Monday, March 11, 2013

Ha Ha! You Fell Victim to One of the Classic Blunders!

Everyone remembers the Princess Bride, right? And Vizzini's famous gloat?
Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"
And of course, there's also the slightly less-known classic blunder: "Never try to break a prune pool when every prune grower in the Santa Clara Valley is trying desperately to stay solvent."

We've heard previously how the Higgins-Hyde packing company, based out of that packing house at San Carlos St. and the narrow gauge line, tried just that and managed to get pretty much every prune grower in the Valley out in force with pitchforks and torches, and encouraged the Sacramento politicians to demonize them for misstatements. Good times, good times.

When I first wrote about Higgins-Hyde, all I knew was that they had occupied the packing house I've previously described as Abinante and Nola around 1930 or 1931, and that they'd pissed off pretty much the whole Valley in 1932. I also showed how their chattel mortgages - loans to growers against the upcoming prune crops - show up in county records, giving us a chance to both understand what farm equipment the growers had as collateral, as well as the agreements that started the anger towards the company.

Luckily, there's a bit more available with some more poking around at the Clerk/Recorder's office, census records, and city directories. If you're into that sort of thing.

The Higgins-Hyde Packing Company appears around 1929, leasing the former Pacific Fruit Products / Sunsweet packing house right at the railroad tracks and West San Carlos St. The principals are Albert A. Higgins and Warren Hyde. As we saw previously, J.S. (Jack) Roberts, a salesman and fruit buyer, was a vice president, and Jacks's name often appeared on the fruit contracts.

Albert seems like a newcomer to San Jose, born in 1890 in New York. I'm not sure where he's come from; there's an Albert A. Higgins in San Francisco in 1928, an A. A. Higgins in Los Altos listed as a rancher at the same time, and an Albert A. Higgins, fruit merchant in Los Angeles in 1920, but I'm not sure which would be our man. He's newly married to Edith (Bea) Rea (he's 40, she's 23), and living with her parents on South 13th St. in San Jose.

His father-in-law, Edwin Rea, is worth an aside; a well-known San Jose lawyer, he's remembered these days primarily for defending David Lamson in his murder trial, and for getting in a fist-fight with the district attorney during that trial. Justice may be blind, but those lawyers have enough eyesight to know how to connect with a strong right hook.

Warren Hyde, however, was a very well-known and respected local citizen: an early orchardist in the Saratoga area, and a former Sunsweet director during some organization troubles back in 1922. Warren Hyde and George A. Hyde appear to have had adjoining properties out by Prospect and Quito Road at various times, making me think they might be related, or even brothers.

The building and lot at 750 West San Carlos St. were owned by H. H. Kooser and his wife at the time of Higgins-Hyde's occupancy. We know about the Koosers thanks to the legal documents associated with the building of the San Carlos St. Viaduct in late 1934. The re-routing of the road required selling a small strip of land and removal of a garage and scale, and the sale agreement included $200 for Higgins-Hyde as compensation for these changes (5/29/1933, book 652, page 386). (The viaduct was allowed by the California Railroad Commission decision 20559, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Higgins-Hyde is listed in the 1929, 1930, 1931, and 1932 San Jose city directories, hinting that they'd been around for at least a few years before the big kerfuffle with the prune pool in the dark days of summer, 1932. There were at least six chattel mortgages filed in 1932 with Higgins-Hyde: the Leo, DiSalvo, Oliva, Galvin, Greco, Rose, and Lester orchards all borrowed against a crop they were planning to sell to Higgins-Hyde that year. But once Higgins-Hyde challenged the Prune Pool and lost, they released all their growers from their contracts so they could join the prune pool. Higgins-Hyde probably lost their chance for a crop to sell over the winter of '32. At that point, having a packing house and storage space wasn't terribly useful, so Higgins-Hyde leased their packing house on July 19, 1932 to the Lawrence Warehouse Company, much as Hyde had done a few years earlier.

Higgins-Hyde could only hope for the 1933 year to be better, but it wasn't. In May, they cancelled their lease of the Hyde Cannery as storage space (5/8/1933, book 683, pg 374). On May 27, they cancel Lawrence Warehouse's lease on the 750 West San Carlos St. plant. They also appear to have started wrapping up the company in bankruptcy court. On May 29, Albert and Bea transfer orchard land in Saratoga to T. J. Miller, the trustee in bankruptcy for the company; the bankruptcy case opens for real in San Francisco on June 3. And then it's all over, except for unwinding all the various deals. It doesn't sound happy, but there's probably some stories there.

Early the next year, during that unwinding, T. J. Miller finds that Higgins-Hyde may have made the classic legal blunder: Never annoy people who might be jurors on your trial. The May 9, 1934 San Jose News has a little blurb under the title "Packing Firm Trustee Loses $2578 Prune Suit":

T. J. Miller, trustee of the Higgins-Hyde Packing Company, lost his $2578 action involving a contract for the purchase of 800 tons of prunes against Nathan L. and William Lester, growers, in Superior Judge William F. James' court yesterday when a jury awarded judgement in favor of the defendants.
I can't imagine the locals were friendly to the company that tried to break the Prune Pool, regardless of how good the contract was. I also have no idea whether this was one of the lingering contracts left over from the no-good-very-bad summer of 1932.


Warren Hyde's connection makes me wonder if the creation of Higgins-Hyde has anything to do with the demise of George E. Hyde Packing in Campbell. The reports that the company started fading in 1928 might suggest that Warren had been selling through his brother, but the looming demise of the Hyde Cannery and dried fruit packing meant that he needed a better place to sell his crop. I'll need to keep an eye out for more hints about the history of Higgins-Hyde.

Now, all this corporate information is quite fun for those of us with some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but it really does have an application to model railroading. For, after all, I've always been uncertain about exactly what business should exist at the site where I've now got Abinante and Nola. Now, I can lay out all the options:
  • Before 1928: unsure.
  • 1928 - summer 1932: active packing plant run by Higgins-Hyde.
  • Summer 1932 - Summer 1933: Higgins-Hyde painted on the building, but used by Lawrence Warehouse.
  • Summer 1933 - Summer 1934: Higgins-Hyde painted on building, but probably empty.
  • May, 1934: San Carlos St. viaduct is being built.
  • Late 1934: San Carlos St. viaduct is completed.
  • Late 1934: Active plant run by J.S. Roberts. John C. Gordon takes photo of completed viaduct with old bridge still around, and J.S. Roberts painted on the packing house.
  • Pre-1935: Bypass line around San Jose built. Old San Carlos St. bridge removed as seen in unpublished John C. Gordon photo.
So that's it: if I'm modeling before 1928, I need to do more research. If I'm modeling before summer 1934, I can put Higgins-Hyde on my layout, but I can't have the San Carlos St. viaduct. If I'm modeling after Summer 1934, I'll want both the viaduct and J.S. Roberts.

There's only one problem: I spent last week ripping out the track around the San Carlos St. viaduct to get rid of some frequent derailments. As part of getting the track running again, I redid the scenery at the same time to include Los Gatos Creek and the former site of the old San Carlos St. bridge. It looks like I've just post-dated my layout to late 1934... or at least one corner of the layout to that year. Doing so means that the Hyde Cannery shouldn't be running and the Hunts Cannery in Los Gatos needs to be abandoned, which either I've just lost two key industries... or I've just arranged my model railroad so that half the layout will be set in 1928, and half in 1934. I should put a tricked-out DeLorean on the road between San Jose and Campbell just so folks understand why they're moving six years when turning round that corner. Oh, what a tangled mess I've gotten myself into...

[Photo still taken from the movie The Princess Bride. If you haven't seen it yet, you've missed something amazing. Go watch it. J.S. Roberts photo from a John C. Gordon collection panorama at San Jose State.]

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