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.

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