Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More SP Engineering Drawings... From the Dome of Foam!

Last year, I told you about going on eBay and buying a 170 SP engineering drawings from the 1940's, then scanning them all and putting them up on Flickr. I don't think I mentioned that I'd also bid on a couple other sets, but managed to get outbid.

Well, luckily, one of those high bidders was E.O. Gibson, Caltrain engineer, train order instructor, and owner of the Dome of Foam, one of my favorite railroad (and San Jose-related) web sites. (Haven't read the Dome of Foam yet? Go do it now! Shoo!) E.O. just scanned his set of drawings, and put them up on the web.

Dome of Foam Southern Pacific Engineering Drawings

There's some cool details for both San Jose modelers and SP fans whose interests run a bit further from the main office. For us San Jose fans, there's a great plan of the tracks around the United States Products and Contadina cannery off of Race St. The plan shows way more spurs branching off the Los Gatos branch than either the SPINS books or Sanborn maps show. There's also some nice plans of tracks near Bassett St. and Ryland St. up by the Market Street station. Another drawing hints at the location of the Drew Canning Company, formerly in the Ainsley cannery, now off of Lafayette Street in Santa Clara.

Going further afield shows additional cool drawings, such as a great sketch of the buildings at the Surf depot near Lompoc, and another showing all the packing houses along the tracks in Winters.

Go check both sets out and see what bits of history you discover. If you check out my Flickr set of drawings, add comments right on the pictures; if you see something interesting on the Dome of Foam drawings, drop a note to E.O. with your discovery!

Question TimeAnd here's a question for all you smart folks out there: why would SP build a switchman's shanty and bathroom off at Race Street and Moorpark in San Jose, when they're so close to Cahill St. Station?

[Drawing of Race Street switchman's shanty and toilet from the Southern Pacific Coast / Western Divisions Engineering Drawings on / the Dome of Foam. Great thanks to E.O. for sharing them!]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Too Many Italians?

Fill it up! We're overrun!

When I'm poking around at San Jose history, my favorite source is the San Jose Evening News back issues, easily available through Google News Archive. (Read 'em while you can; Google News Archive project was stopped in 2011, and although they're keeping the old issues up, I could imagine them going away some day.) The Evening News seems quite modern to my eyes, compared to other papers. (The Campbell Interurban Express, for example, used some syndicated editorial cartoonist who was pretty strongly anti-immigrant.)

However, there's still surprises. For example, in 1919, an anonymous writer gnashed his teeth at the presumption of Italian work crews to start thinking they could run the formerly Anglo-Saxon orchards:

Is the working of the orchards of Santa Clara county passing out of the hands of the owners of the orchards, and will this in time bring on a condition such as there is in England where aristocrats own the land, middle class farmers lease it, and a fixed class of farm laborers do the actual work?
That is one of the questions which occur to anyone who studies the cherry industry in this county. And the thing that brings up this question is the way that Italian and Slavonian middlemen are sliding into the handling of most of the cherry crops. As already stated in this series, in the old days the orchardist generally attended to his own picking and packing, hiring the labor and superintending it, and owning the output of the orchard himself until the day it was sold in New York or some other big eastern city. But now Slavonian and Italian middlemen go to the orchardist, and make a bid for the entire crop as it hangs on the tree. If the bid is accepted, the orchardist's work for the season is finished. The middleman hires and superintends the labor of picking and packing.

...For it is an economic fact which is of precisely the sort that presages all sorts of social and political changes.

The orchardists are most of them of native American stock. They find themselves unable to cope with the problem of hiring and superintending the labor needed, which is generally of foreign origin. It is just here where the middleman comes in. A Slavonian or Italian himself, he has command of sources of labor supply which the American simply cannot reach. He brings his cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, wife, and his friends, and their friends. He performs a valuable service, of course, but the orchardists seem to feel that he gets a pretty big share of the proceeds.

Orchardist after orchardist testifies to the tendency of middlemen to slip into the orchard business.

"What's the matter? Haven't we got the ability to handle our own affairs?" asked on orchardist in discussing the matter.

Most of the article continues on the fear that the orchard lands would eventually be owned by distant rich owners, but the wording - comments on the lack of a beautiful home in the orchards, but instead "some shacks occupied by Japanese laborers, and a cheap little house occupied by the [foreign] foreman and his wife."

Kind of a scary proposition - who knows what the Valley might have been like if the Slavonian and Italian middlemen started grabbing the majority of the profits in the Santa Clara Valley, and then started building their homes in the midst of their rented and owned land? Heck, they might have ended up dominating the fruit industry!

[Albert T. Reid editorial cartoon from a Campbell Interurban Express issue, probably in the early 1930's.]

Crossing the Boundary Between Modeling and History

As I've said over and over, one of the challenges of modeling the 1930's (or of doing family history) is that I can't just rely on experiences with my childhood or stories from friends to understand what San Jose, or the canning industry, or the agricultural industry was like. At some point, I've got to switch from an interested model railroader to an amateur historian, and I need to search out the documents that might explain what life was like.

I've already explained how documents on home loan redlining could tell me about the ethnicities in particular neighborhoods and fears of loan officers, but here's two more documents that are worth a glance.

Tenant Farmers: First is a study by the Commonwealth Club in the early 1930's about tenant farmers in different counties of California. (Commonwealth Club Tenancy Studies: April-June 1932, reported by R. L. Adams.) The first pages list the questions the club was asking, but generally, they were curious about whether renting land or owning land was better for the community. As a side note, they gave some nice, objective data about the agricultural industry in different areas.

For example:

The Amador valley of the region around Pleasanton is largely given over to tenant farming. Dairying is scattered throughout the lower and flatter irrigated lands. Hay and grain is dry-farmed in the valley and foothills... the so-called vegetable land is held by large companies and leased for sugar beet, beans, and the like. Vineyards are located to the south and southeast of Pleasanton. Almost without exception they are owner-operated...
The majority of tenants are to be found in the hay and grain sections. Closely following is the alfalfa land on which are run dairies... nationalities are as follows: Americans 50% - Foreign 50%. OF the american, quote a large percentage is of foreign extraction... Portuguese 40-60%, Scandinavian 20-30%, Italian 10-20%, German 5-15%, Asiatic: negligible. There is a very sparse sprinkling of Irish, and practically no Swiss.

For Alameda County and for the area around Hayward, the author notes that many of the farmers were Portuguese, and while some farms were tenant-owned, most of the fruit ranches were owned by the farmers.

Sadly, there's nothing on Santa Clara County, but it might be great data for understanding the farms and products for someone modeling another part of California.

How Do You Harvest Tomatoes? As much as we think of Santa Clara County canneries as preserving our apricots, peaches, and pears, tomatoes was also a common canning crop; as late as the 1960's, folks remember the smell of cooking tomatoes coming from Del Monte Plant #3 on San Carlos St. in San Jose. Now, I've commented on some of the process for processing fruit in the past, but how did tomatoes get handled? Here's the information - a contract for picking tomatoes in the Almaden Valley (San Vicente Ranch Contract for Picking Tomatoes, Los Gatos CA, August 31, 1927). Frank and John Joseph, probably the ranch managers for Harry Schumann's San Vicente Ranch, were contracting with C. M. Gomez to pick crops on McKean Road in the Almaden Valley, and they spell out both the process and the price:

"It is agreed that the party of the second part shall pick all the 1927 crop of tomatoes now growing on the Schumann ranch known as San Vicente ranch situated on the McKeen Rd. It is agreed that the picking shall be done in a clean manner and that no rotten or unfit tomatoes shall be placed in the boxes. It is agreed tomatoes shall be placed in boxes by party of the second part along wagon roads made through the tomato field by party of the first part.
It is agreed that as many pickings shall be made and at such times as the party of the first part shall designate. Also that party of the second part shall not harm tomatoes vines any more than is absolutely necessary in the picking operation.
It is agreed that parties of the first part shall pay party of the second part the sum of two dollars and sixty cents ($2.60) per net ton of tomatoes upon completion of the picking job. However if party of the second part should desire small advances to pay men or buy food, then party of the first part may make such advances at his pleasure."
These days, of course, tomatoes are all mechanized; the fields are swept in a single pass that pulls up all the vines, and the tomatoes are separated from the vines mechanically. The idea of multiple passes and "not harming the vines" makes the tomato harvest sound very manual and very hard.

But the neat thing is the document says a little about harvesting, and helps us guess at harvesting costs. Last year, I'd looked at that balance sheet for Farm Product Sales, and guessed they processed around 2200 tons of fresh tomatoes a year. FPS spent about $6600.00 to harvest their tomatoes; at $2.05/ton to pick and another $1.00/ton to get the tomatoes to the packing shed and packed for shipping, the 2200 ton guess is looking mighty reasonable.

Both these documents are mighty esoteric, and I don't really need to know any of this to run trains around my model railroad. However, they do help me understand the place I'm modeling and the people who were involved. Sometimes, that'll help with local color, such as choosing names for businesses; sometimes, it'll help to explain to folks why a particular ranch would have been similar to the one their Italian or Mexican grandparents rented or worked. Having those stories helps make the model railroad that much more special.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hints on Following the Vasona Branch Blog

Just as a little side note: I know I haven't been blogging regularly lately. If you've been keeping up by visiting these pages every week, you're probably a trifle annoyed that nothing's changed. Remember that there's better ways to watch for new articles from me than just checking the same link day after day:
  • Twitter: follow me at @rwbowdidge. I always post Twitter entries when I publish a new entry, so you should see a quick mention in your Twitter feed. I also share random comments and links on Bay Area history, so you should regularly see some fun content.
  • Google Plus: I also share new blog entries on Google Plus. Add me to one of your circles to get notifications when new articles are added. I also tend to use Google Plus to share computer-related content, but if you like Google Plus, it might be the easiest way to watch for new articles.
  • RSS Readers: There's a bunch of programs on desktop and tablet computers called "RSS readers" that watch a set of web pages you like for new content. (Don't ask what RSS stands for, just realize it means that you'll see new stuff on websites you care about.) Google Reader was unfortunately my favorite way to follow a large list of blogs, but it was recetly shut down. I currently use Feedly to give me a single web page showing new articles from a hundred blogs and online magazines - some history-related, some architecture related, and some just plain weird.
  • Flipboard and other rss-like readers: Flipboard, an iPad-based electronic magazine reader, takes the RSS reader idea, and makes it beautiful. Flipboard allows you to create a new section for items shared by a set of Twitter users, or that would be displayed to you on Google Plus. You can create a section for a specific Twitter user (press the magnifying glass in the upper right, and type @rwbowdidge to get a section just on my Twitter posts), or a section for a Twitter List (list of twitter users to watch simultaneously), or just have it show all the messages you'd see in Twitter. You can also create your own "magazine section" by adding articles you find elsewhere, and let other people see the items you share. If you've got an iPad and aren't using Flipboard every day, you're using your iPad wrong. I love Flipboard; it's part of my morning read-the-newspapers routine.
And now that you have a way to watch for interesting new blog articles, remember that there's some great historians and model railroaders out there writing interesting articles on tons of topics; check out any of these tools so you can always have a ton of great stuff to read! Some of my favorites include: Take care, and keep your fingers crossed that I write more regularly!

Making Money the Old-Fashioned Way: Selling Nice Things

Reading through the perils of cannery owners, sometimes it looks like the typical canner was behaving a lot more like a Silicon Valley startup. Production volume was the big goal, margins didn't seem so great, competition was tough, and the cost of raw materials went all over the place. Sometimes, it looked like their model was that oh-so-modern "I'll lose money on every product, but I'll make it up in volume!" I didn't hear about any canneries actively giving away product, but I may not have been looking in the right magazines.

But then you come across Elton Shaw's Shaw Family Cannery, and you find out that some of the canneries focused on making a beautiful product, and seemed to do okay. Even better, their story includes the drama of the lone entrepreneur, and the multi-national that bought them, and the sale to another mega-corporation, and that scrappy entrepreneur buying the company back to make fruit by-products the way he thought it should be done.

The Shaw Family Cannery was special because they didn't just do canned fruit - they also were a maker of fine jam. As Edith Daley breathlessly described during her visit in August, 1919 (quoted in the August 5, 1919 San Jose Evening News):

"From the ripening of the first cherry until the last ruddy apple turns into deliciously old-fashioned "back-east" apple butter, this place of "fine jams and preserves" offers a diversified program with every act a top-liner. Jellies of all fruit flavors and attractive colors; jam that makes you hungry for hot biscuit-and jam; preserves that you can "see through" they are so clear; orange marmalade; apricot marmalade; spiced peaches and pears, and apricots. Melba pack means only three or four perfect peaches or pears in each glass jar."

Edith wasn't the only fan; the March 1915 Coffee and Tea Industries and the Flavor Fields Magazine also thought highly of their fruit:

The Hyde-Shaw Co., under the able direction of Mr. Shaw, has attained a foremost position among canning plants, specializing in putting fruits into attractive glass packages. Hyde-Shaw goods, grown and packed in the wonderful Santa Clara Valley, have been sold largely under private labels. The Hyde-Shaw pack is hand-peeled and comprises the full list of California fruits, in a wide variety of preserved and packed forms; is double German-processed, and presents a most attractive appearance in the sanitary glass jars."

The Cannery History: The cannery started off as the Hyde-Shaw cannery in 1907, run by William H. Hyde, Jr. (unrelated to the Campbell Hydes) and Elton Randall Shaw. Elton was either an extremely interesting character, or else there were a lot of kids with his name running around California. There's signs in old census and voting records that he was a farmer in Berryessa in 1884; a miner in Enterprise, Butte County, in 1896; an engineer for the "Electric Laundry" in San Francisco in 1899; and the sales manager for the Economy Jar Company before 1907.

I've found less on Hyde; he was born in California in 1865; his father was a former 49'er, house mover, and contractor who appeared to have been quite successful. Hyde himself turns up as a clerk and bookkeeper at different points in his life; through 1903, all our sightings of him are in San Francisco; then, in 1907, he turns up as half of the Hyde-Shaw company and living in beautiful San Jose. That "just jump to conclusions!" part of me immediately guesses that he came to The Valley Of Heart's Delight as a San Francisco earthquake refugee, who then moseyed on back up to Berkeley once he cashed out.

First Independent, Then Bought By the Hawaiians: Around 1907, Mr. Shaw teamed up with Mr. Hyde and formed Hyde-Shaw to can fruit in attractive glass jars. And then, of course, as you might expect in the Santa Clara Valley, they got an offer they couldn't refuse, as the Hawaiian Pineapple Company wanted a way to sell their pineapple juice on the mainland, and a local canner seemed like just the ticket. The May 30, 1910 Hawaiian Star notes that as part of the new company direction (led by the company's president, James D. Dole), they were buying the entire Hyde-Shaw Company, and bringing Mr. Shaw on staff. Hyde, instead got a handy $15,000 and a handshake for his half of the company, and moseyed back up to spend the rest of his days in Berkeley, sometimes being less entrepreneurial as he did bookkeeping for a bank and similar jobs, but at least he'd grabbed for his gold ring.

Bought By the Delawareans: Dole's plan was to let Hyde-Shaw run for a couple years in its current configuration, then start working on the pineapple juice business with Shaw's help. But it wasn't to be; after five years, Hyde-Shaw was sold again, this time to Richardson and Robbins, a Delaware-based canner looking for a west coast connection and a source for fancy California fruit. The March 13, 1915 California Fruit News notes that Shaw will direct both the San Jose plant and Richardson and Robbins's existing Dover, Delaware plant, where he'd be continuing their production of canned plum pudding, boned chicken, and Delware peaches and pears. Richardson and Robbins, like Dole, had grand plans to extend the business in the future.

Buying His Own Company Back: And in a very Silicon Valley, dot-com story, Richardson and Robbins didn't keep their purchase long, but sold the company back to Elton Shaw in 1918, where the founder would be able to run the company right. And he did that, as Edith's full article explains. "This is no affair of the preserving kettle and a long-handled spoon! No heart here skips a beat for fear the bubbling stuff won't "jell". They never have to set it on the windowsill in the sun and pray over it! In most families, jam and jelly are a gamble. With the Shaw Family incorporated, Fourth and Virginia streets, it is a Science." Edith also notes that Shaw Family fruit is of such great quality that it's served on Pennsylvania and New York Central dining cars. She also waxes rhapsodic on the orange marmalade processing, and the beautiful views from the third floor of the plant.

But nothing goes forever, whether in dot-com land or in the jam business, and neither did the Shaw Family Cannery. In 1928, a large fire destroyed their warehouse and product. To recapitalize, Elton went, hat in hand, to the people of San Jose, and offered shares in the company to help them rebuild; the offering appeared in a full-page ad in the October 30, 1928 San Jose Evening News. The money-raising must have worked, for the cannery continued to turn up in city directories until 1940, with the last entry listing the company as "fruit juice makers", with A.G. Moore president, A.A. Hapgood, vice-president, and E.S. Shaw as secretary and manager. An old issue of the Almaden Resident from 2005 hints that Elton Shaw was running a cannery out at his ranch on McKean Road in the Almaden Valley, which may hint that Elton continued to moonlight in the cannery business.

Dole, of course, ended up back on that corner years later when they bought the Barron-Gray cannery across the street from Hyde-Shaw, and ensured that their pineapple would be filling America's fruit salad bowls.

[Shaw's Fine Jams ad from a December 10, 1920 San Jose Evening News. Building layout from a 1915 Sanborn map, showing the Shaw Family Cannery on the west side of Fourth at Virginia. Note Sunsweet #17 (former O.A. Harlan packing house) one block up at Martha.]