Thursday, May 30, 2013

Note to Self: Never Ask A Canner His Age

Here's another wonderful article by the Queen of Letters for the Evening News, Edith Daley, as she uses up the paper's supply of exclamation points again.

The cynics reading this July 14, 1919 San Jose Evening News article back in the day probably sneered at the puff-piece journalism, but if we wondered what these places - and people - were like, Edith Daley tells us more than any other source.

Chase Plant Magnificent Says E. Daley
"How long have I been engaged in the fruit canning industry? Must I tell that?" asked E. E. Chase with a smile. "That is almost as bad as asking a woman to tell her age! " However, he did tell - that he came to the Golden Gate Packing company [4th Street between Julian and Washington] when he was a youngster, more than 40 years ago. "I was just a roustabout", he explained, with a reminiscent smile. Forty years of honest effort - rarely successful effort - of untiring zeal and irreproachable methods! E.N. Richmond adds to that his more than twenty years of like integrity and ability in the dried fruit industry, and together these successful business men blend experience and strong personalities into the "dream come true" that lies back of the gold-lettered sign.

"Elmer and Ed. We heard them call each other that. It was refreshing in the midst of a business camouflage of dignity that often seems afraid of upsetting! It visioned business as a great game that men play with much the same zeal with which they play ball on the corner lot or flew kites in their knee-trouser days."

Read the full article for details about the cannery on Stockton Street and the former Castle Brothers plant on Montgomery. Mr. Chase, who took particular interest in the cannery, notes that the plans for the new building took a back seat to keeping the trees along the Stockton St. side. The SP drawing for the Richmond-Chase spur, or a group photo of workers at the Stockton Ave plant for some ideas about the trees they were unwilling to cut down. Also check out the stock cars bringing fruit to the plant one busy year.

[Employee photo from the San Jose State University special collections, as part of a photo album of Richmond Chase memories.]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rosenberg Brothers Burns Again

One of the easiest ways to spot a dried fruit packing plant back in the day was to look for things on fire, for it seemed like the things were spontaneously combusting on a regular basis. Doing searches on "packing house fire" on Google News Archive or the California Digital Newspaper Collection turns up quite a selection of infernos from inside and outside California, though there's plenty of perils-of-packing-house stories from within California to keep me busily reading. (Examples? How about this, this, this, or this?)

I'd mentioned last time how one of the big non-cooperative packers, Rosenberg Brothers, got burned out of their building on Ryland Street in San Jose back in late 1906. They ended up moving down along the "narrow gauge" on Sunol Street for the next ten years to the areas which I model. Then, in 1917, they turn up in the "hopefully less inflammatory" Santa Clara. I was being a bit cheeky with that comment, but didn't realize how right I was.

After the 1906 fire, Rosenberg Brothers moved to an unnamed site on San Carlos Street for the 1907 season according to a contemporary city directory, but ended up in 1908 on Sunol Street near Auzerais - an address that didn't match any packing houses I knew of. That corner was starting to get busy, with the future Del Monte cannery on the northeast corner, a Standard Oil depot on the southwest corner, but no known large industries on the other two corners. With some additional searches, I found a clue - a search for "packing house fire" turned up a news story noting that the new plant burned in August, 1915. The most detailed story is the August 7, 1915 San Jose Evening News article, which declares that the fire started in a "huge pile of apricot pits near the railroad track."   The resulting flames spread into the brick packing house, and in spite of the firewalls, turned it into a pile of very hot bricks by the next morning.  Except, of course, for the fire still burning in the remains of the underground fuel oil tank:

At noon today 5000 gallons of fuel oil were burning in an underground tank near the ruined packing house.  The burning oil sent smoke hundreds of feet in the air, casting a gloomy pall over the whole country around the site of the fire.
It didn't help that the plant was outside the city limits, and thus wasn't protected by San Jose's fire department. Those cheaper property taxes also come with less services, which must have been sub-optimal when your business is rapidly becoming carbonized. I don't know if the packing houses were out here because of proximity to the growers, less traffic, better rail access, or cheaper taxes, but access to fire departments seems like more than a "nice to have" when picking locations for a packing house.
H. M. Barngrover, manager of the packing company, says he notified the San Jose fire department very shortly after the fire broke out, but that no engine was on the ground for several hours.
Chief Haley says that since the fire was far out of the San Jose district, the packing company manager should have at once taken up the matter with the mayor or with Haley, and should not have expected the firemen to answer the call until either the chief or the mayor had been notified…
It's worth mentioning that the manager, H.M. Barngrover - Harvey M. Barngrover - was another one of the Valley fruit industry men who keeps popping up over and over - it was a small valley even then for folks in the industry, whether that industry was prunes or web browsers. Harvey had been a vice president at Anderson Barngrover, the equipment manufacturer which became FMC in 1907, and I assume he'd been the namesake for the Barngrover part of that business. He headed over to manage the Rosenberg Brothers packing house some time before 1910, and left to be a cannery manager after 1918.)

FIREBUG CONFESSES TO I.W.W. PLOT The total loss from the 1915 fire was reported as $350,000. And fires like this didn't just happen from carelessness.  My original hint about the fire came from a Sausalito News report in September that a Wobbly - a supporter of the International Workers of the World, and the terrorist boogeyman of a hundred years ago - confessed to having lit the fire as part of a chain of actions against big business.

Deserted by Pals, Weak From Hunger, Man Surrenders to Watsonville Officer
Watsonville: James McGill, a man with a shifting eye and a face which betokens at least a weak character and mind, who declares he is a nurse by profession, but more recently has been engaged in the I. W. W. campaign of terrorism throughout Central California, surrendered himself to the police here on September 24 and made a confession which is believed to be true by local officers....
...he pled guity to setting fire to a grain warehouse at Lodi about ten days ago...planned the destruction of the George Hooke cannery on Walker Street [in Watsonville]... McGill had a part in the destruction of the Rosenberg Brothers cannery at San Jose on August 26...McGill declares his part in the affair was the stealing of some waste from a boxcar in the Southern Pacific yards in San Jose which was used in starting the blaze... set fire to a big lumber yard [in Anderson]."

There's some odd and incorrect facts there - the wrong date for the fire [Thanks, Sausalito News, for wasting a half hour of my life trying to find a mention of the fire around that date], and the description of the Rosenberg Brothers plant as a cannery rather than a dried fruit packing house. But if you were going to go to central casting to find a character to play the dissolute socialist torching our capitalist institutions, you'd be awfully happy with Mr. McGill and his "shifting eye... and weak character and mind."

The nice thing about the San Jose Evening News is their political bent was just a teensy bit less conservative. They labelled themselves as the "friend of the grower" in one editorial, and their only vice appeared to be baiting E. A. and J.O Hayes, the publishers of the Mercury Herald editor of the Mercury Herald and potential candidate for governor (and son).

Santa Clara County Fruit Exchange But I'm curious about where Rosenberg had relocated, and whether they were in the collection of buildings that would eventually host Del Monte, or if they were in some other building I hadn't known about. The Evening News reminds us that the building had been the Santa Clara County Fruit Exchange, one of the early dried fruit co-operatives, and a plant I'd never located. The article narrows the building's location a bit more, noting that the packing house itself was on Sunol Street, and too close for comfort to the Standard Oil depot (the brick buildings you still see at Auzerais and Sunol) and across the street from the Santa Clara Valley Mill and Lumber yard at Sunol and San Carlos. All this suggests the plant was on the west side of Sunol. The 1915 Sanborn maps can't confirm this, for they don't show anything along Sunol St. Later maps show the block of San Carlos, Sunol, Auzerais, and Lincoln as mostly occupied by the Peninsular Railway interurban yard north of the Western Pacific tracks, but those 1939-era aerial photos from U.C. Santa Cruz show some . I'd assumed this was virgin land, but if the Sanborn maps had been scouted after the fire, I'd imagine the demise of the packing house would have left quite a big void on the map.

It's too bad the packing house disappeared, for it sounds like a substantial and interesting building, purpose-built for storing dried fruit. The July 16, 1892 Pacific Rural Press even reported on the creation of the Fruit Exchange and the plans for the new building: "The " Exchange Buildings "will most probably be fireproof, two-story brick, contain the best modern appliances for grading and packing fruit." Well, maybe not "most probably".

The photos above (from the Sunsweet Story by Robert Couchman) show that the plant was like in its early days; unlike most of the industrial photos of the day, it looks like a pretty nice neighborhood with the trees along Sunol Street bordering the lumberyard, and a warm summer day "let's hang out on the loading dock" kind of feel. If I was modeling the early 1900's, I'd be desperate to know whether the plant was ever served by rail, but unfortunately the Sanborn maps before 1915 don't extend out beyond the city limits to hint at the arrangement of the plant.

The photos also hint at the arrangement of the plant: the long warehouses extended north-south along Sunol St. A boilerhouse, separate from the main warehouse, sat along the railroad tracks close to the intersection of Auzerais and Sunol. The pile of apricot pits must've been somewhere close to the boiler house and tracks, potentially behind the boiler house to the left.

So, yes, I was right. Rosenberg Brothers probably left for Santa Clara because San Jose was way too hot for their packing houses. After losing two packing houses in ten years (with one certainly undeserving of its fireproof label), I'm certain they cut their losses and moved somewhere safer.

Rosenberg Brothers History Rosenberg Brothers survived quite a long time for a fruit packer in California. They were founded in 1893 to pack and ship fruit from California. There really were Rosenberg brothers: Max, Abraham, and Adolph, and the last of the brothers died in 1931 leaving behind a chain of packing houses throughout California and Oregon. The Sunsweet Story labels them as the "most successful of the speculative packers" in the late 1920's, working outside the California Prune and Apricot Growers co-op system, sometimes in rather tense relations. Rosenberg Brothers lasted as an independent company until 1947 when they were bought by Consolidated Grocers. They finally disappeared as a concern in 1957; San Jose's own Mayfair Packing bought the dried fruit and walnut operations, and Bonner Packing (the Fresno-based remnant of the company that built the Del Monte Building in Sunnyvale) brought the raisin business in the Fresno area.

[Two historic photos from Sunshine Fruit and Flowers, an 1896 valley booster book. I copied the photos from the Sunsweet Story by Robert Couchman, which reprinted them but cropped out the railroad tracks at the bottom of the photo which cut diagonally across the street, hiding the best clue about the location of the warehouse. Aerial photo from a 1939 photo from U.C. Santa Cruz's aerial photo collection, originally taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Captions by me.]

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trains Rolling Over, and Rosenberg Brothers Burns

I really need to model the 1900's. For one thing, I could make really bad trackwork and still be prototypical. Not only do trains roll over on the old narrow gauge line, but the November 10, 1906 San Jose Evening News also mentions that train #36's engine rolled over the previous day near the broad gauge depot (Market Street). Because the article was buried on page three, I suspect engines rolling over wasn't that uncommon an experience.

Up on the front page, you'll find the story that dragged me to this particular issue: the Rosenberg Brothers packing house burned overnight. As the Evening News put it:

Stewed prunes are a drug on the market today, although the supply is said to be a little overdone. Out on Ryland street adjoining the Southern Pacific tracks there are several thousand tons of thoroughly cooked fruit, enough to supply the United States Army for a month to come.
The prunes were stored in the warehouse of the Rosenberg Brothers' company awaiting shipment to the eastern markets. Early this morning, the warehouse took fire and today there is nothing left but a half block of cinders and ashes and many tons of cooked fruit.
The fire broke out at 1:30 am in the engine room of the packing house, and spread with great rapidity until the whole interior of the building was a mass of flames. When discovered the fire had gained great headway and it was impossible to save the building for destruction.
The burned packing house adjoins the plant of the Inderrieden Packing Company and the firemen devoted their energies to preventing the spread of the flames in this direction. After a hard battle the fire was driven back from the Inderridden plant and the loss was confined to the Rosenberg Brothers' packing house.
A train of Southern Pacific freight cars standing upon the track adjoining the warehouse took fire before they could be hauled away and ten loaded cars were burned. A number of small dwellings on the north side of Ryland street were scorched by the extreme heat, but were saved from destruction by the chemical engine.
... It was first feared that George Gonzales, the night watchman employed at the plant, had been burned in the building, but later it was found that he was safe at home where he has been confined for several days by illness.
The plant was in full operation at present and employed a large force of girls and men. It is estimated that there were fully fifty cars of dried prunes, peaches, apricots, and pears in the building and the loss will total $100,000.
Rosenberg Brothers are big dried fruit packers with headquarters in San Francisco and branches in all leading fruit sections. The local manager is George Hyde. Mr Hyde was in San Francisco when the fire was discovered, having gone there on Friday.
The photo shows the Rosenberg plant a few months earlier, captured by George Lawrence's aerial photo of San Jose. You can see the line of buildings on Ryland Street, helpfully annotated by their owners in whitewash as part of the aerial photo celebration. Abinante and Nola will be in Inderrieden's plant in 1945. You can even see Earl Fruit's plant at the bottom of the photo, as well as the huge expanse of the SP freight house in the middle of the yard.

Interestingly, Rosenberg Brothers was a newcomer to San Jose, only appearing in the city directories in 1906. Time to look through old papers to see hints of what brought them to town.

And yes, the manager of the burned plant, George Hyde, is the same George Hyde that will be building a cannery in Campbell in a few years. Bet he made sure there was a substitute night watchman on hand when the night watchman got sick. George had only been doing the job for a year; the 1905 San Jose City Directory listed him as an orchardist out in Cupertino in 1905. He was still manager of the Rosenberg Brothers plant in 1907, but went back to the orchards in 1908. He'll go back into management in 1910 when he and E. E. Thomas manage their own dried fruit company, then take over the former Campbell Fruit Growers Union in Campbell.

Rosenberg moved their operation to San Carlos St. "near the creek" for the 1907 season, then to the former Santa Clara Valley Fruit Exchange plant on the northwest corner of Sunol and Auzerais Sts, where they stayed from 1908 through 1915. That year, the plant the plant was taken by arson, and Rosenberg moved to hopefully less inflammatory Santa Clara.

Also in Saturday's paper:

  • Redding man tries to hold up italian restaurant. John Leishman was refused breakfast because it was too late, so rather than ask "pelase?" he pulled out a gun.
  • Updates on the gas-pipe thug murders.
  • Maude Adams, the Debbie Reynolds of her time, turns 34.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Danger Stalks the Railroad Tracks

Going through old newspapers definitely gives you an idea about what the dangers of the time were. The 1930's Campbell newspapers were filled with harrowing stories of car crashes and cars getting hit by trains. When I was searching the 1903 Evening News articles for any mention of a fire at A. & C. Ham Packing, there were lots of stories of injuries, deaths, and near-deaths from spooked horses and trains. Needless to say, I was a bit more interested in the train stories, and was surprised how many stories were about injuries or near-injuries to the workers in the railroad yards.

The breathless "locomotive kills railroad worker" stories, apart from hinting at the danger of railroading at the turn of the century, are also interesting for hints about how trains operated back then.

Narrow Gauge and Standard Gauge Train Nearly Collide in Los Gatos For example, the Monday, June 22, 1903 San Jose Evening News mentions a near-collision between a broad-gauge and narrow-gauge train. In this case, a standard-gauge train coming from the picnic grounds at Sunset Park (high up in Los Gatos Canyon beyond the summit tunnel at Wrights) left Los Gatos headed downhill at the same time that the narrow-gauge train to Santa Cruz left Campbell. Luckily, the two trains saw each other and were able to stop before colliding.

Part of the problem might have been the recent completion of the standard gauge track to Wrights - that is, taking the existing narrow gauge tracks with rails three feet apart, and adding an additional rail 56.5 inches away so both narrow and standard gauge trains could use the tracks. The April 14, 1903 Evening News had reported two months before that the conversion was almost complete to Wrights. It had been a substantial job - widening cuts, strengthening bridges, and daylighting a tunnel in Los Gatos Canyon two miles above Los Gatos. The crews were probably still getting used to the idea of checking both the standard and narrow gauge timetables for conflicting trains.

Standard-gauging the whole railroad from San Jose to Santa Cruz would take a few more years; the cutover was planned for April 18, 1906, but the Great San Francisco Earthquake destroyed the summit tunnel and delayed standard gauging for another three years.

Track Worker Falls Under Train, Killed Later that same evening, a track worker fell underneath railroad cars at Campbell when the car he was sitting on was recoupled to the train. Nicola Caravello was a new immigrant from Italy who'd only been in the United States for two years. Caravello's death made it to the front page, and because of the local interest was featured high on the front page, well above an update on Saturday's wreck in Marin County at Point Reyes Station on the North Shore / North Pacific Coast railroad. That wreck, which one of the books on the North Pacific Coast, labels the worst accident on the road, injured 29 and killed two when a funeral train going too fast left the tracks on a sharp curve.

One possible reason for the gravel train might have been for work on the San Francisco-San Jose main line. A May 22, 1903 Evening News article notes that progress on double-tracking the San Francisco to San Jose main line is going well:

Five gravel trains now play between here [San Jose] and Palo Alto with ballast for the double track which is fast approaching San Jose. Men are being constantly added to the gangs and the work of completion is being rushed.
The gravel pits along Los Gatos Creek south of San Jose would have been a good source of gravel for the new line, and Caravello's death would fit with lots of new employees and rushed work.

Commute Train Engine Falls Over at Narrow Gauge Depot The May 22, 1903 Evening News reported on the Friday afternoon San Francisco to Los Gatos passenger train's locomotive derailing and falling over on its side. The rather embarrassing accident occurred just as the train reached the old narrow gauge station where Diridon station now sits. It was also a very public and visible wreck, entertaining hundreds of witnesses at the station and on nearby streets. A rider on the Santa Clara St. streetcar reported:

Our car had just stopped at the crossing [on the Alameda] to allow the Los Gatos train to pass. It was nearly half past one when the train pulled into view around the bend from San Francisco. Just as the engine pulled past the ice plant [at Julian St., one block up] within plain sight of where we were standing it jumped the track and commenced bumping along the ties in a cloud of dust and debris. After running a short distance the engine toppled slowly over on its side burrowing its nose into the loose dirt and snorting and hissing a last gasp.
Obviously folks were a lot more jaded then, for this article was buried on page 5. If a Caltrain engine flopped over on its side within sight of Diridon station today, we'd have news helicopters circling endlessly and declaring the immense danger of commuting by rail. The San Jose Evening News of the time thought the following stories more important than a locomotive falling over:
  • Balloon (oops, "airship") exhibition at Longchamps, France.
  • Child in Illinois may lose his tongue after licking ammonia pipe at new ice plant.
  • Local horse and buggy thief captured in Monterey.
  • San Francisco Chronicle declares that prune crop looks good.
  • Washington D.C.: Experimental subjects testing preserved and adulterated meat go on strike because of too much borax'ed meat.
  • Girl in Indiana shot by jealous lover.
  • Boy burglars captured after several robberies in San Jose, and caught at the broad gauge depot.
  • Hogs in Dixon, California eat suicide. 

  • ...and several other stories that obviously were more interesting than a railroad locomotive flipping over on its side right there in the middle of town.

I was surprised by the idea of a mid-afternoon Los Gatos train - most of the timetables I saw showed only a single Los Gatos commute train from San Francisco, but the SP's handy timetable in the day's paper showed five trains to Los Gatos at 9:48 am, 10:20 am, 1:35 pm, 4:21 pm, and 6:20pm, with a train to Campbell and New Almaden at 4:45 pm only. Switching Campbell on my layout would be a lot more interesting if the crews had to get out of the way of passenger trains that often.

Trouble at the Market Street Station Some of the stories hint at how the railroad was was operated. For example, the old Market Street station north of downtown had tracks which crossed several busy downtown streets. There was also a sharp curve where the tracks joined Fourth Street so the mainline to Los Angeles could run down the middle of the street past San Jose State. Some of the switching movements - such as assembling the commute trains for San Francisco - would have requires a switch engine to pull cars along that Fourth Street curve. But that sharp curve and the street running would have made all the crews especially vigilant, right?

Uh, no.

Engines in a Collision: Smashup at Second Street Crossing This Morning The Evening News on July 9, 1903 leads with the breathless "Engineer and Firemen Jump for their Lives" article:

A fast manifest freight from Gilroy crashed into a switch engine at the Second Street crossing of the Southern Pacific at 5:40 this morning and a serious wreck resulted. The freight was pulling into the station at a high rate of speed concealed from view by the sharp curve at Second Street. The switch engine was upon the same track and proceeding slowly in the opposite direction.
Suddenly the freight pulled into view and bore down upon the switch engine with a speed which made the avoidance of a collision an impossibility. The trainmen realized their danger and after reversing their engines jumped to the ground.
The locomotives came together with a resounding crash which nearly demolished the light engine and severely damaged the other… the crippled engines were towed to the roundhouse and the broken wood and other evidences of the accident were removed.
So why was the switch engine pulling cars so far east? I haven't seen any good maps of the San Jose yards as of 1905, but the 1915 Sanborn map shows that most of the freight yards were west of San Pedro St., while a small passenger yard existed right behind the depot between San Pedro and First Street. Now, a 5:40 am train crew might have been switching boxcars from the east end of the yard or from the packing houses along the tracks, or they could have been putting together the first commute trains of the day. My first guess would be they were a crew with passenger cars, but another story from a year later suggests both are possible.

Trains Crash Together At The Broad Gauge Depot The November 3, 1904 Evening News again buries a story on page three when a switch engine crew blocked the main line in front of the station just as a freight train arrives from Salinas in the late afternoon. We know the switch engine was pulling from the east end because both engines touched in the crash.

Owing to the carelessness of an engineer in charge of a switch engine which was making up a train of freight cars at the broad cage depot last evening a collision took place with the way freight from Salinas. The freight train had the right of way and the engineer of the switch engine whose name was Tescheran had orders to run his cars on another track. Owing to his slowness the freight bore down and the engines crashed together… The wreck was cleared away in about an hour and a half and caused no interruption of regular traffic. The accident took place at about 4:30 p.m. None of the trainmen was hurt.
New Buildings at Market Street The awkwardness which might have caused the first near-miss at Los Gatos might have encouraged some of the problems at the Market Street Depot. A October 11, 1902 article describes more work needed for the double-tracking as workers moved telegraph poles away from the depot and built an additional track at the station. There's also rumors of a new building for Wells Fargo and a dining room for tourists which as far as I know was never built.

There were other stories - railroad men pinned between trains or hit by a moving freight car in the yard, but all the stories hinted that the railroads were a lot faster and looser with operations at the turn of the century than in the 1930's. With each of those accidents and news reports, we learn a bit more about how the trains were operating in the last century.