Monday, February 18, 2013

How Much Would You Pay For This Fine Cannery?

Let's go back to that nagging question: just how bad were things in the Santa Clara Valley during 1931 or 1932? The disappearance of the Ainsley and Hyde canneries give us some hints about that, along with property records of the time.

Let's start by considering the lucky seller, the Ainsley Cannery.

The Ainsley Cannery on Harrison Ave., on the edge of downtown Campbell, was one of the wunderkind of Campbell, producing voluminously from the turn of the century through the 1930's, and surviving as Drew and later Hunt's into the 1960's. I haven't written much about them yet (but certainly will once I start building the cannery building). Ainsley primarily sold to the British market, with Ainsley's family back at home in Britain doing the selling. This ought to sound similar to other canners, especially U.S. Products, who also did a very good business primarily selling outside the U.S.

But as the worst of the depression hit in the 1930's, Ainsley must have started thinking about exit strategies. In early 1934, Drew Canning (which had been operating a cannery in San Jose's Japantown) bought the Ainsley Cannery for $150,000. The sale document was recorded on March 13, 1934, (book 675, page 554), with J.C. Ainsley signing away the company as President and W.H. Lloyd as Secretary of "The Ainsley Corporation". On the Drew side, J.H. Townsend was listed Vice President and L. J. Campodonico as Secretary of Drew (and soon-to-be plant manager for the Campbell outpost.) The June 20, 1934 issue of the Campbell Interurban Press documented Campodonico's restart of the plant with the reminder that the first fruit canned would be arriving from Brentwood - strongly suggesting railroad deliveries of fresh fruit. In July, the Campbell Interurban Press noted that peach canning was delayed because "of the strike" (and which strike that is, I haven't bothered to check down. Feel free to poke around in Google News Archive if you're so inclined.) Drew planned to hire 500 during the 1934 season, quadruple the number needed by Ainsley in the horrible 1931 year!

Looking Inside the Cannery

The sale document didn't list more than the sale price and the principals of the two companies, so it's not terribly illuminating about the operations of the cannery. However, at the end of 1933, the family was obviously preparing for the sale by moving the Ainsley Packing Company assets to the "Ainsley Corporation". (Full grant deed transferring the assets filed Dec. 28, 1933, book 670, pg 321.) Exactly why they were doing the corporation jiggery-pokery I don't know, but wonderfully, they list the major assets of the cannery - land and some of the movable items - right in the reorganization document, and so give us an idea of what a successful canner might be like.

In terms of land, Ainsley owned the large parcel with the cannery - 470 feet of frontage on Harrison Ave., three warehouses, the factory itself, and the boiler house. The site also had its own well and water tower. The deed also lists four other properties owned by the company: an odd shaped lot on the other side of Harrison on the current site of the house cherished as the company office, a small "Hopkins Ave" lot, and two larger properties, one on the other side of the railroad tracks and a larger orchard on Hamilton Ave. The Hopkins Ave. property would be quite a mystery if I hadn't seen its name on a railroad property map, for the street no longer exists; it just north of the property between Harrison Ave. and the railroad tracks, and separated the Ainsley cannery from another cannery site. There wasn't an official crossing there, but it would have been a handy shortcut for workers headed from the cannery line over to the temporary housing on the other side of the tracks.

The deed also mentions some of the outbuildings needed for a cannery. The cafeteria building (along with stoves, kitchenwares, and furnishings) was included in the sale. The campground, rest room building, and cottages for cannery workers also were mentioned. They also call out two named cottages specifically ("Gillig cottage and Sharp cottage"); I suspect we'll never know where the names came from, but I'll give a quick guess they might have named the families that lived there before Ainsley took over the properties for the campground and cottages.

The transfer also included all the contents of the business, which isn't surprising for transferring between two Ainsley-controlled corporations. However, it's interesting that the canning equipment was included in the sale (I would have assumed it was leased, not purchased). The transfer also left out precisely five pieces of equipment: "one oak flat top desk, three oak chairs, and one gas heater". A more conspiracy-laden, suspicious science fiction fan might assume the furniture had some supernatural link that provided super canning powers. Either that, or Mr. Lloyd had brought his own furniture into the office, and didn't want it given away when they sold the company.

From a modeling perspective, the list of cars gave some interesting details. Ainsley owned four trucks: 1 1926 one ton Ford dump truck, a 1926 one ton Ford flat bed truck, a 1926 two ton Federal truck, and a 1927 1.5 ton Chevrolet truck. With that level of specificity, it's easy to go searching the internet for photos of the particular truck models, and my first thought is how primitive all the trucks look. I've bought several of the Athearn Ford Model A trucks, and those look positively modern compared with the 1926 trucks. To really set the scene for the early 1930's in San Jose, and to really convince people that rail, not cars, dominate the valley, I really need to include more of the small trucks and primitive cars that would have existed at the time.

And on top of all that, we also learn about Ainsley's other assets - a pretty decent list of stocks, bonds, cash in savings accounts, 640 acres in Fresno, and an apartment house in San Francisco at Stockton and California (which I suspect is still there). They also list 90 tons of prunes, worth a paltry $6,800 - not that much more than the value of the lug boxes needed by the cannery. I'd love more detail on how many and what size those lug boxes were, for they'd make a very prototypical and impressive pile beside the cannery.

So if Ainsley sold for $150,000 in mid-1934, how much do you think the Hyde Cannery sold for two years before? Both were modern canneries, fixtures of the Campbell industrial scene, with established businesses. But 1931 and 1932 were bad years to be owning a cannery. The exact sale price will be disclosed next time.

[Photos of Ford Model TT one ton truck from Mike Stockard's photos of his truck on Model T Central. Photo of 1926 Federal truck from photo at Reynolds Alberta Museum, found at Ainsley Cannery photo from Calisphere / California Digital Library, from an image in the Frasher Foto collection at Ponoma Public Library.]


  1. J.A. France is mentioned in the transfer document as owing money to the corporation. "Campbell: The Orchard City" by Jeanette Watson notes that J.A. France was the Ainsley's distributor from its earliest days.

  2. For completeness, Drew Canning was sold to Hunts on May 21, 1946, with the deed available in book 1339 page 469. The sellers carefully neglect to say what the terms of the sale were, so we'll need some more research before we can learn how the price of canneries changed between 1933 and 1946.