Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Campbell: Roosevelt Slept Here!

You know, those San Francisco Examiner writers are awfully mean.

Ninety years ago, give or take, Teddy Roosvelt came through San Jose. I ran across the May 12, 1903 San Jose Evening News article about the visit during my search for anything about the Ham Packing fire. Oh, my it was eventful. Better yet, it had railroad content.

Along with the very proper and factual news article from the Evening News's own crew, the paper also quoted from what the big city journalists were writing, and I've got to say they seem awfully jealous of San Jose. I suspect it's living in that fog all the time that makes them bitter. Or they're not eating enough prunes.

The President Didn't Have a Good Time in the Garden City
This is what Edward H. Hamilton, of the San Francisco Examiner, who has been representing that paper as a member of the President's party since its arrival on the coast, has to say about the visit to San Jose yesterday:

President Roosvelt today had one of the pleasantest and one of the most unpleasant experiences of his entire journey. The pleasant experience was at the Felton Big Trees; the unpleasant one here at San Jose.

Santa Cruz managed her celebration with much tact; San Jose with none. As a consequence this Garden City is having unpleasant things said about it up and down the Presidential train, which has been shifted to a quiet siding at Campbells so the President can sleep.


Nothing seemed to go just right here at San Jose. The stand for the speaking had been erected right at the station. [Broad gauge or narrow station? I'm guessing the narrow gauge station.] When the President was in the midst of a sentence a locomotive sent up two long, shrill blasts. Now, the human lungs are powerless against a steam whistle, and the President was worsted in the contest. Hardly was this annoyance over when another engine began clanking its bell. Then a third began puffing and coughing as it backed along the track. All this was within 200 feet or less of where the President was trying to make himself heard. Had I been President there would have been remarks not on my original program, but Mr. Roosvelt pulled through without any show of annoyance or temper. Harrison would have been very good under similar circumstances.


Hadly was this ordeal over when the President and his party were put to the torture of a drive of two hours in a thick dust. Whoever was responsible for that journey has something coming to him among the torments of the world beyond. The route was to Santa Clara, then to Campbells and then back by another way. Evidently the local committee thought that as the president had been a Rough Rider he would enjoy a rough ride. They gave it to him.

As if there would not be enough dust for the President in the ordinary nature of things, a gallant cavalcade of local riders rode out in front of the President's carriage and kicked up the dust in cloud after cloud. Citizens in carriages and automobiles kept along as near to his carriage as possible, just so there could be no doubt that he could hereafter say "I am of the soil of San Jose." And so for the greater part of two hours, the Presidential procession was a prostrated pillar of dust by day."


Now I can only guess what the President said about that fearful penance, but I know what other members of the party said, and one of them put it tersely in this fashion:

"Hereafter, if you want to prevent a man from getting a Presidential appointment, just say he was on that committee which arranged the San Jose drive."

"There'll be no more tariff on prunes," laughed another.

On the positive side, it wasn't all noise and dust for Roosvelt, for the Evening News reported the following from its own ace reporters:
"Soon after the return of the Presidential party from the drive through the valley last evening the special train in which the night was spent was drawn to Campbell and side-tracked. President Roosvelt was tired with the days experiences and it was decided that his rest would be less disturbed away from the noise and bustle which prevails around the local yards.
So the next time you're out in downtown Campbell, look at the railroad tracks and remember that President Roosvelt slept there.

And a challenge for the South Pacific Coast fans among us: so do you think the Presidential train was a narrow gauge train or a standard gauge train? Newspaper articles say that there was standard gauge all the way to Wrights in 1903 (but not through the summit tunnel). Got a guess? Put it in the comments.

A. & C. Ham: Paging Mr. Ham!

As I've been tracking down canneries and packing houses, I'll occasionally encounter these random companies that are mentioned only in passing with little detail about their locations.  One of those firms was A. & C. Ham, a turn-of-the-century fruit packer in San Jose. I did a couple searches for Mister Ham, but never got any hits.

Well, it turns out Ham wasn't the owner; Ham was the product.

The company was actually Andrews and Coykendall Ham, founded in the 1870's as a pork wholesaler and packer.  I don't know who Andrews was, but Coykendall was Jonathan B. Coykendall, a New York transplant and '49er who came out for the mining and returned back east, but "couldn't forget sunny California" and returned to open a meat market and wholesale meat and grocery business in San Jose.  His store was at 3rd and San Fernando, but he had a warehouse and potentially packing plant at Senter and Cinnabar, along with the family house.  Senter is better known today as the "Caltrain tracks north of Diridon station", but in the 1870's, it was just an unimproved street that the South Pacific Coast Railroad used as a right-of-way.

But how did A. & C. Ham go from pork to prunes?  The family house was surrounded by the growing fruit industry.  The 1891 Sanborn maps at UCSC show the J. M. Dawson cannery a block up at Lenzen, along with the J. Z. Anderson fruit packing plant next door to it.  According to his obituary, Jonathan also "began the manufacture of prune coffee… that led him extensively into the handling of prunes, and the Coykendall Prune Company was formed when the ham business was abandoned." (And don't ask me what prune coffee is; I assume it's something like FigPrune, but I'll stick with old-fashioned coffee, thank you very much!)

The name of the business varies: there's references to A&C Ham as one of the collection sites for the California Cured Fruit Association in 1900 (with the site listed as "west side", suggesting that the San Jose plant wasn't being used, but instead they were collecting out at the family ranch perhaps.)  1903 news articles refer to "Coykendall and Sons",  while the obituary lists the "Coykendall Prune Company".

It's also hard to know when the hams stopped and the prunes began. The obituary makes it sound like one business ended and the other began, but the 1899 and 1902 city directories show the grocery store at 90 E. San Fernando, and the 1893 and 1900 city directories lists them as only in the ham business, even though we've got evidence they were doing fruit in 1900. A Silicon Valley history notes that the original ham packing plant burned in 1903, and I'd like to assume the burning of the packing house doomed the meat business, but I haven't found a record of that fire or any comments about what business was being done in the plant at that time.  UCSC's archives also show that one of the grocery business's customers was F.A. Hihn, who bought supplies as well as bacon and ham for his sawmill workers at Laurel, suggesting they were still in the meat business in 1903.  Their warehouse on the narrow gauge must've made it easy for them to deliver.

But they were doing mighty good, whatever they were selling.  I combed through the San Jose Evening News for 1903 looking for mention of a packing house fire, but only found mention of their success in the prune business.  The September 17, 1903 San Jose Evening News reported that Coykendall & Sons was  in the process of packing a hundred tons of prunes, already sold in Antwerp, and had shipped 225 tons of prunes to France that year already.

Another article in the same issue also reports how being a fruit drier wasn't always a safe occupation, as the local newsies reported on "Armed Men Guard A Fruit Dryer":

Excited orchardists who want pay for prunes sold to Costa Brothers.
There is a lot of prunes at what is known as the Costa drier on the Almaden Road, about three miles south of the city, that are being guarded by armed men.  It appears that Louis and George Costa bought prunes from a number of orchardists in the section referred to.  They then sold them to Coykendall & Sons, packers of prunes.  The Costa Brothers received an advance of $5,000 on the prunes, and the latter were taken possession of by the Coykendalls.  The new owners engaged in finishing the drying of the prunes.  Then the parties that had sold the prunes to the Costas came around and demanded that they be paid for the prunes, asserting that the Costas had not paid in full for the fruit.”

Jonathan died in February 1904, with a nice obituary in the February 8, 1904 Evening News.  The cause of death: injuries received when his horse was spooked by a steam roller and managed to overturn his carriage (November 18, 1903 Evening News).  Leafing through old newspapers, it seemed like there was a constant stream of injuries and deaths from runaway and spooked horses back in turn-of-the-century San Jose.

Frank and Horatio must've kept the business going, for the company was still visible with the Cinnabar Street plant til 1917.  The obituary had mentioned that the company's sales connections in Europe was one of its strengths.

A. and C. Ham's packing house on Cinnabar burned in May 1917; Western Canner and Packer noted the tragedy, and commented on the fact that the plant was empty because the season hadn't yet started.  (This is another reminder of the change before and after World War I - before, the packers sold immediately to speculative wholesalers, but after the war, they kept the stock on-hand to sell themselves.)

The California Fruit News, in contrast, reported on their planned rebirth.  Frank and H.G. noted that they'd gotten lucky; they'd just bought new machinery from the the recently bankrupt California Cured Fruit Exchange in Emeryville, but hadn't yet moved it to the Cinnabar plant when the fire struck.  Very little fruit was burned, and the family house next door was saved. However, the materials for shipping - the cotton and jute sacks (for those two hundred pound bags of fruit sent to Europe) and boxes and labels went up in flames. The Coykendall brothers promised to rebuild, and everything suggested that A. & C. Ham would continue to exist for a long time.

But it wasn't to be. A. & C. Ham disappeared, not because of business problems but because of business success.  Frank Coykendall was one of the organizers and the first general manager for the California Prune and Apricot Growers (Sunsweet). The July 27, 1918 California Fruit News remarks that because of the conflict of interest, A. & C. Ham would stop packing, and the California Prune and Apricot Growers were eager to buy their modern packing house, built on the ashes of the turn of the century plant. A. & C. Ham, along the Santa Cruz branch and eventually on the SP mainline, became Sunsweet's Plant #11.

Frank Coykendall led the California Prune and Apricot Growers from its founding in 1917 through 1923, when he was forced out in a public and very messy battle that I'm still not sure I understand, even after reading the chapter in The Sunsweet Story a few times. But I get the feeling he was one of those guys who would take charge and do whatever was needed, whether the rest of the world wanted his help or not. San Jose historian, Ralph Rambo, described Frank as "quite a prominent citizen and well known for his excitable nature", and took it upon himself after the Great Earthquake of 1906 to put up posters declaring looting to be a hanging offense:

“It turned out that this was uncalled for.  The Sheriff had appointed many deputies.  We saw National Guardsmen patrolling the streets, later saw them pitching their tents in St. James Park.  And yet in retrospect we salute Frank for adding this bit of civic melodrama and we must remember that looting was very serious in San Francisco."
Frank was probably the right guy for starting the association, but might not have been the best fit when the political battles started after the horrible years of 1920 and 1921.

The former A. & C. Ham plant survived certainly into the 1960's, for Bob Morris captured some nice photos of the modern, concrete packing packing house and its warehouse, partially obscured by a badly-timed train getting into the shot. Packing houses get obscured in railfan photos so often that you'd almost believe these guys were *trying* to take pictures of the trains.

And, of course, A. & C. Ham isn't on the Vasona Branch, so I'm not building a model of it. I'll leave it to someone else to model the packing houses and canneries along the tracks up here.

[Photo of the A. & C. Ham packing house is from The Sunsweet Story by Robert Couchman. Coykendall house and packing plant maps from the Sanborn 1891, 1915, and 1950 maps.]

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What Do Dried Fruit Startups Use For Garages?

Everyone knows where startups are spawned: in the garages of Silicon Valley.  (Though with all the junk we store in them, not to mention model railroads, I'm surprised you can even fit a startup in most garages around here.)  But if you were going to clean up in the dried fruit business around the turn of the century, where would you start your company?

Maybe a livery stable?

UCSC's map collection, in addition to those aerial photos of Santa Clara County, turns out to also be sharing Sanborn maps from the turn of the century.  You can check out what Campbell was like in 1899 or 1905, or see San Jose as of 1884.  (Can you find the location of the old roundhouse off San Pedro St?) They have maps for other towns, especially in Santa Cruz County, but I'll leave the exploration of those maps to someone else.

Now the 1905 Campbell map has an interesting detail.  The Central Santa Clara Fruit Company shows up on the corner of Campbell Ave. and the railroad tracks. It's a location I know well, for it's the site of that art deco building I modeled a few years ago (and that still exists on the site).   I'd seen scattered mention of the company, but the map encouraged me to do a bit more poking around.

The Central Santa Clara Fruit Company was a short-lived packer that's left little of a paper trail. Terse mentions of the company appear in state records about corporations. Corporate records show it was incorporated in June, 1903 with $50,000 in capitalization. Like current-day startups, the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company appeared and disappeared quite quickly. It was already on the list of defunct corporations by 1905.

But why did a new prune startup begin at this site?  The back-to-back Sanborn maps help us figure that out. We know that folks didn't have attached two car garages back then.  The packers would want to be very close to the orchards, for the packing house had to be within a quick horse-and-wagon trip from the orchards and the drying yards.   They'd also want to be near the railroad, for there were few other ways to transport packed fruit to market in those days of dirt roads and schooners from Alviso.  Starting a new company (financed with only $50,000, according to the Secretary of State) probably meant they were saving their money to buy fruit, so building a new building was out.

Luckily, the 1899 map shows why the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company might have located here: they could take over the former space of a livery stable and hay warehouse right at Campbell Ave. and the railroad tracks! Convenient location, existing building: what could be better?

It also looks like a pretty nice building. A few pictures of their plant (and the former stable) made it into Jeanette Watson's "Campbell: The Orchard City" (pages 278, 280, and 293). The photos show a very Victorian, east-coast-ish building: clapboard, steep roof, and false fronts, suitable for upstate New York as much as California. The main building has a high center peak for a loft, but each side of the building is only a single story high. The false fronts match this, with a center two story facade, and two single story extensions hanging off it, with the office on the right. The Sanborn maps help us track down what the back looked like: the broad line around the sides and back seem to imply the roof sloped down in all directions. We also see the sides and back were corrugated iron. (Watson's photo on page 297 shows the corrugated iron peeking out along a side, with the prosperous false front towering over Campbell Ave.) The company signage, as seen in the photo above, is on the former separate hay barn next to the railroad tracks. The photos make it look like a well-maintained building - probably a good thing when you're on the most prominent corner on town.

The space would have been large, close to transportation, and just the thing for a group of entrepreneurs hoping to strike it rich in prunes. Who knows if the livery stable moved on its own or was pushed out by a landlord hoping on striking it rich with the promising new business? Hopefully J. F. Wehmeyer at the blacksmith shop next door got enough requests for machinery and metalwork to make up for any money he was losing from the removal of the horses.

Watson's photo of the Central Santa Clara sign is dated as pre-1911, so either the photographs are significantly earlier than marked, someone kept the building in good shape after their demise, or the company continued to operate even if they weren't legally a corporation. I'd worry about the dating of the photo because of the electric street lights, but the 1905 Sanborn maps notes that the plant has electric lights, so maybe a date of 1905 isn't so outlandish.

The 1905 Sanborn map gives us details about the company in operation. It shows a small but prosperous business with a large warehouse section at the front, and extensions in the back for a "BR. KETTLE" (no idea), a boiler, and an oil tank in the ground. Even this early in the dried fruit business, the stock items for a packing house - steam to hydrate and clean the fruit, and oil to power that boiler - were essential. Compared to later packing houses, this one has little storage space, either because they were selling all their fruit immediately (which matches the pre-World War I processes) or because they were a new company and couldn't afford a larger plant. There's no railroad spur, but the railroad station is immediately across the tracks from the packing house, and run under the watchful eye of the station agent, Charles Berry.

That 1903 incorporation date would have been an interesting time to be in the dried fruit business.  The major cooperative, the California Cured Fruit Association, had started in 1900 and had signed up 3,800 farmers - 75% of the dried fruit growers in the state.  When the 1900 and 1901 crops didn't sell well because of large crops in Europe, prices plummeted and the association couldn't sell their prunes.  In June 1901, they still had half the 1900 crop in their storage bins.  When the CCFA's death throes began, our little upstart might have decided this was the perfect time to enter the business. Campbell already had the large Campbell Fruit Grower's Union and their drying yard (at the current site of the Hyde Cannery), but maybe an independent packer was just what the town needed.

I'd be curious to see who the backers were behind Central Santa Clara Fruit: farmers, financiers, or businessmen? However, there's no information from my usual sources. The ancient county clerk records at the Santa Clara County Archives probably have the articles of incorporation for the company, but I'm not up for taking a day off work just to learn that one tidbit.

That old livery stable space didn't survive very long - the 1928 Campbell Sanborn map shows an empty space on that corner. When I first saw that Sanborn map, I assumed the corner had always had been a vacant and undesirable space, but now it's obvious that the 1899 livery stable just disappeared at some point. Maybe it was fire, or maybe it was modern development, but either way the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company's plant didn't last.

The Sanborn maps show a few other interesting details. I'll let you pick out some, but I'll note that the Sunsweet (formerly Campbell Fruit Union plant) doesn't exist yet - instead, it's site is an empty yard in 1905 that had been marked as a lumberyard in 1899. The Fruit Union didn't get started until September 1909, and the huge plant wasn't built until October 1912 according to the California Fruit News, so there's a few years before the Campbell railroad tracks will be bordered by a continuous row of warehouses.

[Photo of the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company taken from Jeanette Watson's "Campbell: the Orchard City". Check out the book for a couple other photos of a dried fruit startup's home.]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Life in a Packing Plant is Mighty Sweet

Bah. Those girls in the packing plant got everything. Rides to and from work. Fine meals in the cafeteria. And now George Frank & Co. is giving them music?

From the October 16, 1902 San Jose Evening News:

Prune Packers Listen to Music
In their desperation over lack of sufficient number of women and girls to pack the prune crop, the packers of the Santa Clara Valley are willing to make any reasonable concession.
The packing-house girl is becoming an autocrat.
More than 1000 girls are wanted in the various packing houses.
All kinds of inducements have been offered and the bidding has become so brisk for help that some of the packing houses are on the verge of being turned into drawing-rooms.
To the firm of George Frank & Co. is due the palm in this respect.
Besides a free ride to and from work with pay and long terms of employment, it is advertising that "an orchestra plays popular music at intervals during the day."
This installation of music in the packing-house is likely to cause a stampede from the other places.
In the packing houses the girls now earn from $1 to $2 a day.
Don't tell me those modern day Silicon Valley programmers are spoiled once you hear about the orchestras. Orchestras!

I haven't done much research on the "orchestral" George Frank packing house, for the business pre-dates my layout by quite a bit. George Frank and Company turns up around 1900, at a plant out on the "West Side", as we used to refer to Cupertino around these parts. Frank's packing house shows up in the San Francisco Call as a drop-off location for prunes being sold through the California Cured Fruit Association in 1900. Later city directories (1904, 1907) put the plant at "Meridian Road at the narrow gauge" and "Meridian at Paula", or in modern terms roughly at Meridian and 280. It only seems appropriate that the orchestras were playing in a packing house on the roads leading to beautiful Willow Glen.

By the late 'teen's, Frank appeared ready for a change; he started developing a plant in Sacramento at 12th and B (billed as "Smith Frank Packing"). He sold his holdings in San Jose in 1919 and 1920, with the dried fruit packing plant going to Sunsweet (as they opened their own packing plants), and the cannery going to George N. Herbert (after he'd sold his packing plant on Lincoln Ave. off to Sunsweet). Herbert, you might remember, hosted Edith Daley's cannery visit in July 1919, after which the Evening News retired the use of the exclamation point in news articles.

If you want to do your own browsing for San Jose Evening News stories, go over to the Google News Archive and specify the "San Jose Evening News" or "San Jose News" as the source. Pre-1924 issues are billed as The Evening News, and post-1923 issues get grouped by Google either as the San Jose Evening News or San Jose News. In a nice coincidence, one of my neighbors is the son of the Evening News's editor.

Go check out the old papers, and share any fun articles you find. We're lucky the Evening News is available online, both because they've billed themselves in editorials as "the voice of the growers" and because they paid Edith Daley's salary.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

1939 Aerial Photos!

If you're either not interested in San Jose history, or you have things you need to get done tonight, you can stop reading now.

For the rest of you fearless readers, however, here's another great example of the sort of material that's available out on the Internet if you just keep looking. The University of California, Santa Cruz's library has a collection of aerial photos from the 1930's through the 1970's, and cover Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda counties.

These are magical for me, for they show San Jose in wonderful detail around the same time as the setting for my model railroad. The West San Jose shot shows the canneries well; a later shot shows the San Jose Brick Works in all its glory. The north side of San Jose shows the old Market Street Station completely gone four years after the station was closed. The surrounding packing houses and Anderson Barngover plant still look busy. Los Gatos Canyon allows me to see the site of Alma station, as well as the routing of the railroad along the creek. There's even an image of Wrights, with the main line heading towards the summit tunnel.

The photos are a bit painful to navigate; they're generally in sequences heading north or south, but occasional skips and duplicate sequences can make it hard to track down sections to the west or east of the photos. I haven't looked much beyond the 1939-F flight, but I suspect there's some great details elsewhere. UCSC appears to be trying to use crowdsourcing to fill in some of the details, so add notes as you identify locations to help the next viewer.

As you find cool photos from the collection, please add a comment so others can check them out too!

[Aerial photo from UCSC's aerial photograph collection, flight 1939-F. Captions are mine.]

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Best Time To Rip Up Track Is Two Weeks Before An Operating Session

Well, well! It's certainly been a while since I talked about model railroad subjects!

Let's just say it was a busy spring. I hosted an operating session for the Bay Area Layout Design and Operations meet (always the week before the Superbowl, best event on the calendar, come on over next year!). I hosted another operating session in March for our local model railroad invitational, BayRails, and hosted some very skilled operators from Santa Rosa, Arizona, Southern California, and British Columbia. I also had an open house for the Vasona Branch in early April as part of the local Iron Horse Express convention. Whew!

But that list doesn't quite tell how crazy a winter it was, and some of those stories are worth telling.

Adding some "Hurry Up and Wait" to a Model Railroad When I've heard professional railroaders talk about their jobs, I often hear about the "hurry up and wait" moments - how they'll have moments during the day when they need to rush, and other points in their jobs when all they can do is wait for long stretches of time.

I'd had a couple folks remind me that railroaders don't just show up to large industries and start switching; often they'll arrive, search around for the foreman, ask about car placements, and then start switching. Even though my switch lists already contain car doors, that idea of having to walk in and talk to the foreman seemed like a nice bit of the daily grind worth bringing into the operating session.

My low-tech solution was to take a Post-It, fold it in half to make a standing sign, and write "Contact foreman before switching plant". My crews would pull their trains out of staging, think about their moves, then start backing down the track to Plant 51 before seeing the signs. They'd come over, I'd make a couple changes to their switchlist and door spotting instructions, then turn them loose.

I liked how this worked out. The crews got a brief interruption before they started switching that got them away from thinking about the layout, and I dragged out operations a bit more (which is usually a good thing on a smaller layout). Even if their initial plans may have been thwarted, the crews seemed ok with the interruption.

The idea of "find the foreman" isn't original; Seth Neumann has blue flags made from pins and tape blocking some tracks at the Snoboy transshipment yard on his WP Milpitas Yard model railroad; I'm sure other modelers have used similar tricks. It worked well for my layout, so I'm suspecting it's time to make more permanent signs. Excitement At The Operating Sessions As usual, hosting operating sessions on a model railroad can be a bit stressful. I find my Vasona Branch requires a fair amount of prep work beforehand - cleaning track, vacuuming scenery, testing switches, tuning locomotives. I'd told the story back in January about how the prep obviously wasn't enough; on Saturday night before the operating session, cars were constatly derailing when backing into the track leading to Plant 51. Much of Saturday night and Sunday morning was spent trying to tune the cars and track so one of the busiest locations on the railroad didn't turn into a sea of derailed refrigerator cars. That repair worked and led to a good operating session on Sunday afternoon, but that track had gotten me mad.

That track at Plant 51 had been installed probably on day 3 of the model railroad. The offending section was a climbing track with a curved turnout leading to an industry, and with the turnout placed over a joint in the subroadbed. What seemed like inconsequential bumps on my first day of construction had always been trouble spots. It took the frantic effort Saturday night to convince me it was time to fix that track for good. The next week, I ripped up that entire stretch of track. I took a power sander to the roadbed to even out some bumps in the homasote, stiffened some of the joints in the plywood underneath, spackled the roadbed to get rid of any detectable unevenness, and got the track back into operation in time for BayRails. I also ripped out some of the adjoining scenery to better model the missing Los Gatos Creek bridge. Photos forthcoming as soon as I can mock up the Higgins-Hyde Packing Company plant.

The Plant 51 switch ran much better during BayRails, but I'd caught a few cars derailing during the operating session. Being conscientious, I went out the following Sunday morning determined to run the badly-behaving cars around the layout and identify trouble spots. I immediately hit two big ones - some uneven roadbed near Alma that had always been a low-grade problem, and much more frequent derailments at the Los Gatos siding that had been a constant annoyance for the last few years. After the good luck with the Plant 51 switch, I decided to rip out and replace both stretches of track... only to realize that I had two weeks to get both locations back in order before the Iron Horse Express open house. Short answer: the track got replaced, but it was a little touch-and go there.

I did learn some lessons from all these episodes. The Los Gatos Creek scene in San Jose, while unfinished, still came together remarkably fast once I'd decided to rip out and replace the track, and the new trackage makes operations a dream. I'd forgotten how fast I could build and repair when I had some hard deadlines, and the deadlines certainly contributed to getting some lingering problems fixed for good.

Going out that Sunday morning after the operating session was also a wise move, for I fixed several misbehaving cars while I could still remember where the problems had been occurring. More importantly, running a test train with only the worst cars helped me realize how badly-performing some of those cars were, and helped me zero in on bad trackage that I might not have noticed during a regular operating session. I'll certainly try to repeat this exercise after future sessions.

Guess it's time to schedule another operating session soon so I'll have a reason to rip up some track at inappropriate times.

Hyde Cannery: Raw Historical Records

If you like your historical records completely raw and untouched by historians, check out the collection of newspaper clippings about the Hyde Cannery. I've been having conversation with one of George Hydes' descendants, and wanted to share some of the news articles I gathered.

Bonus points for anyone who discovers surprising facts in any of the material.

As hard as it may be to find facts about the San Jose canneries, at least we don't have to worry about our facts being declared top secret.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Movie Night XII: Mayfair Packing

The California Pioneers of Santa Clara County has been borrowing and scanning home movies of the Santa Clara Valley, and they've found a number of great movies including Good Wrinkles, the animated Sunsweet promotional movie, and the home movie of Mission Valley Canning on Autumn Street.

Their latest video is a local news piece on Mayfair Packing, showing what a modern packing house looked like in the 1950's. Check out their website and videos on YouTube for more images from the past.

More Reading: Santa Cruz Trains

If you're more interested in the trains running from San Jose to Santa Cruz than in cannery finances, you might also want to check out Santa Cruz Trains. Derek Whaley from Felton has been writing about the old SP line (among other things), and his latest article follows the old roadbed from Zayante to the Mountain Charlie tunnel.

He's also got more photos of banana slugs in his blog than I do, but I'm probably noticing just because I'm jealous. Go read it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Go In Looking for Model Details, Come Out With Corporate Accounting Experience

So let's recap, shall we?
  • Robert wants to build a model railroad with scenes that match places he likes in California, and wants realistic and busy levels of traffic so he can run lots of trains switching boxcars around the layout.
  • Robert chooses the San Jose - Los Gatos branch because it has lots of busy canneries and dried fruit packing houses, so there will be lots of boxcars to move back and forth.
  • Robert researches the individual canneries, like the Hyde Cannery in Campbell, to understand what to build, and because he's hoping he'll learn interesting historical tidbits that make for good stories about the models and the layout.
  • Robert finds the Hyde Cannery was closed after 1928 or so - the era he models. Robert is annoyed.
  • Robert, being curious, goes to the County Recorder's office to understand why the cannery was closed in what ought to have been a prosperous year.
  • Robert finds documents describing strange mortgages and leases starting several years before the closure, making him wonder about financial difficulties.
  • Robert becomes very fearful that his next step is to take some college coursework in forensic accounting… all to figure out how to build an HO model of a cannery.
Which leads straight to the question of the day. When I'd researched the Hyde Cannery's financial state a few weeks ago at the County Recorder's office, I'd turned up one interesting lease that I didn't understand:
At the same time, Hyde leased all the cannery's warehouse space to the Lawrence Warehouse Company for $1.00 on a month-by-month basis. (7/16/23, book 37 pg 368, as well as renewals in 1924) I don't know if this was a way to raise funds, or if there were legal reasons to have an official warehouse company handling those buildings, but overall feeling I get is that Hyde needed capital.
We also know that Higgins-Hyde did a similar leasing of their warehouse space to Lawrence Warehouse. So… leasing your warehouse, lock, stock, and barrel to another company: sign of desperation, or sign of having very clever accountants?

An interesting story in "The Sunsweet Story" by Robert Couchman actually explains why Hyde's lease of their warehouse might have actually been very smart. When the California Prune and Apricot Growers (Sunsweet) got started in 1917 as a grower co-operative, Sunsweet contracted with sixty-five dried fruit packing houses to receive the dried fruit from the Sunsweet-associated growers, and pack the incoming crop.

When Sunsweet got the 1917 crop packed, they found out working with someone else's packing companies wasn't good. First, they noticed that different packers had wildly different costs, often out of line with what packing the fruit should have cost. Worse, one packer (George N. Herbert Packing Company) refused to turn over $100,000 they'd collected for the crop. Sunsweet responded by putting liens against

"22 carloads of packed fruit, 200 tons of fruit in the firm's warehouse, and a large orchard owned by Herbert. By its prompt and energetic action, the association got its money back and avoided further trouble of this kind."
And Sunsweet learned their lesson: working with the individual packers sucked, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in very big, not good, very bad ways. And they learned that slapping liens on property that someone cares about often gets their attention quickly.

But what to do instead? Now, they could have just opened their own Sunsweet-owned packing houses. But California law at the time put a nasty little restriction on companies: they couldn't borrow money against product in their own warehouses… but they could borrow money against unsold product if it was stored in someone else's public warehouse. (I suspect this was a way to make sure you weren't slipping the product out without paying off the lender.)

So Sunsweet issued another $750,000 in stock, and started buying packing houses. But they called their lawyer and accountant first, and made sure (and here's the trick) all the packing houses were bought in the name of the Growers' Packing and Warehousing Association (GP&WA), which was a company fully owned by Sunsweet. Sunsweet could now take dried fruit from the orchardists, box it in preparation for sale, and put it in the GP&WA warehouse. GP&WA would give them a receipt for whatever they'd stored in the warehouse, and Sunsweet would take the receipt to the bank and, if necessary, borrow money against the fruit now in the safe and protected hands of Growers' Packing.

This little accounting trick explains why Sunsweet Plant #8 in Mountain View had Growers' Packing and Warehousing Association painted across the building, but everyone really knew it was Sunsweet Plant #8 - it was there just so the folks in the warehouse remembered their paychecks were signed by Growers Packing, and not by Sunsweet.

Oh, and guess which packing house they bought first? Yep, George N. Herbert's plant on Lincoln Ave. in San Jose. I wouldn't have trusted him with the 1918 crop either.

And for George Hyde, it's now easy to understand that if he ever wanted to borrow money against the unsold canned fruit or dried fruit in his warehouse, he needed to get it out of his hands. For whatever reason, he decided against making his own company, and so instead called up the very-large Lawrence Warehouse Corporation up in San Francisco, and invited them over to run his warehouse. Hyde would roll his prunes and fruit cocktail into the warehouse, hand it to the Lawrence Warehouse folks, and give them some money for storage fees. He'd get back a warehouse receipt from the very upstanding and very detail-oriented Lawrence Warehouse staff. If he ever needed to borrow some money for the short term, he'd then take those warehouse receipts down to the bank, and walk out with some hard cash borrowed on reasonable terms that he could use to buy more prunes, more apricots, more cans, or more crates.

And if you want to build a model of the Sunsweet plant, or the Hyde Cannery, you don't really need to know about the rules about borrowing money against finished goods in warehouses, or whether the staff in the Hyde Cannery are wearing "Hyde Cannery" t-shirts or "Lawrence Warehouse" t-shirts. At all. It's completely irrelevant, and if you care, it means you've crossed over from a nice model railroad hobby into some strange history/accounting obsession that can't be healthy.

Which means I'm either really strange, or I've started on a path to a lucrative career in corporate forensic accounting. But if I ever had to build models of buildings in downtown San Jose, I know that the building holding George Hyde's accountants ought to be pretty swanky, for it sounds like they knew how to earn their fee.

[Additional information: The official term for opening a public warehouse at a business is called "field warehousing", and it can be done to borrow against both raw materials and finished product. The September 1922 Western Canner and Packer gives a bit of history on the company, and notes that Lawrence Warehouse was one of the early companies doing this business.

The President of the Lawrence Warehouse Company also wrote an article for the February 1923 Western Canner and Packer about the advantages of field warehousing. He raises the point that the system is helpful when railroad cars are scarce (as happened during the rail strikes during the summer of 1922), for it means that the canner isn't forced to immediately sell and ship the whole crop after canning to pay expenses. Instead, the canner can keep product in their warehouse and ship it as bought, borrowing against the warehouse's contents to pay the growers and other suppliers.

This justification also highlights the big change in the dried and canned fruit industry after 1918. Before the US entered World War I, canners and packers would often sell the crop ASAP to speculators who would hold the product and sell it over the year when prices were favorable. The canners didn't have to worry about warehousing space or shipping during the off-season, and also didn't care about price fluctuations.

Anti-profiteering rules during World War I discouraged the speculative wholesalers from holding product during the war. After the war ended, the wholesalers realized they liked not taking on the speculative risk, and instead bought from the canners and packers only as they needed product. The canners then started holding more stuff in warehouses during the off-season, had to staff the warehouse for shipments, and also had to pay more attention to prices. Now that the canners weren't immediately selling the crop, having ways to borrow against the slowly-selling pack became more important. Field warehousing appears to be one way the canners made sure they had access to cash as they slowly sold each year's crop.

There are specific rules about how a field warehouse is run; the Yale Law Journal in September 1960 cites that the items to be "warehoused" are segregated from the rest of the borrower's stock in an area leased for a nominal sum to the warehouse company, and demarcated with signs and physical barriers to warn folks that the contents have a lien against them. The warehouse company takes possession of the items when they enter the warehouse and issues a receipt that can be given to the bank in a loan, and is only supposed to release the products when the receipt is returned. Warehouse companies got a fee - usually a percentage of the value of the products stored - for being responsible for the stored items, and were on the hook for the value if the items weren't there when a creditor came calling. One of the larger court cases in field warehousing came when a public warehouse company controlling storage for a food oils company turned out never to have received the oil that they'd issued receipts for.

Although field warehouses were run as separate companies, they were often run by employees associated with the original business because of knowledge of how the business worked. Some considered this risky for the warehouse company because the employees might have a conflict of interest, but that's how just how things were run.]

Friday, April 5, 2013

So You Want to Be A Canned Fruit Salesman?

Now, I'm interested in canneries and packing houses primarily for building my model buildings and detailing the scenes around the canneries.

But there's so many more reasons to learn about canning: understanding what San Jose was like in the 1920's. Knowing a bit of the history of the places I'm building. Creating a "canned fruit wholesaler" costume for next Halloween.

Luckily, there's occasional gems out there on the Internet to help us understand how industry worked a hundred years ago and provide details for costume parties. For example, there's John Adam Lee's book, Canned Foods: How to Buy, How to Sell that can give some of the background of what the business side of the cannery business was like.

What's the right way to open a can of fruit? Along the side, to better show off the contents. Reserve those samples for the big customers, too, for the sample cans are expensive, and the retailers only buying a few cases aren't worth the time.

Why use a broker?

"The broker is the philosopher, guide, and friend of the packer-telling him what to pack and how to pack it, and selling it for him to responsible people even before it is ready for market. His small percentage or brokerage can well be afforded by the packer and should be cheerfully paid. It is paid only when earned and upon actual sales, and the system is far cheaper than any other sales methods so far found."
Well, that's the positive side. He's got a separate chapter on how brokers can fail you.

There's also some nice advice on limiting pilferage at your cannery, should the need arise. He also teases with colorful outbursts you'd find nowhere else, like

"There are hundreds of irresponsible and incompetent packers in the canned tomato business."
That sentence on its own says more about the freewheeling cannery life in 1915 than anything I'll seen in history books. He also gives charts and tables of canned fruit and vegetable production that's a better way to test for obsessive-compulsive tendencies than anything else I know.

John Adam Lee's book must have been successful, popular, and helpful, for I've seen several editions cited on Google. A later addition did have a few new stories about the games buyers play. None of his wisdom will help me with my model building, but it'll give me some conception of the freewheeling and busy cannery days in the Santa Clara Valley.

Now excuse me, for I need to paint some salesmen figures.