Thursday, March 21, 2013

How Many Fruit Lugs Does A Cannery Really Need?

You really don't need to know how many 40 and 50 pound lugs (crates for hauling fruit from the orchards) the Hyde Cannery in Campbell had before you can start building a model of the cannery. The answer, by the way, is 33,400...
Historical research can be a great thing as long as you don't mind the occasional diversions, side tracks, and interesting-but-potentially-irrelevant details you run into. After all, if you want to build a model railroad that others will say nice things about, all you really need is something that on the surface looks right. In my case, few people are going to check that I modeled the Campbell station right, or correctly placed a packing house, or ask whether fruit would have come to a cannery by rail or by truck. Few will care if there's boxcars at the Hyde Cannery when the plant was shut.

But those diversions can be part of the fun. I don't really need to know the exact date that a cannery changed ownership. I don't need to know details of the machinery. I don't need to know which doors were used for loading, and which for unloading. For me, though, learning about those details, poking around in old food machinery catalogs, reading the news reports of the day, or tracking down ownership is a treasure hunt in its own right. All that extra detail also gives me the background to really explain the setting that I'm modeling, and to add some of the details that might make things seem just a touch more accurate.

I'd still admit that leafing through dusty microfilm to check out old mortgages might cross the line from fun to a bit obsessive, but there's always the chance I might hit a Mother Lode. That's worth a bit of sneezing in the Recorder's office.

Our Hyde Cannery story left off a while back with a quick history of the Hyde Cannery, along with mention of how Mr. Hyde mortgaged the property and equipment for $190,000 back in 1923. Now, you'd think that looking through deeds and mortgages would be mind-numbingly boring... at least until you realized that the right mortgage might have some juicy details about life at the cannery.

And these mortgages do. Let's dive in, shall we?

It's 1923; the Hyde Cannery had a glossy spread in Cannery Age a few years before, but this year Mr. Hyde needs to deal with debt. On May first, the following mortgages appear at the Recorder's office:

  • Mortgage #1: Mr. Hyde borrowed $70,000 against about his cannery's machinery from the Merchantile Trust bank in downtown Campbell, payable May 1, 1928 (7/2/1923, book 41, pg 5).
  • Mortgage #2" Hyde also borrowed $60,000 from M.E. Lennon secured by the exact same list of equipment. (7/2/1923, book 41, page 11.)
  • Deed of Trust #1: Finally, Hyde borrowed $70,000 from M.E. Lennon and the San Jose Abstract and Title Co. against the lands where the cannery sat, property east of the railroad tracks along Dillon Ave., and land south of the cannery near Rincon Ave. (7/2/1923, book 41, page 15.)

Now, I find it a little interesting that the equipment can be mortgaged twice, but I'll trust the two mortgagees both knew about each other and assume that the equipment was worth enough for both of them to be made whole if Hyde wasn't able to pay them off. I don't have access to earlier mortgages to figure out if this is refinancing some of the equipment Hyde bought in previous years, but we can suspect that starting up a world-class cannery took lots of money.

But I'm not here to make wild-ass guesses about mortgage conventions in the Santa Clara Valley in the 1920's; I'm here to look inside and outside those canneries so I can build decent models of those canneries. The mortgage documents give all sorts of magical data I wouldn't be able to find out elsewhere.

Go check out those mortgages, and look at that nice, detailed list of the equipment in the Hyde Cannery, and see that data for yourself, and let's see what questions we can answer about the Hyde Cannery.

For example, how many people do you need to run a cannery, and what does that say about appropriate set-dressing - number of figures to put around the scene, or bicycles to place nearby? Obviously, you'll need lots of women to help cut fruit. The mortgage cites 125 Webber adjustable stools, 100 wood stools, and 25 cutting tables. You'll also need to feed that staff, and the mortgage includes the cafeteria fittings: 23 tables, 92 common dining chairs, a large commercial Montague range (wow, they're still in business, and still in the Bay Area!), and 77 trays. Hyde also lists seven 9x12 foot tents. I'll plan for evidence of a few hundred workers.

Or you could look at the tonnage of fruit coming in, and the number of cans going out. For hauling product around, Hyde had 5,930 can trays for carrying the filled cans over to the machinery, 1,000 tray stands, and 2,200 tin pans. There's also 3,500 fruit trays for sun-drying and 22 cars for the dry yard, 15,400 50 lb lug boxes, and 18,000 40 lb lug boxes. Hyde expected a lot of fruit to come in each summer, and needed enough boxes to hold seven hundred tons of fruit coming in from the fields. I need to plan on a huge pile of those lugs out behind the cannery during the off-season. The Dole cannery at Fifth and Martha had an entire city block reserved for fruit receiving and storage of lugs.

Hyde did have machinery to help those hundreds of workers with the tons of fruit. On the canning side, Hyde had a pair of Berger and Carter slicers (seven and nine blade), seven syrupers (for #1, #2.5, and #10 cans). A sugar conveyor. Five hundred feet of black pipe for carrying hot syrup around the plant. They had a "Smith pie foundry", which I assume was a cooker for turning cast-offs into pie filling. (The 1921 Canning Age magazine noted that they were using a Berger and Carter pie foundry - a San Francisco manufacturer that I'm sure made great pie foundries, but probably couldn't hold a torch to the fine San Jose craftsmen.) Four 21' canning tables from Smith Manufacturing, two 26' canning tables from Premier Machine, two 24' canning tables, two 20' iron slicing tables, and two 20' iron pear canning tables, all from Smith Manufacturing. Cooking vats. Cappers. Exhaust boxes. Hundreds of feet of conveyors, box nailing equipment, and some hand trucks. A "portable elevator". And powering this entire mess were three 50 HP steam boilers turning hundreds of feet of pulleys and belts to power the equipment. On the drying side, Hyde had a prune shaker, 48' sorting table, 24' "San Jose processor", and various sorters.

You'll need an office staff, though it doesn't need to be large. Hyde had two adding machines, four filing cabinets, two roll-top desks, an Underwood typewriter, and an Addressograph printer, and a mimeograph. (Note to self: make sure the plant smells of the mimeograph fluid.) They even had a "phone system", though I'm not sure how sophisticated that would have been in 1923.

From the model railroad perspective, the vehicles used by the cannery are more important details, both as a hint about common car and truck brands for the area, as well as what I ought to park near the cannery. The mortgage shows that Hyde had three Ford extension trucks (which I suspect are Model TT trucks), though the Canning Age article also mentions a four ton truck and trailer. That article notes that the larger truck made daily trips to SF; my initial suspicion was fruit to be sent by steamship, but it might have been more likely as fruit going to the San Francisco grocery wholesalers.

Getting this sort of detail in the county records must not be too unusual; I found a similar document for the sale of the Hunts Cannery on Fourth Street to Richmond Chase. Although the Hunts sale didn't list the exact number of items ("uncountable number of fruit lugs"), it does hint at the number of canning lines and favorite brands. For example, Hunts, in 1942, used a pie foundry from A.B. Draper, so we now know of at least three manufacturers making such a beast. (12/30/1942, book 1123, page 411).

So that's how a few trips to the Clerk/Recorder's office turned from a quick attempt to identify the owners of buildings to understanding the size of the pile of fruit lugs needed in the off-season, and a realization for the favorite brands and models of trucks to use for my cannery.

I also learned what a pie foundry is, though I'll need to look at some old equipment catalogs to find a picture of one. Luckily, there's a few collections of food processing machinery paper, such as the Floyd Hal Higgins collection at U.C. Davis, so with a bit of luck, I could see what a pie foundry looks like.

And the Hyde Cannery would have had a pile of 34,000 fruit lugs piled in the drying yard behind the cannery during the off-season... though I don't need to know that to build a model of the cannery.

[Panorama of Hyde Plant and photo of Hyde Cannery's original canning equipment are from the Bancroft Library via the Online Archive of California. Most of the photos from that collection were published in the August 1921 Cannery Age article about Hyde.]

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