Monday, December 30, 2013

Map: Typical Local Freight Switching in Northern California

And today, another installment in the "if I find something interesting, scan it and put it on the internet" department. Let me know what you find in this!

Our local model railroad organization, the Pacific Coast region of the National Model Railroad Association, has quarterly meets; I haven't been in the habit of attending, but decided to visit for a change this month. The Sunday event includes some presentations, some demonstrations and contests, and a well-known auction of model railroad equipment. I put in a few bids on some a few items, including some out-of-production models and a box full of random books and paper. I went after the box primarily for the book on top, but my low bid still managed to let me win. And while the book was nice, there were some interesting finds in the box - a menu from Krushchev's train trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco, some post cards, and an interesting map.

And that map deserves a bit of attention.

1938 Southern Pacific LocalFreights

The map shows railroad routes in Northern California; a note on the back explained that it came from a 1938 California Railroad Commission report showing the "routes taken by Southern Pacific local freights" - that is, it showed where freights going between towns typically started and ended, and which routes were only rarely served. For someone like me interested in reproducing how trains and crews actually worked, the map hints at which yards were busiest, which way freights went, and which locations were expected to have heavier traffic.

Some quick looks at the map show some interesting facts. Look first at Edenvale, just south of San Jose. Although Edenvale was only a few miles south of San Jose, the map indicates that trains from Watsonville Junction actually handled Edenvale boxcars as part of switching Gilroy, Hollister, Tres Pinos, and other places south of San Jose, all in one big loop. Congress Junction, located out by Cupertino was switched by crews from the San Jose yard, but usually by going up to Redwood City, looping down the Mayfield Cutoff through Los Altos and Cupertino, then turning around and heading back to Mayfield (California Ave. in Palo Alto) and returning to San Jose. Danville was more commonly switched by trains from Pittsburg and Port Costa, while trains from King City might be served from far-away Watsonville Junction or Santa Margarita.

Up north in the Capay Valley along the west side of the Sacramento Valley, the trains and crews came from Sacramento and not the nearer Fairfield or Vacaville. Trains from Sacramento to Placerville appeared to have enough business so the train crews couldn't just go up and back, but instead would start and end shifts at the end of the Placerville branch.

For my Vasona Branch, the obvious lessons are "don't run trains to Edenvale", "trains to Los Gatos are really rare", and "don't expect trains to arrive at Vasona Junction very often". If I'd known all this before I'd built my layout, I might have been tempted to downplay Campbell and Los Gatos, or at least to omit Vasona Junction in favor of a nice scene including Sewall Brown's apricot pit plant. But at some point, the model railroad is about fun, not accuracy, so when you come to operate on the Vasona Branch, prepare to see an unnatural number of trains passing through Campbell...

What do you see? Add any comments about the maps in the comment section, and help share some of the unexpected oddities of 1930's era freights!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

San Jose depot train shed almost done!

As we approach the 78th anniversary of the closing of San Jose's Market Street station, I'm proud to show off the model I'd intended to build ten years ago when I started the Market Street shelf layout: the train shed. After about a year of on-again, off-again work (mostly off), the roof's on, the model's painted, and the detail trim is in place. There's still some additional detailing and paint touch-up, but it's great to see the model in place.

The completed train shed

Here's a close-up of the completed train shed. Pay no attention to the poor collapsed gardener in the foreground; he's probably suffering from alcoholism. Or cholera. Or he'd bought too many shares of Transamerica back in '28.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Night XVII: The Great Flood of March 7, 1911

The folks at the Sourisseau Academy, the local historical archive at San Jose State, have been putting together videos with some of the photos and memorabilia in their collection. With the help of the videographers at WMS Media, they've put together some interesting shows. Poke through WMS Media's videos at Vimeo for the full list, or check out the Great Flood of 1911 video below. No canning content, but hopefully you got all canned out from the last few videos.

The Great Flood of March 7, 1911 - San Jose from WMS media Inc. on Vimeo.

The video's been sponsored by the folks at the Orchestria Palm Court, a early 20th century restaurant in downtown San Jose providing food and fountain drinks as well as entertainment from their collection of player pianos, coin-operated phonographs, and other early 20th century musical instruments. I'm a little disturbed by their lack of prunes and apricots, but it still looks like it's worth a stop!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie Night XVI: "Miracle of the Can"

American Can Co., San Jose

When I've been searching for pre-1910 information on canneries, I see a lot of comments about the hassle that is can-making. There's the random can-makers that pop up and disappear. There's the stories of trying to hire - and retain expert solderers to keep your cannery running. There's the hot solder. There's the battles over patents. Before mass production, cans were produced by skilled craftsman who could pretty much name their own price. However, by about 1905, can making machinery was perfected, and all the craftsmanship was a lost art.

I never knew how cans were made by hand, but luckily this video from the American Can Company shows how cans were made in the good old days (from 10:30 to 12:30). Watch real Hollywood actors use the period jigs and soldering pots to produce 600 cans a day. And after that's all over, the American Can Company will give you a look - in extremely gory detail - on how cans were mass-produced. If you've ever been curious what was going on at the American Can Plant on Martha Street, now you'll know. If you wanted to know how the sides were formed and crimped, you'll know. If you were curious about the gaskets for can bottoms, where extra metal is cut away, pressure-testing, flanging, the size of metal blanks, or how many of the machines could take your finger off just like that if you weren't careful - well, whether you want to know that or not, you're going to find out.

(If video is cut off on the sides, watch it here.)

[Video via Internet Archive, preserved by the Prelinger Archives.]

Movie Night XV: "Golden Harvest" and "Out Of the Spirit of '49"

Tonight's movie is courtesy of the California Packing Corporation, filmed to celebrate 50 years of Del Monte. The film is actually a mix of 1960's documentary and a collection of promotional films from 1900 through the 1930's. It's a combination of a celebration of California and of the canneries; if you're looking for the cannery shots, you'll have to fast-forward past the missions and "rolling hills" shots, but there's some neat shots of Plant #7 (Emeryville), the correct way to prepare pears and apricots, the action on the asparagus canning line, and a great shot of a farmer checking his orchard next to his Model A. Bonus points for anyone who can name which plants are visible from 4:50 on... though be warned the shots make it very obvious how CalPak had a single architectural style.

There's also some shots from (I suspect) that Del Monte-sponsored silent film about the boy who wants to be a cannery superintendent. The melodrama isn't that exciting, but the huge paddle fans cooling the women and the boxes of fruit sure highlight what must have been a messy job! And where else will you see a close-up of removing the pit from a peach?

And the San Francisco fans will appreciate shots of the Alaska Packers Association pier in San Francisco pre-1916.

"Fifty-year old companies are a lot like fifty year old people - they like to reminisce."

(Full video here if the video above is cut off.)

And after you've watched that, check out Del Monte's 1940's dried fruit processing video. There's some neat shots of prune, apricot, and raisin processing along with some cannery shots. Check out the apricot drying yard action shots around the 7:00 mark, and tell me if you can identify the Del Monte plant at the 9:00 mark!

(Full video here)

[Both videos courtesy of / Prelinger Library's collection of commercial ephemera.]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Making Beautiful Historic Maps

A couple years back, I mentioned a San Jose Japantown historic map which showed not only the location of the businesses and community sites for San Jose's center for Japanese-Americans, but also highlighted the canneries clustered around Eighth and Taylor Streets on the edge of Japantown.

I'd missed the fact that Ben Pease, the artist behind that map, has done similar ones for many other California towns with that attracted Japanese immigrants. His Japantown Atlas includes similar maps for San Francisco, Sacramento, Walnut Grove, Lodi, as well as many more towns in Central and Southern California. Many of the immigrant communities were close to the railroads and to the canneries, so if you're researching either the industries, the trains, or the towns, you'll probably be familiar with the locations. The San Luis Obispo Japantown, for example, was a block located just next to the Pacific Coast Railway's yard, helping me better understand the locations around that yard, as mentioned in Tom Knapp's presentation on his Nn3 modular layout at last year's Bay Area Layout Design and Operations Weekend.

And that's a great opening to remind you all that if you're interested in model railroads, history, or model railroad operations, come on over to Alameda on January 25 and 26, 2014 for my favorite model railroad event of the year. The Layout Design and Operations meet is always a great program, with talks, clinics, and layout design advice on Saturday, followed by chances to operate on local model railroads on Sunday.

See y'all there!

Torture! Torture in the Pages of the Evening News!

Honestly, who could blame him?

From the July 21, 1919 San Jose Evening News:

"'Scoop' M'Henry Objects to Some Forms of Torture"
It may be all right to work in the 'cots all day long---you get paid for that---but there is a limit to all things. Our esteemed friend, Murphy "Scoop" McHenry, son of Manager F. J. McHenry of the Hotel Montgomery and champion 'cot slinger of the Pratt-Low cannery, has reached that limit and he has objected---very seriously objected.
Since working in the big cannery this summer "Scoop" has been making his residence at the Montgomery, because of the fact that his family residence is a little far out.
Last night, tired and worn from an arduous day with the 'cots, our hero came ambling into the hotel lobby. He has no regular room.
"Where are you going to stick me tonight?" he queried of the clerk.
"Well, Murph," came the reply, "we are full up tonight and there isn't a room left, but we'll fix you up on a cot!"
"Scoop" assumed an air of great scorn and in a decidedly determined voice replied: "Not on your life you won't. What do you think I am? I'm perfectly willing to work in the 'cots all day, but when it comes to sleeping on one---well---just count Murphy McHenry out!"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Do You Hear Me, Bowman?"

Ah, the fun of all that wacky new technology. From the September 11, 1885 San Jose Daily News comes the following story:
Agonizing Experience of a Business Man This Morning
A telephone in a certain business place in this city is in use so much by loud voiced manipulators, with strong breaths, that it is in crippled condition about half the time.
It was unusually bad this morning when the principal chin worker wanted to communicate with Superintendent Bowman, of the Golden Gate Packing Company.
Then the people within a circuit of fifty of sixty yards heard the following.
"Ting aling aling: Ting aling aling."
"Just give me the Golden Gate Packing Company."
"Hello! Hello! Hello!"
"Do you hear me Bowman? Hello? Hel-lo-o-o-o-o-o Bowman, can you hear me now? I can't hear you - I mean you can't hear me. Can you? Hel-lo-o-o-o-o-o. (aside.) There's something serious the matter with the thing. I can't make him hear to save my life!"
A News reporter who stood by, tried to help him out and said:
"Well, why don't you put it in?"
"Put what in?"
"Your mouth. You must put it into that funnel and then talk in a natural tone. In that way, the danger of explosion is considerably lessened."
"Put my mouth inside the tube? Why what in the world are you talking about? This tube is not more than an inch in diameter and-"
"Of course I understand that your mouth is about four inches across. You used it too much when you were young, and before your cheek got hard; but nevertheless, she says, that the mouth must go in if you want to do a satisfactory business over the Sunset line. You must wrap or fold your lips up somehow or you'll have to walk to the Golden Gate."
"What do you mean by 'she'?"
"The daisy at the Central, of course."
"You're joking?"
"Oh, no. She told me this morning. She don't know me; she might now have said it if she ever saw my mouth; for of course she knows that this is only an ordinary funnel on this telephone."
The man then grabbed a handful of his mouth, pushed it into the funnel and yelled "hello" so loud that all the bells on the line commenced ringing.
"Can you talk as loud as that any time you want to?" asked the reporter.
"Why, yes, even louder." said the man.
"Well, then. I don't see why you want to waste your time on that instrument when the man you want to talk to is less than a mile away. If I was you I'd go to the window and tell Bowman that you want to talk to him."
Then the man walked rapidly away while the silvery smile of the telephone girl floated gently across the line.
Too bad Verizon wasn't maintaining those telephones.

Golden Gate Packing got in the news a lot, and not just for crank phone calls. The San Jose Evening News managed to preserve for posterity that Elmer Chase, who learned the fruit business Golden Gate and refined his techniques at Richmond-Chase, was also a bit of an actor, playing the title role in a Spring 1886 production of The Mikado:

Elmer Chase is Chased by a Watch Dog on Third Street
About 11 o'clock last evening, as Mikado Chase was returning home from a rehearsal of the "Pirates,", he met with quite an adventure at the corner of Third and Julian street.
Mr Chase was softly humming: "From every kind of man obedience I expect. // I'm the Emperor of Japan and..."
The selection was interrupted at this point by Mr. Chase being seized by the left leg by a large dog, who had sneaked upon him from the rear.
It was nip and tuck between the Mikado and dog for a hundred yards, the latter succeeding in nipping off a piece of the Mikado's pants, while Mr. Chase jumped a fence eleven feet high, in the rear of the Golden Gate Packing Company, at one bound.
This dog has a very unpleasant way of nabbing passers-by in this locality in the still night hours, and he seems to enjoy it, as he never barks until he has taken the bark from the pedestrian's shin.
Mr. Chase sustained no serious injuries, but when he reached the other side of the fence his pants looked like a last years birds nest.
That's the problem with Silicon Valley these days. There's no problem in getting everyone out to Black Rock Desert for Burning Man, but you'll never get them to volunteer for Gilbert and Sullivan.

Movie Night XIV: 1930's Oakland Home Movies

Bay Area folks will appreciate these photos of Oakland in the 1930's, with photos of the City of San Francisco being towed through Alameda, followed by shots of the trains approaching and leaving the Oakland Mole ferry terminal. There's no cannery content, though there's some neat shots of planes at Oakland Airport (and perhaps Alameda) if you're into that sort of thing... Great thanks to whoever thought to preserve these home movies!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Irrational Exuberance in the Canning Industry

And they complain about crazy wages and perks in high tech.

The August 29, 1889 San Jose Evening News shared this magical fact:

The Colusa Herald says the head canner in John Bidwell's cannery at Chico gets more salary than a United States Senator at Washington.

Besides, when did you ever see a U.S. Senator who could solder a lid on a can of peaches?

Betweeen canning wages, orchestras playing for the packing house girls, and free transport to the canneries, it's surprising that folks in San Jose worked anywhere other than the cannery.

I'll also mention, without comment, how George Church drove his express wagon in from of the 10:21 Monterey train on Third Street. (Obviously, distracted drivers were a problem even back in the horse-and-buggy days.) It's not a particularly essential news article, but it's a nice reminder of how dangerous those crossings around the Market Street station could be. We also find about how the nice folks over at the Golden Gate Cannery on Fourth Street helped Church off the pilot of the locomotive.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

West Side Story, set in Campbell

I wonder if Preiser makes HO teenage gang figurines? It looks like they may be a necessary part for building a model of a cannery. And for those of you who always feared that Campbell was a violent town: congrats, you've been proven right.

A gang fight which has been culminating at the Ainsley cannery at Campbell some time past broke out last night and for a time threatened to develop into serious proportions.
The seat of the trouble is the animosity of the Campbell faction to the outsiders who are given employment at the cannery and there have been numerous indications of feeling within the past few days.
By a tacit agreement, it was decided to settle the contention last evening by permitting the leaders, Frank Weeks for the town boys and George Hyer for the aliens, to engage in fistie combat and the opposing gang lined up at the closing hour to witness the fray between the champions.
Weeks was outside the cannery ready to do battle when Hyer came forth, but instead of doffing his coat and rolling up his sleeves the alien leader drew a big revolver and fired point blank at Weeks.
The bullet whizzed just above Weeks shoulder so close that the clothing was penetrated. Hyer then held the other faction at bay with his weapon and made his escape from town.
Word of the shooting was sent to Sheriff Ross and Deputy Sheriff Cottle arrived at the cannery in time to prevent further trouble. A warrant was sworn out for the arrest of Hyer on the charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder, and he was captured while attempting to escape on an outbound train from Campbell shortly after midnight.
This morning Hyer was brought before Judge Benson for arraignment and his preliminary examination was set for Thursday morning at 10 o'clock.
It is stated that there is danger of further trouble at Campbell as the local boys declare that they should be given preference at work in the fruit over strangers.
Seriously, conflict between the locals and out-of-towners for jobs was a challenge for the canneries in lean years; in the 1930's, there's comments about Ainsley giving priority to workers who had been at the cannery in previous years. For the crops that didn't attract locals, such as the pea harvest in Alameda County, there was always the tension of huge numbers of outsiders appearing, especially if the workers showed up before the harvest started. (See, for example, Migratory Labor in the California Market Pea Crop by Raymond Barry.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Where to Put the Switchmans' Shanties?

Last week, I'd told you about E.O. Smith's collection of engineering drawings that he'd just put online; one of those plans specified the new location for a switchman's shanty off Race Street in the West San Jose cannery district.

Now, it's really nice that the "Friendly" Southern Pacific was willing to place a little building on Race Street so the switchmen would have a place to get warm, use a bathroom, and paper every surface with porn (link suitable for work - it's a quote from one of Linda Niemann's books) in a very 20th century industrial way. Still, I'd sort of thought that the Southern Pacific was... well, cheap. Really cheap. Like, wouldn't spend a dime to make employees suffer less cheap. Race Street's only a half mile from the San Jose Yard, and I couldn't imagine the SP being generous enough to put an extra building down there.

So, of course, I asked E.O.; after all, he'd switched boxcars on the Vasona branch. His response:

Shanties: I'm not clear about union agreements regarding them, but they were placed anywhere that crews did a lot of local switching. The ones I know of in San Jose: Newhall, St., Brokaw Road, North Yard (Mulford Line near Fibreglass), Alameda St. Cahill St., Park Ave., Race Street, Luther Jct., 4th Street north of Valbrick, 8th & Taylor, and an old transfer caboose used as one at Campbell. There also must have been one at the WP Valbrick interchange, but I don't remember it. The outlying shanties were wallpapered with old Playboy centerfolds. I'm sure that I've missed some that were in the outlying zones.

So that's a surprise for me, and also a nice bit of detail I should repeat on my layout: make sure there's a small building around each of the major switching areas so the crews have a handy place to get out of the rain on winter nights. (And no, I don't really want to know how the crews covered the walls back in 1932.) I'm really curious where the transfer caboose was at Campbell; I'm certain it wasn't around in 1932 - there was no sign of any outbuildings around the station except an outhouse and a tollhouse - but I'm curious enough about Campbell that I'm willing to study .

And y'all, if you like your switchmen, ought to do the same. Do you have enough places for them to warm up out of the rain?

Now That's A Fire!

“If you want to find a dried fruit packing house, just look for the fire.” I wrote that a few months back, and it becomes a more accurate statement each time I look. I just found another newspaper archive site, and as is usual, started off with a search on ‘“packing house” fire’, and immediately got another hundred articles to look at. Two of them were particularly cool and worth sharing; today's will be the famous Rosenberg Brothers November 1906 fire.

In 1906, Rosenberg Brothers had a dried fruit packing house on the north side of the San Jose yard along Ryland Street. Their packing house was closest to the river, with Inderridden and Warren Dried Fruit in warehouses further east along Ryland Street. That plant burned spectacularly in November 1906; I previously reported on the fire back in May, and while the San Jose Mercury's article lines up factually with the San Jose Evening News article I cited before, the Mercury's reporter did a much better job of setting the scene. Better yet, the Mercury was printing photos in their paper back in 1906.

And, oh, was it ever a fire, with the San Jose Mercury describing it as the most damaging fire in San Jose history. The fire not only destroyed Rosenberg Brothers, but threatened Inderridden’s packing house as well as all the freight cars in the yard.

Rosenberg Brothers was a block in length, three floors high, with a wooden frame and corrugated iron roof. It also had fifteen hundred tons of prunes, and two hundred fifty tons more in freight cars against the loading dock. Rosenberg didn’t own the building; it was instead owned by Mrs. J.C. Webber of Chicago, probably the heiress of the C. M. Webber and Company who formerly used the plant.

The Mercury did a great job of describing the scene:

“At 1:30 o’clock yesterday morning a switching crew on the night shift in the railroad yards saw flames in the boiler-room of the Rosenberg packing house. The engineer at once sent out the railroad fire call, four long drawn blasts, in succession. Another engine at work in the east end of the yards heard the warning whistle and repeated it. Then another took it up and further spread the alarm. Someone living across the street called the fire department by telephone…. but in the meantime the flames had spread in the long warehouse from end to end, roof to basement. It was aflame… the Rosenberg packing house was provided with an underground tank where a car load of crude oil used as fuel could be stored. There were probably 5000 gallons of oil in the tank last night.”

One of the first goals for the railroad crews was to try to rescue nearby freight cars:

"While the department was endeavoring to keep the fire from spreading to the packing house of the J. B. Inderrieden Company adjoining the Rosenberg property, a large force of railroad men were working to save the crowded yards from destruction.
Three or four switch engines and crews were called into service. The burning cars were coupled to locomotives and pulled to empty tracks where they could burn without causing further damage to neighboring cars. But in spite of all that, fourteen cars were destroyed, seven of them only until the trucks protruded from the ashes, and seven more damaged almost beyond repair..."
By six o'clock the Southern Pacific had about 100 Japanese laborers on the scene to clear away the wreckage of the cars. At that hour all that was left of the building owned and occupied by Rosenberg Brothers was a long heap of glowing prunes and ashes from the center of which, high on its brick foundation, the wreck of the boiler protruded.
I'm a bit surprised at the Japanese laborers, for I hadn't thought of Japanese immigrants as likely section hands. But the SP was hiring Japanese in those days.

The photo accompanying the article shows the skeletal boxcars clearly, along with the firewall and Inderridden warehouse visible through the smoke. The reporter was also kind enough to report on those freight cars for those of us interested in the freight cars that would make it to San Jose: one Armour refrigerator car, and thirteen boxcars, three from the Santa Fe, two from the Chicago North Western, one from the Rock Island, and the remaining eight from the “Harriman System” (aka Southern Pacific and Union Pacific). That's not too surprising a mix if the fruit was headed to Chicago, but perhaps a bit midwest-focused if the crop was going to New York.

One last discovery from this article was the dangers of prunes; I'd never thought of them as incendiary, but obviously I was just being naive:

"The fruit was processed and highly inflammable, radiant heat so intense that for hours streams of water were played constantly upon the twelve or fifteen houses on the opposite side of the street to prevent them taking fire.... Prunes burn much like soft coal full of gases, giving forth a blue blaze and holding fire for an incredibly long time. Chief Tonkin said it did practically no good to turn water on burning fruit. A cloud of steam arose, hung overhead for a time, and in a few minutes the prunes were burning as fiercely as ever."

It's a wonder we aren't heating our houses with prunes, but I'll bet the firewood lobby had something to do with it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

History Quiz: Name Those Tanks!

So here's a challenge for all you San Jose historians (and San Jose wannabe-historians): can you identify this business?

The Dome of Foam posted photos of a business that used to be located behind the Lick Mansion off of Montague Expressway in Santa Clara. It's a curious place, with a bunch of large tanks, and some turn-of-the-century frame houses bristling with pipes and pumps and heaters. But what is it? E.O., who runs the Dome of Foam, doesn't know, and my Southern Pacific San Jose SPINS book doesn't cover sidings that far north.

Got a guess? Mail E.O. (address on contest page), and drop a note in the comments here so the rest of us can be educated.

Bonus points if one of the Silicon Valley FreemoN model builders puts a version of the building on their modular layout.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More SP Engineering Drawings... From the Dome of Foam!

Last year, I told you about going on eBay and buying a 170 SP engineering drawings from the 1940's, then scanning them all and putting them up on Flickr. I don't think I mentioned that I'd also bid on a couple other sets, but managed to get outbid.

Well, luckily, one of those high bidders was E.O. Gibson, Caltrain engineer, train order instructor, and owner of the Dome of Foam, one of my favorite railroad (and San Jose-related) web sites. (Haven't read the Dome of Foam yet? Go do it now! Shoo!) E.O. just scanned his set of drawings, and put them up on the web.

Dome of Foam Southern Pacific Engineering Drawings

There's some cool details for both San Jose modelers and SP fans whose interests run a bit further from the main office. For us San Jose fans, there's a great plan of the tracks around the United States Products and Contadina cannery off of Race St. The plan shows way more spurs branching off the Los Gatos branch than either the SPINS books or Sanborn maps show. There's also some nice plans of tracks near Bassett St. and Ryland St. up by the Market Street station. Another drawing hints at the location of the Drew Canning Company, formerly in the Ainsley cannery, now off of Lafayette Street in Santa Clara.

Going further afield shows additional cool drawings, such as a great sketch of the buildings at the Surf depot near Lompoc, and another showing all the packing houses along the tracks in Winters.

Go check both sets out and see what bits of history you discover. If you check out my Flickr set of drawings, add comments right on the pictures; if you see something interesting on the Dome of Foam drawings, drop a note to E.O. with your discovery!

Question TimeAnd here's a question for all you smart folks out there: why would SP build a switchman's shanty and bathroom off at Race Street and Moorpark in San Jose, when they're so close to Cahill St. Station?

[Drawing of Race Street switchman's shanty and toilet from the Southern Pacific Coast / Western Divisions Engineering Drawings on / the Dome of Foam. Great thanks to E.O. for sharing them!]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Too Many Italians?

Fill it up! We're overrun!

When I'm poking around at San Jose history, my favorite source is the San Jose Evening News back issues, easily available through Google News Archive. (Read 'em while you can; Google News Archive project was stopped in 2011, and although they're keeping the old issues up, I could imagine them going away some day.) The Evening News seems quite modern to my eyes, compared to other papers. (The Campbell Interurban Express, for example, used some syndicated editorial cartoonist who was pretty strongly anti-immigrant.)

However, there's still surprises. For example, in 1919, an anonymous writer gnashed his teeth at the presumption of Italian work crews to start thinking they could run the formerly Anglo-Saxon orchards:

Is the working of the orchards of Santa Clara county passing out of the hands of the owners of the orchards, and will this in time bring on a condition such as there is in England where aristocrats own the land, middle class farmers lease it, and a fixed class of farm laborers do the actual work?
That is one of the questions which occur to anyone who studies the cherry industry in this county. And the thing that brings up this question is the way that Italian and Slavonian middlemen are sliding into the handling of most of the cherry crops. As already stated in this series, in the old days the orchardist generally attended to his own picking and packing, hiring the labor and superintending it, and owning the output of the orchard himself until the day it was sold in New York or some other big eastern city. But now Slavonian and Italian middlemen go to the orchardist, and make a bid for the entire crop as it hangs on the tree. If the bid is accepted, the orchardist's work for the season is finished. The middleman hires and superintends the labor of picking and packing.

...For it is an economic fact which is of precisely the sort that presages all sorts of social and political changes.

The orchardists are most of them of native American stock. They find themselves unable to cope with the problem of hiring and superintending the labor needed, which is generally of foreign origin. It is just here where the middleman comes in. A Slavonian or Italian himself, he has command of sources of labor supply which the American simply cannot reach. He brings his cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, wife, and his friends, and their friends. He performs a valuable service, of course, but the orchardists seem to feel that he gets a pretty big share of the proceeds.

Orchardist after orchardist testifies to the tendency of middlemen to slip into the orchard business.

"What's the matter? Haven't we got the ability to handle our own affairs?" asked on orchardist in discussing the matter.

Most of the article continues on the fear that the orchard lands would eventually be owned by distant rich owners, but the wording - comments on the lack of a beautiful home in the orchards, but instead "some shacks occupied by Japanese laborers, and a cheap little house occupied by the [foreign] foreman and his wife."

Kind of a scary proposition - who knows what the Valley might have been like if the Slavonian and Italian middlemen started grabbing the majority of the profits in the Santa Clara Valley, and then started building their homes in the midst of their rented and owned land? Heck, they might have ended up dominating the fruit industry!

[Albert T. Reid editorial cartoon from a Campbell Interurban Express issue, probably in the early 1930's.]

Crossing the Boundary Between Modeling and History

As I've said over and over, one of the challenges of modeling the 1930's (or of doing family history) is that I can't just rely on experiences with my childhood or stories from friends to understand what San Jose, or the canning industry, or the agricultural industry was like. At some point, I've got to switch from an interested model railroader to an amateur historian, and I need to search out the documents that might explain what life was like.

I've already explained how documents on home loan redlining could tell me about the ethnicities in particular neighborhoods and fears of loan officers, but here's two more documents that are worth a glance.

Tenant Farmers: First is a study by the Commonwealth Club in the early 1930's about tenant farmers in different counties of California. (Commonwealth Club Tenancy Studies: April-June 1932, reported by R. L. Adams.) The first pages list the questions the club was asking, but generally, they were curious about whether renting land or owning land was better for the community. As a side note, they gave some nice, objective data about the agricultural industry in different areas.

For example:

The Amador valley of the region around Pleasanton is largely given over to tenant farming. Dairying is scattered throughout the lower and flatter irrigated lands. Hay and grain is dry-farmed in the valley and foothills... the so-called vegetable land is held by large companies and leased for sugar beet, beans, and the like. Vineyards are located to the south and southeast of Pleasanton. Almost without exception they are owner-operated...
The majority of tenants are to be found in the hay and grain sections. Closely following is the alfalfa land on which are run dairies... nationalities are as follows: Americans 50% - Foreign 50%. OF the american, quote a large percentage is of foreign extraction... Portuguese 40-60%, Scandinavian 20-30%, Italian 10-20%, German 5-15%, Asiatic: negligible. There is a very sparse sprinkling of Irish, and practically no Swiss.

For Alameda County and for the area around Hayward, the author notes that many of the farmers were Portuguese, and while some farms were tenant-owned, most of the fruit ranches were owned by the farmers.

Sadly, there's nothing on Santa Clara County, but it might be great data for understanding the farms and products for someone modeling another part of California.

How Do You Harvest Tomatoes? As much as we think of Santa Clara County canneries as preserving our apricots, peaches, and pears, tomatoes was also a common canning crop; as late as the 1960's, folks remember the smell of cooking tomatoes coming from Del Monte Plant #3 on San Carlos St. in San Jose. Now, I've commented on some of the process for processing fruit in the past, but how did tomatoes get handled? Here's the information - a contract for picking tomatoes in the Almaden Valley (San Vicente Ranch Contract for Picking Tomatoes, Los Gatos CA, August 31, 1927). Frank and John Joseph, probably the ranch managers for Harry Schumann's San Vicente Ranch, were contracting with C. M. Gomez to pick crops on McKean Road in the Almaden Valley, and they spell out both the process and the price:

"It is agreed that the party of the second part shall pick all the 1927 crop of tomatoes now growing on the Schumann ranch known as San Vicente ranch situated on the McKeen Rd. It is agreed that the picking shall be done in a clean manner and that no rotten or unfit tomatoes shall be placed in the boxes. It is agreed tomatoes shall be placed in boxes by party of the second part along wagon roads made through the tomato field by party of the first part.
It is agreed that as many pickings shall be made and at such times as the party of the first part shall designate. Also that party of the second part shall not harm tomatoes vines any more than is absolutely necessary in the picking operation.
It is agreed that parties of the first part shall pay party of the second part the sum of two dollars and sixty cents ($2.60) per net ton of tomatoes upon completion of the picking job. However if party of the second part should desire small advances to pay men or buy food, then party of the first part may make such advances at his pleasure."
These days, of course, tomatoes are all mechanized; the fields are swept in a single pass that pulls up all the vines, and the tomatoes are separated from the vines mechanically. The idea of multiple passes and "not harming the vines" makes the tomato harvest sound very manual and very hard.

But the neat thing is the document says a little about harvesting, and helps us guess at harvesting costs. Last year, I'd looked at that balance sheet for Farm Product Sales, and guessed they processed around 2200 tons of fresh tomatoes a year. FPS spent about $6600.00 to harvest their tomatoes; at $2.05/ton to pick and another $1.00/ton to get the tomatoes to the packing shed and packed for shipping, the 2200 ton guess is looking mighty reasonable.

Both these documents are mighty esoteric, and I don't really need to know any of this to run trains around my model railroad. However, they do help me understand the place I'm modeling and the people who were involved. Sometimes, that'll help with local color, such as choosing names for businesses; sometimes, it'll help to explain to folks why a particular ranch would have been similar to the one their Italian or Mexican grandparents rented or worked. Having those stories helps make the model railroad that much more special.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hints on Following the Vasona Branch Blog

Just as a little side note: I know I haven't been blogging regularly lately. If you've been keeping up by visiting these pages every week, you're probably a trifle annoyed that nothing's changed. Remember that there's better ways to watch for new articles from me than just checking the same link day after day:
  • Twitter: follow me at @rwbowdidge. I always post Twitter entries when I publish a new entry, so you should see a quick mention in your Twitter feed. I also share random comments and links on Bay Area history, so you should regularly see some fun content.
  • Google Plus: I also share new blog entries on Google Plus. Add me to one of your circles to get notifications when new articles are added. I also tend to use Google Plus to share computer-related content, but if you like Google Plus, it might be the easiest way to watch for new articles.
  • RSS Readers: There's a bunch of programs on desktop and tablet computers called "RSS readers" that watch a set of web pages you like for new content. (Don't ask what RSS stands for, just realize it means that you'll see new stuff on websites you care about.) Google Reader was unfortunately my favorite way to follow a large list of blogs, but it was recetly shut down. I currently use Feedly to give me a single web page showing new articles from a hundred blogs and online magazines - some history-related, some architecture related, and some just plain weird.
  • Flipboard and other rss-like readers: Flipboard, an iPad-based electronic magazine reader, takes the RSS reader idea, and makes it beautiful. Flipboard allows you to create a new section for items shared by a set of Twitter users, or that would be displayed to you on Google Plus. You can create a section for a specific Twitter user (press the magnifying glass in the upper right, and type @rwbowdidge to get a section just on my Twitter posts), or a section for a Twitter List (list of twitter users to watch simultaneously), or just have it show all the messages you'd see in Twitter. You can also create your own "magazine section" by adding articles you find elsewhere, and let other people see the items you share. If you've got an iPad and aren't using Flipboard every day, you're using your iPad wrong. I love Flipboard; it's part of my morning read-the-newspapers routine.
And now that you have a way to watch for interesting new blog articles, remember that there's some great historians and model railroaders out there writing interesting articles on tons of topics; check out any of these tools so you can always have a ton of great stuff to read! Some of my favorites include: Take care, and keep your fingers crossed that I write more regularly!

Making Money the Old-Fashioned Way: Selling Nice Things

Reading through the perils of cannery owners, sometimes it looks like the typical canner was behaving a lot more like a Silicon Valley startup. Production volume was the big goal, margins didn't seem so great, competition was tough, and the cost of raw materials went all over the place. Sometimes, it looked like their model was that oh-so-modern "I'll lose money on every product, but I'll make it up in volume!" I didn't hear about any canneries actively giving away product, but I may not have been looking in the right magazines.

But then you come across Elton Shaw's Shaw Family Cannery, and you find out that some of the canneries focused on making a beautiful product, and seemed to do okay. Even better, their story includes the drama of the lone entrepreneur, and the multi-national that bought them, and the sale to another mega-corporation, and that scrappy entrepreneur buying the company back to make fruit by-products the way he thought it should be done.

The Shaw Family Cannery was special because they didn't just do canned fruit - they also were a maker of fine jam. As Edith Daley breathlessly described during her visit in August, 1919 (quoted in the August 5, 1919 San Jose Evening News):

"From the ripening of the first cherry until the last ruddy apple turns into deliciously old-fashioned "back-east" apple butter, this place of "fine jams and preserves" offers a diversified program with every act a top-liner. Jellies of all fruit flavors and attractive colors; jam that makes you hungry for hot biscuit-and jam; preserves that you can "see through" they are so clear; orange marmalade; apricot marmalade; spiced peaches and pears, and apricots. Melba pack means only three or four perfect peaches or pears in each glass jar."

Edith wasn't the only fan; the March 1915 Coffee and Tea Industries and the Flavor Fields Magazine also thought highly of their fruit:

The Hyde-Shaw Co., under the able direction of Mr. Shaw, has attained a foremost position among canning plants, specializing in putting fruits into attractive glass packages. Hyde-Shaw goods, grown and packed in the wonderful Santa Clara Valley, have been sold largely under private labels. The Hyde-Shaw pack is hand-peeled and comprises the full list of California fruits, in a wide variety of preserved and packed forms; is double German-processed, and presents a most attractive appearance in the sanitary glass jars."

The Cannery History: The cannery started off as the Hyde-Shaw cannery in 1907, run by William H. Hyde, Jr. (unrelated to the Campbell Hydes) and Elton Randall Shaw. Elton was either an extremely interesting character, or else there were a lot of kids with his name running around California. There's signs in old census and voting records that he was a farmer in Berryessa in 1884; a miner in Enterprise, Butte County, in 1896; an engineer for the "Electric Laundry" in San Francisco in 1899; and the sales manager for the Economy Jar Company before 1907.

I've found less on Hyde; he was born in California in 1865; his father was a former 49'er, house mover, and contractor who appeared to have been quite successful. Hyde himself turns up as a clerk and bookkeeper at different points in his life; through 1903, all our sightings of him are in San Francisco; then, in 1907, he turns up as half of the Hyde-Shaw company and living in beautiful San Jose. That "just jump to conclusions!" part of me immediately guesses that he came to The Valley Of Heart's Delight as a San Francisco earthquake refugee, who then moseyed on back up to Berkeley once he cashed out.

First Independent, Then Bought By the Hawaiians: Around 1907, Mr. Shaw teamed up with Mr. Hyde and formed Hyde-Shaw to can fruit in attractive glass jars. And then, of course, as you might expect in the Santa Clara Valley, they got an offer they couldn't refuse, as the Hawaiian Pineapple Company wanted a way to sell their pineapple juice on the mainland, and a local canner seemed like just the ticket. The May 30, 1910 Hawaiian Star notes that as part of the new company direction (led by the company's president, James D. Dole), they were buying the entire Hyde-Shaw Company, and bringing Mr. Shaw on staff. Hyde, instead got a handy $15,000 and a handshake for his half of the company, and moseyed back up to spend the rest of his days in Berkeley, sometimes being less entrepreneurial as he did bookkeeping for a bank and similar jobs, but at least he'd grabbed for his gold ring.

Bought By the Delawareans: Dole's plan was to let Hyde-Shaw run for a couple years in its current configuration, then start working on the pineapple juice business with Shaw's help. But it wasn't to be; after five years, Hyde-Shaw was sold again, this time to Richardson and Robbins, a Delaware-based canner looking for a west coast connection and a source for fancy California fruit. The March 13, 1915 California Fruit News notes that Shaw will direct both the San Jose plant and Richardson and Robbins's existing Dover, Delaware plant, where he'd be continuing their production of canned plum pudding, boned chicken, and Delware peaches and pears. Richardson and Robbins, like Dole, had grand plans to extend the business in the future.

Buying His Own Company Back: And in a very Silicon Valley, dot-com story, Richardson and Robbins didn't keep their purchase long, but sold the company back to Elton Shaw in 1918, where the founder would be able to run the company right. And he did that, as Edith's full article explains. "This is no affair of the preserving kettle and a long-handled spoon! No heart here skips a beat for fear the bubbling stuff won't "jell". They never have to set it on the windowsill in the sun and pray over it! In most families, jam and jelly are a gamble. With the Shaw Family incorporated, Fourth and Virginia streets, it is a Science." Edith also notes that Shaw Family fruit is of such great quality that it's served on Pennsylvania and New York Central dining cars. She also waxes rhapsodic on the orange marmalade processing, and the beautiful views from the third floor of the plant.

But nothing goes forever, whether in dot-com land or in the jam business, and neither did the Shaw Family Cannery. In 1928, a large fire destroyed their warehouse and product. To recapitalize, Elton went, hat in hand, to the people of San Jose, and offered shares in the company to help them rebuild; the offering appeared in a full-page ad in the October 30, 1928 San Jose Evening News. The money-raising must have worked, for the cannery continued to turn up in city directories until 1940, with the last entry listing the company as "fruit juice makers", with A.G. Moore president, A.A. Hapgood, vice-president, and E.S. Shaw as secretary and manager. An old issue of the Almaden Resident from 2005 hints that Elton Shaw was running a cannery out at his ranch on McKean Road in the Almaden Valley, which may hint that Elton continued to moonlight in the cannery business.

Dole, of course, ended up back on that corner years later when they bought the Barron-Gray cannery across the street from Hyde-Shaw, and ensured that their pineapple would be filling America's fruit salad bowls.

[Shaw's Fine Jams ad from a December 10, 1920 San Jose Evening News. Building layout from a 1915 Sanborn map, showing the Shaw Family Cannery on the west side of Fourth at Virginia. Note Sunsweet #17 (former O.A. Harlan packing house) one block up at Martha.]

Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Most Spectacular Wreck in Santa Clara Valley's History!"

"The most spectacular wreck in Santa Clara Valley's history"

One of the great problems of blogging is running out of things to talk about, for it cuts off subjects for future entries.

Yet today, I'll risk that by quoting the San Jose Evening News article on November 19, 1928, where they have pictures of the "most spectacular wreck in the Santa Clara Valley's history". Yep, after I post this, there's no point in talking about locomotives falling over in front of terrified passers-by on a major San Jose street, or frightening head-on collisions in the Campbell/Cambrian/Monte Sereno/Los Gatos metroplex, or crack passenger trains slamming into switch engines within walking distance of downtown, for I will have reported on "the most spectacular wreck in Santa Clara Valley's history."

And then I can start writing about the locations of In 'n Out burger locations in the Santa Clara Valley because I won't have anything to write about train wrecks, for you've read about the most spectacular train wreck in Santa Clara County's history already.


The November 19, 1928 San Jose Evening News filled half the front page with photos of most extreme of wrecks, where a bunch of railroad cars came off the tracks, tore up the track, then fell over. This happened out by Milpitas, and the photos show the urban setting and the great risk to nearby lives. The pictures also show the mess afterwards, and also show how one of the rails ended up getting embedded into the underframe of a car "furnishing a tough problem for the wrecking corps." There's not much else - nothing about the number of cars derailed (except that there must have been a lot, and the debris spectacular), nor about the amount of track destroyed (which was probably excessive and spectacular), or about the time needed to clear the wreck (which was probably excessive, costly, and spectacular.)

And... um... I guess that's it. Spectacular wreck, worst in history. Two photos, one at the top of this page, and one that you'll have to follow the link to see. If we had a professional historian handy, he may use his expert opinion to suggest that it was a "slow news day".

Also in the day's paper:

  • "2000 See Hoover Briefly as His Train Passes Through"
  • Real estate agent badly burned when his car rolls over in Willow Glen
  • Zita Johann "goes to the Electric Chair" every night on Broadway as part of a play about the Snyder-Gray murder case. "Her off-stage life has been wholly free of morbid reactions."
  • Campbell women burn mortgage on the Campbell Public Library in an old-fashioned mortgage-burning party (though strangely the paper shows them holding the burning note the day before the ceremony)
  • and "Absent-Minded Professor Falls to Death Down Elevator Shaft."
  • There's also a ton of radio ads just in case you're in the market for a six tube console unit for only $240.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Movie Night XIII: Lost San Jose

Hey, I'm building a model of that stairwell on the San Carlos Street viaduct!

The video is from a San Jose Mercury article on Josh Marcotte and his "Lost San Jose" photos - check out his photos (online or in the gallery) for some highlights of earlier days.

I'll admit I'm a little miffed he hasn't taken a picture of those stairs that thousands of cannery workers trod, for the stairwell visible behind him was the quick way to the Del Monte cannery back in the day. To the left is the Los Gatos branch (with a modern-day trolley crossing as the video rolls.) To the right are the Caltrain tracks, and then Los Gatos Creek.

The world's changed an awful lot on the Los Gatos Creek side. Josh is standing on what used to be San Carlos Street; that changed in 1934, when the new viaduct was created, and the old bridge across the creek was closed off and torn out to make room for the Southern Pacific's new tracks. This great John C. Gordon collection photo shows the old San Carlos Street bridge before it was torn out and replaced with Southern Pacific's bypass around downtown San Jose. And none too soon, for a sign on a telephone pole warns "BRIDGE UNSAFE FOR MORE THAN 6 TONS", "SPEED LIMIT 8 MILES". Considering the rather cold faces on the kids next to the sign, I suspect they've spent their afternoon pulling out supports so the bridge would be even more unsafe....

"Packing Houses of Santa Clara County": Encyclopedia of Prune-related Knowledge

Genealogists have it easy. When you're trying to track down a person, their name is your key; their government records, and brushes with fame in the newspaper all appear with their name attached, so searches are often easy.

When I've been trying to track down the businesses along the railroad tracks in San Jose, it hasn't been as easy. Companies might have leased buildings or land, leaving little trace in permanent records. No single source exists to tell when a business was operating at a given location. Heck, there's often little to tell what that business did, or when it ceased to operate, or when they sold out to the big corporation.

As I've been researching San Jose canneries and dried fruit packing houses, I've been keeping my own notes, either as articles in this blog (such as the article on the occupants of the warehouses around the Market Street depot), in a big online document thanks to Google Docs, or on scraps of paper. None are perfect for searching or sharing.

Luckily, there's other ways to share that data.

I've put my San Jose cannery and packing house notes together into a website called:

Packing Houses of Santa Clara County

It's also a Wiki, so you're also welcome to help out - adding information about new industries, correcting mistakes in the data, or just reading about all the businesses that have existed along Bassett Street next to the old Market Street depot, or businesses related to the Salsina Canning Company on Lincoln Ave, or the capsule biography of Edith Daley, the canner's favorite newspaper woman. There are entries for 160 local industries so far, with addresses, owners, and history for each. I suspect I'm still missing many memorable businesses and interesting stories.

Many of the canneries and dried fruit packers of the Santa Clara Valley were also active in other parts of the state, so there's also information on Hunt Brothers in Santa Rosa, or the list of packers in Fresno. Feel free to add information on canneries and packing houses in your favorite part of California as well.

I'm hoping this data will be useful to others, and that you all can help fill your particular canning- or San Jose-related knowledge. I'll continue to post interesting stories here; Packing Houses of Santa Clara County will be the place to find the stories I haven't written about, or find links to further information. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Buying Fruit at Wrights: San Tomas Drying Company

It's still true: all we often know about the San Jose dried fruit packing houses is how their baseball team scored, and why they got sued.

Wagons line up at Wrights Station to load and unload from boxcars.

Today's lesson on that subject comes from the San Tomas Drying Company, another dried fruit packer who appeared in city directories between 1900 and 1910, but left few other traces. Heck, they didn't even have a baseball team, so we don't get to see how they stacked up against J.K. Armsby or the Guggenhime crew.

But, luckily, they got sued, and that suit hints a little at life at the San Tomas Drying Company, as well as the life of the plaintiff - an orchardist up in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the turn of the century. When you see that photo of the boxcars loaded at Wrights with the names of the buyers emblazoned across them, the suit explains how those prunes got to those boxcars.

The specific case is Morrell vs San Tomas Drying Company. J.B. Morrell ran a large ranch up along Summit Road at the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains - an awfully long way out in the hills, but luckily convenient to the former South Pacific Coast railway line at Wrights Station. Early in the 1907 season, Morrell succumbed to the sweet pleading of the San Tomas fruit buyer, who offered to buy his whole crop for $70 a ton (around 3 cents/pound). That price assumed that the prunes would come in at 75 per pound; if they were larger or smaller, the price would be adjusted up or down.

For San Tomas Packing Company, Henry Booksin Jr., son of a famous San Jose orchardist, signed the contract. Booksin also noted that the crop was going to be sold to Balfour Guthrie, a large British food importer (who, twenty years later, was trying to buy the Virden Packing canneries when Charles Virden's empire collapsed, so Morrell's prunes were probably going for export to feed the children of Europe.

The contract's a little scattered about exactly where the prunes needed to be delivered. First, it says Wrights, then it says San Jose:

"[buying] the entire crop of dried Fr. [french] prunes, season 1907, and estimated at 100 tons, and grown and dried in the orchard known as Morrell Ranch - Wrights, f.o.b. [freight on board - Morrell was responsible for loading] cars Wrights, tested at Wrights… All fruit to be sound and merchantable and well dried, free from slab, of choice quality, and delivered f.o.b. packing house, situated on the Infirmatory Road, Santa Clara Co., California, packed in sacks furnished by the buyer, original condition as taken from the drying yard…
"San Tomas Drying and Packing Company agrees to pay balance of purchase money as soon as delivery is completed and sizes determined. Delivery to be made as directed, final delivery before November 30, 1907."

One obvious question is the location of Booksin's packing plant, for the city directories only say it was on "Infirmatory Road", now Bascom Ave. Booksin addressed the contract as "Moulton's Switch, Santa Clara County", and indicated that the fruit would need to be delivered there. Now, Moulton's Switch helps us place San Tomas Packing, for Stillman Moulton ran a dried fruit packing house on Infirmatory Road in the late 1890's on some land he had next to the South Pacific Coast narrow gauge tracks. (A September 1, 1890 San Jose Evening News gives us details of the operation.) Period USGS maps show the likely location as the triangular lot at 1400 South Bascom in San Jose; it's now the home of a dated 1950's strip mall, but the USGS maps show signs of buildings and industries around the turn of the century.

So when the buyer gave Morrell the contract, he also handed over $1 to seal the deal, and then everyone waited for the harvest. And it wasn't too bad a year; after the drying was done, Morrell grabbed a bunch of teamsters and hauled 134,000 pounds of dried prunes down to the Wrights train station, then loaded them on the equivalent of five or six railroad cars.

But Morrell had actually harvested and dried 172,000 pounds. San Tomas Drying Company, with its bins already packed, asked Mr. Morrell to hang on to the rest of the prunes for a while… They went up to the Morrell Ranch in December, inspected the prunes, and said all but a ton were in fine shape, but again asked to hold off on taking the prunes until May because their bins were still full. Finally, in April 1908, San Tomas dances around for a bit, and says they're not willing to take the last ton of prunes. Morrell, fed up, sells the remaining prunes at auction, then sues San Tomas for the difference in the promised price and what they got at auction.

San Tomas Drying Company lost the suit - they'd promised to buy the crop and they didn't. Considering the times, it's possible to guess why they were being so ornery. 1906 had been a bad year for dried fruit as the Great San Francisco Earthquake destroyed packing houses and disrupted travel. Even with that, the crop came in larger than expected, and prices dropped from an expected 3.5 cents/pound to 2 cents a pound.

1907 was better, with some of the highest prices in memory for fruit. But a sulfur scare caused France and Pennsylvania to ban sulfured fruits, and even though the prohibitions were loosened within a year, prices for the 1908 crop were unbearably low. For Booksin, with his packing house full of fruit that might have been selling slowly, picking up additional fruit must have been an awful risk, especially as the 1908 crop approached.

I like this story best for the details about what it took to ship hundreds of tons of prunes out of the mountains. The packing house had to send up sacks, which would have to be hauled to the orchard. Fruit would have needed to be harvested, dried, sacked, and stored. Multiple wagon loads would have needed to haul all the fruit down from the ranch and over to the station to fill a freight car. The fruit would have been hauled down to the packing house and placed in bins for storage until sale, then it would have been pulled out, cleaned, boxed, and shipped out again. All this work would have been manual, with the sacks handled multiple times. In these pre-automobile days, just hauling all that fruit around must have been costly and tiring.

And those teamsters at Wrights were only the first ones to get tired.

This story also states an important lesson: if the packing house asks you to hold onto the fruit for a while because their bins are full, start looking around for other buyers.

No matter how good their baseball team might be.

[Photo of wagons at Wrights Station from History Los Gatos.]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Santa Clara Valley's Other Great Booms

As interesting as the Santa Clara Valley fruit industry can be, there have been other booms in the Santa Clara Valley, and their stories are as good or better. Here's a few great links to the history of Silicon Valley: as the source of computer chips, microwave tubes and defense companies, or software.

Steve Blank's Secret History of Silicon Valley, told often through his experiences in the defense industry of the 1960's and 1970's. Steve's also well-known for his other stories about the chip and internet industries, as well as his ideas about startups and entrepreneurial spirit.

Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History, from the Atlantic magazine. It's mostly focused on the toxic contamination left over from the early chip companies.

The Atlantic also generated a map of Silicon Valley based on a 1977 directory. It shows the offices of all the companies that came and went. Not surprisingly for its era, most of the former cannery districts - along Fourth Street or Auzerais Street in San Jose, in Campbell, or on the north side of San Jose - show no signs of tech life.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mountain Fruit II: More Questions About the Machado Ranch

(See Part One for more on the Machado ranch.)

A couple days ago, I gave the capsule history of my great-grandparents' ranch above Hayward. There's three last points I want to mention, one railroad and fruit industry-related, and the other two just for my own curiosity.

  • First, where did Joe Machado sell his apricots?
  • Second: does it look like there's any evidence that the orchard was run commercially after Joe died in 1939?
  • Third: where exactly was the farmhouse on the property?

Where did Joe Machado sell his apricots? When asked about the fruit buyers, Carl Machado just remembers the buyers were big from big companies.

Interviewer: After the buyers bought them, would he come and pick them up, or did you take them to his warehouse?
Carl: We'd take them down to… I don't know where it was now, maybe the depot, ship them out.
Interviewer: And you'd take them there.
Carl: Yeah, we'd have to sack them up, buy sacks, burlap sacks, and sew 'em all up nicely and take them down to… the buyer, the warehouse, wherever it was. We had a team of horses at that time, and the last few years we had a team of horses bring them down in the wagon.

Now, the uncertainty about where the fruit went intrigued me. In San Jose, you couldn't throw a brick without hitting a dried fruit packer, so it wasn't hard to haul a wagonload of dried fruit a short distance to San Jose, or Campbell, or Los Gatos to the packer of your choice. The San Jose phone book, after all, had a separate section just for dried fruit packers. I'd also seen a comment about how the packers tried to keep receiving stations close to the farms so they were within a short wagon ride from the orchards.

Hayward didn't appear to have any dried fruit packing houses, and so when Carl mentioned hauling the fruit down to the depot, I imagined that perhaps they had to pay to ship the fruit to San Jose to one of the large buyers; taking the horse and wagon to San Leandro, Oakland, or San Jose would have been unbearable. We also know the fruit wasn't staying locally; the processors nearby were all canners, and we know Joe was drying his fruit.

I did a bit more searching, and found out there were two other ways that Hayward area farmers could get their crops to the packers.

First, there might not have been dried fruit packers in Hayward, but there was at least one in Niles, several miles away. An 1893 California Department of Horticulture report names the local farmer's cooperatives, and notes the existence of the "Niles Cooperative Fruit Association" at that time, with no co-ops further north. A August 23, 1913 California Fruit Grower magazine mentions that Ellsworth Packing in Niles had just shipped a carload of apricots to Hamburg, Germany, so perhaps some of Joe's apricots were in that boxcar. Ellsworth looks like they got swallowed up by the Schuckl cannery folks, for a 1918 Western Canner and Packer notes that Schuckl was leasing the Ellworth Packing Company's plant for use as a receiving station for California Prune and Apricot Growers (Sunsweet). Sunsweet's presence implies there may have been some Sunsweet growers in the Hayward area.

The other possibility is that the packers didn't have a permanent place, but did hang around Hayward when the fruit was coming in. Fremont's Tri-City Voice noted a 1891 newspaper article that explained:

Harvested fruit had to be marketed and shipped, so shipping depots were opened at the railroad station during the season by San Francisco firms. Ellsworth and Co. were the big shippers and handled most of the cherries.

Packers' representatives at Wrights station, 1893. From History Los Gatos.

If the California Packing Corporation or Rosenberg Brothers had bought fruit from farmers in the area, they may have just sent an agent out to the railroad depot where he could inspect and weigh the incoming fruit, and pay the farmer while shipping a carload back to the main warehouse. The well-known shot of boxcars on the siding at Wrights siding, each branded with the name of a separate packer, may have been displaying the temporary presence of each of the packers.

Was the orchard run commercially after Joe's death? All the stories I heard in childhood about the ranch made it sound like the orchard was in business right up until the suburbs intruded. I'd heard stories about how the trees were old, and keeping the orchard running would have meant replacing the trees, and I'd assumed that there had been serious thought of replacing the trees. I'd also heard plenty of stories about apricots on the ground, and assumed those were the ones that fell off before or after the harvest. However, Carl stated that they'd continued drying fruit for only a few years after Joe's death in 1939, but the kids lost interest in the work, and Carl didn't have the energy on his own to keep the business running.

Time lapse of changes on ranch in 1946, 1958, 1968, and 1979.
I asked family about this: did anyone remember the orchard actually running? All the stories I got back were that the trees were still there, but no one remembered commercial activity, just family and neighbors grabbing the occasional bucket of fruit.

Luckily, I do have a source to help get the truth: old aerial photos. Historic Aerials has photos of the ranch every ten years from around 1946. Looking at these (see the time-lapse photos to the right), I can see that the orchards were in good shape in 1946, but the trees disappeared or shrank by 1958, and many trees were gone completely by 1968, the year the orchard was sold for development. The last photo from 1979, ten years after the sale, shows nearly no trees remaining from the orchard. It sure looks like the ranch wasn't being run commercially by the 1950's. Our ranch wasn't unique; all the other orchards in the neighborhood disappeared at about the same rate. Dry-farming orchards in the East Bay Hills doesn't appear to have been a profitable post-war activity.

Where was the farmhouse?The only two photos I have of the house up at the ranch were the two in the last article, and there aren't many cues to figure out which way the photo was being taken. I always assumed the farmhouse was on the south end of the property, furthest from the road.

1946 aerial photo of ranch, with landmarks marked.

The aerial photos show I had that wrong - the farmhouse was on the west side of the property, shaded by eucalyptus lining the western end. This probably was a good arrangement in pre-air-conditioning days, with the farmhouse protected both from the hot afternoon sun and the winter winds. You can also see the dirt road winding up the hill from D Street / Quarry Road. The builders did a bunch of grading when they put the houses in; Google's satellite view shows large hillsides rising behind the homes on the west side of the property, so the correct location of my great-grandparents' farmhouse would be at about roof level of some of the houses halfway down the street.

Time to show the aerial photos to family, and see what memories they spur.

[Wrights Station photo from History Los Gatos. Aerial photos from Historic Aerials; captions are my own.]

Living History: Drying Some Apricots

And, of course, one of the drawbacks of researching the dried fruit industry is that at some point, you've got to try it yourself.

Exhibit A: a flat of drying apricots. Our friends Michelle and Jim have an extremely productive Blenheim apricot tree in their backyard. They kindly let me snag ten pounds of apricots, which got laid out on a homemade drying tray made of plastic pipe and plastic screen wire that was laying around. 24 hours in, the apricots are drying ok, but some clouds and cooler temperatures this evening had me watching the sky much as Joe Machado would have been doing on his drying yard a hundred years back.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mountain Fruit: "I Don't Know How the Heck They Made A Living."

Folks who've been reading the blog know one of the reasons I model the 1930's: to understand the world my grandparents lived in. My great-grandfather, after all, had a ten acre apricot orchard in the hills above Hayward. I never heard many stories about the ranch and about the fruit industry from family, but the stories I've heard about Santa Clara Valley farms gives me some hints about what his life was like.

But, you know, if you do enough family history, you'll be amazed what stories you'll turn up.

I took some vacation time last week, and decided to spend a day looking through Alameda County deeds to learn more about the farm. I managed to find the original deed, which was a nice find, and a few other details about the property, but nothing that really told a human story. On the way back to the Valley of Heart's Delight, I stopped off at the Hayward Public Library, just in case they had something interesting. There wasn't much - a couple old city directories, and a shelf of local history books. One was a spiral-bound history of local agriculture with some decent stories, but again, nothing special. But leafing through, I saw a familiar last name, and found a couple pages on my great-uncle and his beekeeping. In between the bee stories, there were some quick details of his father's farm. Wow - where'd they get those? From an oral history interview they did with him back in 1983!

Back home, I sent off a note to the Hayward Area Historical Society asking if they had a transcript of that interview. They're in the middle of moving their collection, so I really was expecting either no answer, or a curt "sorry, can't get to that stuff, ask again in six months." Instead, I got an answer the next day from one of the archivists. "We don't have a transcript of the interview, but we do have the original reel-to-reel tape. It's not in the best shape, but it's listenable. Oh, and we're sending you a digital copy of the audio."

And that was it - I had the audio of my long-gone great uncle telling about the ranch, his father, and the apricot business. After all I've been learning about drying yards, dried fruit buyers, and small family farms, my family's story now seems much more real.

Joe and Mary Machado Azevedo, and two of their kids.

Joe Azevedo's Fruit Ranch: My great-grandfather, Joe Azevedo (Jose Machado de Azevedo), the son of a whaler, was born in 1857 on the island of Sao Jorge in the Azores. Joe's father, Antonio, had done pretty well in the whaling business, and had returned to the islands with enough money to build a new house on the hillside above the village. That earned Antonio the nickname "Casanova" (new house). The nickname stuck around for a century; my Uncle Carl was able to ask a cab driver in the '60's to take him to Tony Machado Casanova's house, and the cab driver went there as if he'd done it a hundred times.

Joe emigrated to California in the 1870's. He roamed around the State, working in a livery stable in San Francisco and also as a shepherd and sheep-shearer for the Miller and Lux company for several years. In 1884, he took his savings, plunked down a thousand dollars and change, and bought a ten acre farm at the top of the hill above Hayward. The property wasn't much; it was a dry and hilly farm, with the top end of a canyon dividing the property, but the right scale for a family farm. This was probably the best Joe could do; most of the good land had been claimed long before, so newer immigrants were often chased into the marginal land on the hills. The Piccheti family on Montebello Ridge near Cupertino's another example, as would be any of the families up in the hills behind Wrights Station.

Joe's new land had been part of Guillermo Castro's Rancho San Lorenzo. Guillermo's gambling habit cost him the land, sold on the courthouse steps in 1864 to Faxon Atherton, a San Francisco banker and land speculator. Faxon and partners had bought the land in hopes of encouraging small farms to feed San Francisco, and slowly sold off smaller lots. The land on the top of the hill didn't sell til Atherton's widow sold it to Frank Enos Garnier in 1879, who subdivided it further until Joe bought the acreage in 1884.

Joe planted an orchard and vineyard on his new land. He used the vineyard for home-made wine. Carl remembered his father pulling up the vineyard, perhaps as Prohibition came through in the late 'teens, with more apricot trees going in their place. Those apricots were the primary crop, with enough cherry trees to justify the occasional harvesting, and assorted other trees for family use. Carl remembers helping his father harvest cherries once for the canneries. Occasionally, Joe planted peas in between the rows of trees.

None of the trees were irrigated: as Carl puts it:

Interviewer: How did they irrigate those trees to start out?
Carl: Never did irrigate. Never put a bucket of water on any tree.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Carl: If it was today, I think I'd have put sprinklers on there.
Interviewer: Um hm.
Carl: Yeah, it would make a good, it would make a… but they had good apricots. Sure. We made good mountain fruit, you know?
Interviewer: Well, they're much sweeter when you don't irrigate them.
Carl: Yeah.
Interviewer: Then... Carl: Yeah, they were really good. Everyone knew. The buyer would know. The buyer would always come out to get dried apricots. They were looking for that!

The farm. Notice the drying flats laid out to the right of the house.

Those mountain-grown, unirrigated apricots might not have produced as heavily as the trees in the flat lands, but they made up for it in taste. Carl remembered that the dried fruit buyers would climb up the hill to the farm every year to convince Joe to sell his crop to them. "I'll give you six cents a pound today." "I don't know, I want to wait a couple more days." The buyer would troop back down the hill. Coming back closer to harvest, they'd offer an additional half-cent, and Joe would promise his apricots to the buyer's company. Carl just remembers the buyers were from the different big companies and didn't remember a particular company, making me suspect that Joe was selling to Guggenhime, Rosenberg, or California Packing Corporation rather than to the Sunsweet co-op. Unlike Vince Nola's stories about farmers selling to the same company every year, I suspect Joe was bouncing between packers depending on the price they could offer.

When the apricots were ripe, Joe hired crews to harvest and dry the fruit. He ran a dryer on the property for the crop, with drying trays and dry yard carts to carry the full trays out to the closely-mowed drying yard, and a sulfur house for preserving the fruit. His wife, Mary, would have her hands full during the harvest cooking for the workers. Carl remembers spending every Fourth of July cutting apricots, and the other kids got drafted to help pick up deadfall fruit.

Joe also dried fruit for the neighbors with smaller orchards. He didn't charge for the drying as long as they cut the fruit. Once dry, the fruit was weighed in the scale just inside the fruit shed, bagged into burlap sacks, and hauled by horse and wagon down to the depot for shipping to the packer.

But making a living off ten acres of mountain fruit took a bunch of extra work. During the winter, Carl remembered his father assembling a crew for pruning the orchards of other land-owners. Even with that, money was tight. The family says that they never wanted for food - they raised hogs, quail, and chickens for meat, kept a cow for milk, and had all the fruits and vegetables they could eat, Cash was a different story, and always scarce when the doctor needed to be paid, or supplies needed to be bought. "I don't know how they lived… but it was pretty rough".

Joe, in 1938, with a full tray of apricots

Joe Azevedo died in 1939, 82 years old. The kids ran the orchard for a couple more years, but eventually gave up on working it commercially because of a lack of interest. Carl, always fond of the ranch and the business, would have liked to keep it going, but just wasn't up for doing it alone. It couldn't have been a money-maker, especially at that small scale.

And so the orchard sat idle for years, with family and friends hauling out buckets of fruit for their own use, but no major harvesting or drying. My mom remembers her two cousins, future golf pros, practicing their swings in the orchard with the fallen fruit.

And it eventually came to an end. Joe's kids, hit by taxes, assessments for a sewer extension, a lack of interest in the orchard, and the pressures of their own families, finally sold the land in the 1960's for development. It took the buyer a good ten years to build, but eventually the ten acres of Joe Azevedo's "fruit ranch" got planted in in a bumper crop of tract homes.

I doubt any of this story is unique; a hundred families in the Santa Clara Valley could tell the same. If you go hiking up behind the Pichetti Winery in Cupertino, you'll hike through the remains of some old pear orchards, another set of dry-farmed orchards that couldn't compete with the productive farms on the valley floor. If you wander through Sunnyvale, or San Jose, or Campbell, you'll see the tract houses that replaced the Johnson's orchard, or the Kirk orchard.

And when the trains on my layout stop at Alma, or at Campbell, or at Wrights, you might see a model of a horse and wagon unloading sacks of dried apricots from another small mountain orchard - maybe from a Portuguese farmer, or an Italian orchardist, or a Croatian rancher. That's also Joe Azevedo's fruit heading east on those boxcars.

See Part Two for more on the ranch, and how my great-grandfather sold his dried fruit.

[All photos from our family's collection. Great, heartfelt thanks to the Hayward Area Historical Society, not only for sharing the tape, but sending me a copy during the one week where I'd have the time to listen, transcribe, and research its contents.]