Sunday, March 11, 2012

Finding Rare Paper: Arrival Postcards from 1908

If you've been reading the blog for the last couple years, you know that I've been doing more historical research recently. That's included improving my Google search skills, buying odd books on the canning and fruit packing business, and searching library web sites for old photos.

But, of course, there's other sources out there that aren't on the Web, and that got me driving out to Stockton yesterday. The Winterrail railroad photo exposition is well known among west coast railfans for its elaborate railfan-made slide shows and movies. I'd never been and wasn't up for a day of railroad photos, but I did stop by the co-located swap meet in hopes of finding some interesting historical documents and photos that'll help me model San Jose in the 1930's. I got a couple nice finds, too.

These two postcards were mailed out by the Southern Pacific when a shipment billed to the destination arrived in town. Once the consignee paid the shipping bill, their car (or less-than-carload-freight) would get released or the car would be spotted at the plant. While business at the turn of the century might have been conducted with a handshake, the Southern Pacific preferred their cash up front, thank you.

Both cards were sent to the Golden Gate Packing Company in San Jose. One, dated June 28,1908, lists two cars, one containing "Shoox" (box shook, another name for the unassembled box lumber) from Anderson California, up near Red Bluff. Another arrival the same day contained sugar from the C&H sugar refinery in Crockett. The second postcard, dated September 25, 1909, contained "Gr" or "Dr Peaches", and arrived in UP 45249. All the boxcars are from the Union Pacific - which might seem odd until we remember that the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific were both part of the Harriman era at the time. At any other time, it would seem odd that Union Pacific cars were being used to carry loads that started and ended on the SP, and weren't on a path that would speed their return to UP tracks. If there's any UP modelers out there who know more about these particular cars, I'd be interested in hearing.

The Official Railway Equipment Register from 1908 tells us more about these cars. The box shook arrived in UP 72201, a modern-for-the-time, 40 foot (inside dimensions), 50 ton capacity boxcar - the most modern of the arrivals. The sugar arrived in the less modern UP 55898, a 33 foot, 25 ton capacity boxcar. The peaches arrived in UP 45249, a short 33 foot 20 ton boxcar which had been eclipsed so swiftly by more modern boxcar designs that even though it probably wasn't more than 20 years old, it was not long for this world.

These loads show a bit of what needs to come into a cannery during the season. We can guess at outgoing cargo rates; for example, that Golden Gate cannery packed 65,000 cases of fruit and vegetables in 1901. We know the canneries were shipping canned goods out, and we also know the canned fruit business, like the dried fruit business, requires keeping large warehouses so you can slowly sell your stock over the year. So we'd expect a cannery to have a steady flow of boxcars out. Most of it probably left by train because there was no other way to get the products out to Eastern markets or onto ships to Europe - Bay Area roads, though uncongested, probably weren't up for a long stream of trucks carrying canned goods to the piers at San Francisco.

It's harder historically to make guesses about what came in on the railroad. These cards show how box material could come directly from the sawmills, how cane sugar was used for the heavy syrups used in canning, and how additional fruit could be brought in by train. Photos of peaches arriving in stock cars at the Richmond Chase cannery in the 1920's remind us that the cannery could import fruit so it could keep the production lines running even as the local area's crop finished. The lack of available cars during the rush probably meant the less-capable and popular cars got the job of hauling the fruit. Cards like these give us more clues about what the ebb and flow of supplies might have been like to the cannery, and what should be in those boxcars arriving at our model canneries.

Next time: History of the Golden Gate Packing Co.

[Postcards: my collection.]

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