importantly, he was a big booster for the Central Valley. He also spoke publicly about his frustrations with the availability of freight cars, and made some handy suggestions to the railroad about how to make sure businesses like his could ship their products. It's easy to find several speeches like this from Virden, and it's easy to tell his opinions.

But it sounds like Virden had more ambition, and decided it was time for him to take his personal Virden Packing business to the next level. He moved to San Francisco, and ambitiously snapped up several large canneries: Western Canning's plant in Emeryville (formerly Chinese owned and run), other plants in Sacramento, Marysville, Elmhurst (85th Street in Oakland), Fruitvale (29th Street, Oakland), Lindsay, and Oroville. (One contemporary report for the purchase said that someone wrote "Goodbye" in Chinese and English on the wall in the Western Canning plant.) On top of that, Virden also ran meat packing companies in Sacramento and in South San Francisco, and owned the Pioneer Fruit Company (according to a lawsuit from Zellerbach Paper). Virden's officers for the company include two early employees who had been part of the Sunlit Fruit Company that was swallowed up by the California Packing Corporation (Del Monte), so perhaps this was their challenge to CalPak, and their hopes of building a similarly huge organization.

Virden bought Salsina both for the existing business as well as a chance to do meat packing at the same location; Western Canner and Packer states that the "plant will be used for the packing of all the company's meats drawn from the field south of San Jose."

Lots of dreams and plans, lots of ambition. Very little news, though, between 1921 and 1926 apart from the daily stock ticker declaring the value of the Virden Packing shares.

By the mid-1920's, though, Virden's shrinking. The falling prices which hit other canners and dried fruit packers is one potential cause. Rumors of company meetings and potential sales appear in 1926. The March 13, 1927 Oakland Tribune notes that the company is abandoning the fruit business and is in the process of selling the canneries, "three in Oakland, one in San Jose, and a fifth in Marysville". Charles Virden claims that the company will be focusing on the meat business from now on. Balfour Guthrie, a British importer and owner of farmland in California, takes an option on buying the largest plants at Maryville, San Jose, Elmhurst, Fruitvale, and Emeryville. (The Lodi Sentinel said on May 6, 1926 that Balfour-Guthrie was already operating the canneries.) The Gridley Herald explains this only as a financing move, and the canneries will be managed by Francis E. Laney, head of the Sutter County growers co-operative.

But it doesn't look like the canneries go to Balfour; the former Western Canning in Emeryville is sold to CalPak, and becomes Del Monte Plant #35, a huge cannery that eventually disappears in 1989 and becomes the current site of Pixar. The Fruitvale plant also goes to Del Monte. The San Jose site keeps its name - there's nothing in the record to decide whether Virden did or did not sell out.

Virden died in January, 1932, leaving a million-dollar insurance policy to keep the company going. By 1935, it's all over for the meat business too as the remaining business, including the meat packing plant in South San Francisco, is sold to Armour, the monopolist in the meat packing industry. A 1936 lawsuit charges that Virden Packing overpromised the extent of the meat business in Sacramento when it first issued stock.

Virden's cannery in San Jose must have kept going, either under the old or a new management. It appears in the 1928 and 1929 San Jose city directories at the same location on Lincoln, and also appears on a 1930-ish Sanborn map, but it disappears from the city directories in 1930. It (tellingly) doesn't appear on that 1931 Southern Pacific track directory that I was given a couple years back.

San Martin Vineyards

I can't find any mention of the building through the Great Depression; it must have sat empty, just like the Hunts cannery in Los Gatos did. (Correction: the Fall 2023 "SP Trainline" article on the San Jose route change includes a switching map from 1932. The ex-Salsina spur is labeled "Calif Packing Corp.", suggesting that Del Monte was using the warehouse - not surprising considering it was a block away from the main Del Monte cannery. More recent research noted that the St. Claire Brewery used the space around 1935.) However, by 1949, the building is in use again, this time as a warehouse for the San Martin Winery. The existing building has a cask mounted on the wall as a reminder of the winery's days in the building. The 1950 Sanborn map shows the accessory buildings behind including the boiler and cooling tower (for former refrigeration?) SP engineering drawings from 1949 show a platform being added to the Lincoln Ave front, as well as work on the team tracks branching off behind the building. Interestingly, the SP SPINS booklet from 1970 shows neither of the spurs that were visible on the engineering drawing. By 1970, San Martin is out, and Hank and Frank Drayage is in the building; their sign remained on the building until recently.


And today, you can go wandering over to Lincoln Avenue, pass the new luxury apartment buildings going up on the former sites of the U.S. Products and Contadina canneries, cross the railroad tracks, and see the slightly orphaned and slightly worn concrete building on the right side. The cannery had a short life - maybe 1918 to 1930 as a cannery, then years empty, then downgraded to use as a wine warehouse, then a less prestigious warehouse, and now it's being used as a furniture discount warehouse, probably just as a temporary occupant until it's time for the building to be torn down and replaced by more housing.

You can go in and wander; it's a warren of rooms from warehouse days, with wood trusses overhead, the sawtooth roofline, pierced with banks of double-hung windows, are very visible above the dining room tables and nightstands. You can also see how the building expanded; the street side is definitely a different bit of construction from the east side facing the SP and WP tracks, and you can see the materials change as you cross through from one side to the other. You also can see that the east wall really is corrugated iron, highlighting the different eras of the building. If you noticed the small peaked roof visible from Auzerais St., you'll also learn it's actually a small house that got swallowed up by the building, and now serves as an office, sitting right there in the middle of the largest portion of the warehouse.

Outside, the concrete's looking pitted after a hundred years of hand trucks and rearranged loading doors. Below the loading dock on the Lincoln Ave. side, the rails are still poking up out of the asphalt, with strange rounded balls located where the end of the siding would have been, probably to block the wheels.

Virden Packing obviously didn't survive long - it was a small cannery during the great explosion in canneries in 1918. I suspect its backers weren't thinking big enough, and couldn't compete against the three big canneries surrounding it. Like the Hyde Cannery in Campbell, dropping prices in the late twenties doomed it, and the Depression must have closed it down forever.

That said, it's still got a bit of magic. You'll spot it as an obvious example of rail-served industry as you drive towards downtown San Jose. Some five year old is probably wandering through right now as his parents search for a new kitchen table, and he's looking up at all that trusswork wondering why someone built a building so odd and interesting compared to the boring buildings at the mall...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

San Jose Switching Limits: Confirmed!

It's funny that I'm an SP modeler, considering my father spent fifteen years at the Western Pacific Railroad. His knowledge of the business side of the railroad thanks to his time working on rates and doing sales in Oakland means that I know more about railroad tariffs than most kids.

And every now and then, he finds these tidbits and passes them on to me. Just before he joined the WP in 1952, they'd had a tour for the San Francisco salesmen of the San Jose sales area, and the booklet given to each salesman included this neat little map showing the WP and SP team tracks as well as the switching limits.

What are switching limits and how do they differ from yard limits? Yard limits are operational; they tell train crews which areas they can switch with impunity, and which requires the dispatcher's permission. Switching limits affect the rates charged customers (because moving cars within a terminal area has a different price than hauling it outside that area), and affects crew salary. As Jason Hill explained a while back, trains going outside switching limits generally required road crews and were paid by mileage (with a minimum) while yard crews switching within switching limits would get a daily rate.

At least for 1952, the switching limits for the SP in San Jose went to the north end of College Park yard, out (probably) to the San Jose Brick Co. spur on the Los Gatos branch, and down to the GE plant on the south side of town. This suggests that Campbell and Los Gatos probably got switched by road crews, while all the canneries around Auzerais St. on my layout could have been switched by yard crews.\

Remind me during operating sessions to give fewer cookies to the crews doing the San Jose Cannery job, and more to the crews switching Campbell and Los Gatos, ok? We might as well maintain the pay disparity for realism.

And for you WP fans, how about all those team tracks scattered around town?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Planning Larson Ladder

[Subtitled, "For Goodness Sake, Don't Look At the Map Again!"] There's a couple holes in the layout that need filling; one obvious one is in a gap between the road I'm declaring is Meridian Road and the WP track. In reality, there's a few blocks between these two locations filled with a random mix of light industry, but on the model railroad, I've got maybe 80 scale feet to fill. And, of course, if I want to make the area look like it's the place for business, that means I need to build models of businesses.

None of the industries there look like particularly good fits, so I've already located my model of a Rio Grande gas station right at the tracks. Behind it, I'm not so sure - one potential candidate is the frequently-mentioned Larson Ladder, maker of the three-legged orchard ladders that were common throughout the Santa Clara Valley. One of my neighbors who grew up in San Jose even remembers them, so as a hometown favorite, they've got first dibs on the location.

But what did a ladder company look like? Bill Foley from the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County managed to find a pair of aerial photos of the area, one from 1941, and the other from 1958. Both show that much of the area west of the tracks was still orchards, but the 1941 photo shows Larson Ladder sitting a block west of Meridian Ave on Moorpark - a bit far from the tracks, but let's use it for inspiration. The plant sat on a narrow lot in the middle of orchards. There's at least one long gable-roofed building, and then another, lower building, probably a couple hundred feet long with a sawtooth roof. I normally think of these as brick (which seems inappropriate here), but Packing Houses of Southern California shows a pair of wooden sawtooth packing sheds on SP's Santa Paula branch, one from the McTeague-Kevett packing association, and the other a Sunkist lemon packing house. Either might be a nice inspiration for Larson Ladder.

Er... wait a sec... Larson Ladder would have been several blocks away from where the tracks are. What was in that "light industry" area closer to the tracks in the photo?

Oh, nothing much. Random warehouses, lots of little workshops. Oh, and a sawtoothed building, right at the corner of Lincoln and Auzerais Street with a loading dock facing Lincoln Ave. The building's still there by the way, with the cask mounted on the front of the building from when it was owned by San Martin Vineyards and the Filice family. Before that, it had been Balfour Guthrie, which purchased Virden Packing, a peach canner, in 1926. Big concrete building because of its previous use for meat packing. Back side would have faced the WP tracks.

Interesting. I've got a large, cool, sawtooth building next to the WP tracks and along a roadway, just like I've got on the layout. It's got an interesting loading dock on the front that was an SP spur. Why exactly am I not modeling it?

Er... because I didn't think of it before now.

I may not have room to lay track from my mainline into Virden Packing, but I think that Rio Grande gas station is about to be moved. As I think about that plan, here's some photos of the Virden Packing building that I took even though I didn't think I'd be modeling it. Throw in your comments on whether the cute gas station should be kicked off the layout just to be replaced with an awfully coarse-looking concrete cannery.

[Street level photos: mine. Aerial view: Google.]

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Quick Quiz on California-appropriate Buildings

One of the common themes I've discussed here is the idea that to have a good California-style model railroad, I really need to know what sort of buildings ought to be in a small California town in the 1930's. So far, I'm doing ok at this by looking at old photos of California towns from the 1930's, and extrapolating construction style, sign lettering and the like. I'm still trying to figure out what sort of a building Larson Ladder might have had at its world headquarters on Moorpark Ave.

But practice makes perfect, so let's head over to the website describing the historic structures at Pier 70, San Francisco's shipbuilding center. There are plans to turn part of the site into offices by reusing some of the historic buildings. The catalog of buildings (some from World War II, some from the plant's original occupants of Bethlehem Steel and Union Iron Works) makes for a nice survey of industrial buildings in California over the last century. Click on some of the links for slideshows of the machine shop and piers to get a look at the shipyard when it was working. The machine shop slideshow highlights the great internal detail in building #113 - wooden trusses, huge tools, and a cavernous interior.

And if you're a California modeler, it's also a great source of information for a pop quiz. Look at each building in turn, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this match my expectations of a California building?
  • Do I have similar buildings on my layout?
  • Which manufacturers make kits that would be a starting point for a kit like this?

I'll give you one answer for free: warehouse #6, the place for marshaling the fabricated pieces going into a newly-constructed ship, looks awfully like a 1960's era Suydam corrugated iron building. It's awfully big compared to my layout, but I keep trying to decide whether the Santa Clara Valley Mill and Lumber (Tilden Lumber) yard near Auzerais St. ought to be wood or steel.

Notice anything cool about the Pier 70 buildings that's applicable to a model railroad?

Scenery for Moody Gulch

Work's definitely going in fits and starts here; after a couple months with no work on the layout, my visit to Desert Ops, the Phoenix-area operating weekend, must have inspired me. My challenge: get some scenery in the Moody Gulch scene.

The scenery on the shelf above Los Gatos has always been problematic, and I haven't wanted to rush decisions. There are hidden tracks below (for the lowest reverse loop and staging), so covering the tracks always seemed... risky. When I'd put in the Alma siding, I also added room for a future, at that point undefined, industry, so I was unsure about what scenery would be appropriate. The scenery between Los Gatos and Alma also deserves to be impressive - that stretch of track goes through the narrowest part of Los Gatos Canyon. If I was being fair to the railroad I'm modeling, I'd have track clinging to a sheer cliff face... which wouldn't fit when Los Gatos is only a few inches below the track.

When I last tried building scenery for Alma a couple years ago, I thought a crossing of Los Gatos Creek might be appropriate; I had a bit of styrofoam, so I mocked out half of the scenery, used the tail end of a bag of Sculptamold to make it solid... and stopped as I ran out of material. The scene just didn't work; the creek wouldn't be low enough to be believable as Los Gatos Creek, there was no space to expose the creek bed on the fascia in front of the scene, and the tracks descending on a 2% grade across that bridge just seemed unrealistic. The scene's been sitting there half-done ever since.

Today's adventure was doing that scenery right. I'd learned in the past that if I can completely finish a scene, it's much more likely to turn out well *and* end up being permanent, so luckily I'd stocked up on a couple bags of Sculptamold and a sheet of 2" styrofoam insulation from Home Depot. (My local Home Depot in San Jose even had a sheet of 2" pinkboard, though I was just using beadboard.) I pulled out the hot glue gun and the hot wire knife, looked over a couple of inspirational photos in books, and started building.

The two photos here show the progress tonight. (Sorry for the poor quality and the chair leg in the photo; I should have taken the pictures before cleaning up.) I've had the best luck building scenery with sheet styrofoam. I cut pieces roughly to fit, and glue layers together with a hot glue gun. The hot glue does melt the foam, but at least some of the glue holds the foam together, and I can usually start trimming the layers within minutes of gluing, avoiding the need to wait a day as I used to when using contact cement. I then start trimming the hills with the hot wire cutter to get the rounded look of California hills, correctly angled cuts, and the like. The result are hillsides that look very California-appropriate. As soon as the hot glue is cooled and the styrofoam armature is in place, I use a thin layer of Sculptamold as the final shape of the scenery. Once the Sculptamold dries, the scenery is rigid enough for further layers of spackle or Sculptamold, and is ready for the paint and dirt that will make the hills look like... well, hills.

This scene really draws attention to the branch to Moody Gulch at the expense of the mainline. The Moody Gulch spur looks correctly cut out of the hill with minor filling and depressions along the way. The main line is still looking a bit unrealistic as it drop below the Moody Gulch spur then dives into a tunnel. That tunnel wasn't on the real SP between Los Gatos and Alma, but (1) there was a tunnel in the narrow gauge South Pacific Coast days, and (2) the tunnel is a heck of a lot more realistic than some strange cut might be.

Next steps: get rid of the bare plaster hills. The hillside along here should be a mix of chaparral (typical for the south-facing slope near Moody Gulch) with occasional redwoods in the distance. I'm also starting to think about Moody Gulch structures; I've got ideas about some additional oil well details as well as a small warehouse for supplies for the drillers.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Movie Night VIII: All Kinds of Industry in San Jose!

It's that time again - movie night!

One of the advantages of modeling San Jose is the sheer diversity of industry that was in the area. Sure, the prune industry dominated, but there was also heavy industry. You can model the Food Machinery Company's plant if you want to build freight car loads of rotary cookers, or the the Accent (Stauffer Chemical) MSG plant on the south side of San Jose.

And if you model the Accent plant, buy some extra glow-in-the-dark paint at the hobby store and model the siding on the opposite side of the tracks for the GE Nuclear Plant, where you can practice your skills building a TRIGA reactor load for your flat cars!

Now turn off the lights, bring out the popcorn, and watch this tour of the GE San Jose plant where you can watch lathes turning, fuel rods being assembled, and control rod assemblies moving up and down!

[Don't ask me why YouTube is occasionally showing a Santa Clara swim meet video; search for "San Jose Facility 1958" on YouTube if the embedded video isn't correct.]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Meanwhile, in San Francisco...

Thanks to my interests, I follow a bunch of history and map blogs. That blog list often turns up articles like this gem, tracking down the source of a nicely-tiled entrance to a now-missing building at 7th and Hubbard in San Francisco.

You can't say enough nice things about people who combine pictures on the modern-day ground, Sanborn maps, and a good bit of gumshoe research to pull out a story.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Better Brakemen

You've got to admit that model railroad operations does tend to focus your mind. Many have said how running on a double-deck layout isn't that distracting; usually you're so focused on your own train that you don't know the action happening on the lower level.

That's also true for keeping track of what's happening near you. One of my first operating sessions almost ended in disaster when the crew switching Campbell started pulling a long train of cars towards San Jose, and a crew in San Jose started pulling a long train of cars towards Campbell. Because there's a curve between the two stations, the crew didn't notice that they were trying to occupy the same track until it was too late.

Soon after, I printed out some of the Operations Road Show paper flagmen, and I keep a few scattered around the layout so crews can guard track and avoid another crew intruding into space they need. Usually this works, though we've got a few flagmen with wheel marks showing that even careful crews sometimes run over flagmen.

John Plocher liked the paper flagmen on my layout, but felt they were insufficiently noticeable. John came up with the elegant solution of the DCC Brakeman, a little PC board cutout of a brakeman with a base that could touch both rails to power an LED. His little brakemen are both human-shaped and light up nicely - a great idea and very nice implementation.

John has put the plans up on his website, but he also had a set of brakemen built and assembled. They're currently for sale at the Train Shop in Santa Clara for around $7; the only work is to solder the figure onto the base, and attach the weight to the base. Go pick a few up for safety!

Monday, September 3, 2012

SwitchList: Suggesting Cargos

When I first started doing model railroad operations, the worst part (after fixing all the rare derailments and mechanical problems) was writing up the car cards. I had to write down a couple hundred possible cargos and routes to name all the possible things that boxcars could be carrying on my railroad. Canned fruit from Del Monte to the East Coast. Cattle being unloaded at Alma. Crates going to the packing house in Campbell. It was tedious and annoying work, and when I realized I didn't have the amount of traffic right, I had to go and write more cards. After all that, I created SwitchList so I wouldn't have to write all those cards.

SwitchList cuts the effort, but while I don't have to make twenty cards for all twenty cars of dried fruit leaving from Plant 51, I still have to decide what shipments might be received or sent from each industry. It's possible to learn what each industry might ship, either from books or from the OPSIG industry database, but that's stuff the computer ought to know how to do well, right?

Time to make that computer work a bit harder.

SwitchList-1.1.1 now contains a "Suggest Cargos" feature where you can name an industry, and it'll suggest some potential cargos that can be shipped from or received by the industry. SwitchList will guess at your industry based on its name, let you adjust its guess, then suggest several cargos that would be appropriate from that industry.

For now, the feature's simplistic; not all kinds of industries are listed, and some that are listed only have a few suggestions. But I think this could be helpful; I'd love feedback on whether you find this to be a useful feature, and I'd appreciate suggested cargos to include.

Check out the latest version of SwitchList over at the main SwitchList site, try it out, and if you like the Suggest Cargos feature, make some suggestions of your own about potential industries and cargos that SwitchList ought to know about!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SwitchList: Now on the Mac App Store!

Downloading software is so twentieth-century. Click, download, open the disk image, copy to your disk. If you're used to downloading software, it might not seem like a big deal, but there's a lot of Mac users out there who aren't used to downloading strange software on the Internet.

Luckily, if you're running a recent Mac, you can now just fire up the Mac App Store, search for SwitchList, and have your own copy of SwitchList put safely on your Mac with none of that downloading and installing. The App Store version of SwitchList is the same as the version you'd download from the SwitchList homepage, and it's the same free price. You'll also be able to update SwitchList easily when new versions come out.

I'll continue to have copies of SwitchList to download at the SwitchList home page. Downloaded versions will usually have features and bug fixes a bit sooner than the App Store, so if you want to try out new versions before anyone else, watch the SwitchList mailing list and download new versions as they appear. The source code to SwitchList will continue to be available at if you're interested in making your own tweaks to the program, or want to help make SwitchList even more useful.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Movie Night VII: Tomatoes of the Future!

As much as we think of the Santa Clara Valley as Prune Central USA, the local canneries of the early 20th century were doing a huge business in canning tomatoes. Del Monte, Contadina, Greco, Hunt's, Mission Valley, Pyle, Richmond Chase, San Jose Canning Co., Sun Garden - all were packing tomatoes at one point or another. Even as late as the 1970's and 1980's, you'll still hear stories about the smell of tomatoes coming out of Del Monte Plant #3 on San Carlos St.

The smell of tomatoes may not be wafting over San Jose any more, but at least we can get an idea of the tomato canning process thanks to YouTube. DiNapoli shows the work needed to harvest and can their tomatoes in Los Banos in this cool video. Although there's a huge amount of automation, I'll bet that many of the same jobs and noise would have been familiar to any local sixty years ago.

I'm also amazed they're willing to keep the rotary cookers outside. The FMC brochures always made those look like precision machinery.

Note to self: leave some open cans of tomatoes near the Del Monte plant for an appropriate experience.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Good Reading: Last of the Prune Pickers

BTW, if you're interested in the Santa Clara Valley, then Tim Stanley's Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story is worth a read. The first half's history of the Santa Clara Valley is okay. However, it's second half, with the story of Robert Pitman, a Saratoga fruit rancher and the author's experiences doing summer jobs at the ranch, gives some wonderful color on what daily life was like on a Santa Clara Valley fruit ranch.

West San Jose tower, now with correct trim

Progress on the layout might be slow, but I do occasionally do some modeling. Here's the WP tower from West San Jose, painted and with stairway complete.

Observant readers will notice that the trim was brown in my first photos of the tower. I'd painted it based on some incorrect internet advice, but after some second thoughts, had Jim Dias confirm that an off-white was correct for the trim. Lots of details are still needed - glazing, signs, touch-up painting, and weathering - but I'm pleased with how the model is coming out.

More Dickensian!

Short shameful confession time again.

When I consider a new scene, I'll start out with all the usual, upstanding inspirations. I'll check historical maps and photos, I'll look for city directories, and I'll check similar, nearby places. All correct, all historically accurate, all suitably earnest.

But then I'll grab inspiration from memory and my own past, and dump some of that carefully reconstructed history as I substitute some memory from a childhood road trip. That's a problem because I wasn't around in the 1930's, but I assume that the buildings around 1930's San Jose resembles the industrial areas of Oakland when I was growing up, or looks a bit like the wrong side of the tracks in Modesto or Merced. More likely, I'll think about dusty Central Valley towns with long, barn like buildings and empty space around them. Some of the Packing Houses of Central California photos give me inspiration.

But those scenes aren't always realistic. Althought many of the dried fruit packing plants in Sunnyvale or San Jose match that "barn by the tracks" look, that's not always accurate for all industries… especially the large canneries.

When I'm thinking about the Del Monte cannery, or the (not modeled) U.S. Products and Contadina canneries just south of that site, "I'm mostly thinking of the 1940's structures. Here's two photos of Del Monte Plant #3. The first photo was taken in 2007 just before they tore down the old plant buildings. The second is from a slide I bought at Winterrail last year showing the Los Gatos Creek side of the cannery. Both show the Art Deco concrete warehouse structures that were built in the 1940's - old fashioned and appropriate to my eye. Then we get buildings like Mayfair Packing's site on South 10th Street - probably dating to the 1950's, but a relatively modern looking building. But are they really representative of what the area looked like in the 1930's?

Luckily, there's a few photos of the area in earlier times, and they're nice reminders of how industrial buildings changed from the turn of the century to the 1950's. This first photo is a small portion of a large panorama from the John C. Gordon collection at San Jose State University, taken in the early 1930's. (The second Del Monte photo was probably taken on the other side of the creek, closer to the plant, in the late 1960's.) Orchard Supply's future site is just a fallow field for now, and across the creek, rather than a modern concrete building, is a series of tin and brick buildings, expanding in every which way with vents, pipes, and smokestacks sticking up like a porcupine. Perhaps it's just the black-and-white photo, but "Dickensian" springs to mind as an apt description. The U.S. Products cannery along Race St. had the same look in the photo I shared a few weeks ago: massive, dark, forbidding… and popping up out of the back of that photo was the roofline of the Herschel California (Contadina) cannery on the Lincoln Ave. side of the tracks.

The buildings look more like some of San Francisco's former industrial areas than like a Valley town. On the plus side, these canneries do bear a strong resemblance to all those Campbell HO model buildings that often looked like additions and smokestacks had been added until the designer's scrapbox was empty. Looks like that isn't just artistic license.

At some point, I'll be in the midst of building, and I'll ask myself how much difference can a few years make? But I know from past experience that progress was racing ahead even way back when, and the new buildings I'm picturing based on my imagined idea of what 1930's San Jose looked like may just be a bad guess based on some childhood vacation.

Next time I'm doing that, I'll shout out "More dickensian!" and we'll see how it goes.

[First photo: Del Monte Plant #3, 2003, my photo. Second photo: Other side of Del Monte Plant #3, October 1965, East West Rail Scenes/my collection. Third photo: Google Street View. Fourth photo: Del Monte Plant #3, early 1930's, John C. Gordon collection, SJSU. Fifth photo, Hershel (Contadina) cannery, Lincoln Ave as seen peeking behind U.S. Products Cannery. John C. Gordon collection, SJSU.]

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Movie Night VI: "Good Wrinkles"

And on the subject of home-town boosterism, check out this great little animated short, "Good Wrinkles", telling you all sorts of magical facts about prunes. Note that the villain is a non-Santa Clara Valley prune, who ends up being more acidic than the sweet-tempered prunes that call the Valley of Hearts Delight home. If you need a prototype for a Streamlined Modern dried fruit packing facility, definitely check out the cartoon version of Sunsweet's San Jose plant.

Seriously, it's a great little film, and kept my wife and mother-in-law giggling.

[Thanks to the California Pioneers of the Santa Clara Valley for re-editing and posting this video!]

Sunday, August 12, 2012

U.S. Products Revisited

Even after a fair amount of searching, there's not a lot available about the United States Products cannery beyond what I've already mentioned. But here's a last photo that I picked up (at a sane price) on EBay. This looks like a John C. Gordon photo; it resembles many of his photos available at the San Jose Public Library, but I didn't see this particular photo when going through their collection.

And you've got to admit, U.S. Products looks solid, productive, successful, and just a bit intimidating in this nice view from across Race St. looking east. Moorpark would be just to our right, as seen by the railroad crossing sign in the right foreground. San Jose Public Library has another photo showing the main building head on, but it loses all the magic of the landscaping in the foreground of this photo.

It's also a nice reminder of what life in the 1920's was like. The photo's taken from the front drive of a small Victorian bungalow across the street from the cannery, with a dirt driveway leading to a dirt Race St. If I were more conspiracy focused, I'd be asking why they've got a space capsule sitting there on the dock. I'd also direct the conspiracy-minded to the telephone poll where a flyer reads "DANGER" (or is it "DANCE!"?) And how about those decorative diamonds along the front facade's roofline?

And the next time you're at one of Western Appliance's warehouse sales, look across the street at the condos and think about the fact that the neighborhood's a good deal quieter now.

Spot anything else in the photos? Leave a note in the comments!

[Photo from my own collection.]