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.]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back When South San Francisco Was "The Industrial City"

I may be a big fan of the fruit and canning industry in San Jose, but I've still got a soft spot for places farther north, like all the industry around "South City", as South San Francisco is known in the area. South City had the slaughterhouses, the Bethlehem Steel mill, the paint factories, and lots of other heavy industry in its day, now all buried underneath the corporate campuses of biotech firms like Genentech.

Anyone growing up on the peninsula in the 1970's remembers driving past the Bethlehem Steel facility along the Bayshore Freeway, but the property just behind there was Edwards Wire Rope Co., maker of wire rope for those building America. Jack Burgess searched out information about them in regards to the wire rope used to haul lumber cars up the side of the Merced River canyon to logging areas, and found this neat slideshow showing the work of the factory.

Also check out the Southern Pacific's SPINS maps of South San Francisco for more hints about the sheer number of industries there "back in the day."