Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Do You Hear Me, Bowman?"

Ah, the fun of all that wacky new technology. From the September 11, 1885 San Jose Daily News comes the following story:
Agonizing Experience of a Business Man This Morning
A telephone in a certain business place in this city is in use so much by loud voiced manipulators, with strong breaths, that it is in crippled condition about half the time.
It was unusually bad this morning when the principal chin worker wanted to communicate with Superintendent Bowman, of the Golden Gate Packing Company.
Then the people within a circuit of fifty of sixty yards heard the following.
"Ting aling aling: Ting aling aling."
"Just give me the Golden Gate Packing Company."
"Hello! Hello! Hello!"
"Do you hear me Bowman? Hello? Hel-lo-o-o-o-o-o Bowman, can you hear me now? I can't hear you - I mean you can't hear me. Can you? Hel-lo-o-o-o-o-o. (aside.) There's something serious the matter with the thing. I can't make him hear to save my life!"
A News reporter who stood by, tried to help him out and said:
"Well, why don't you put it in?"
"Put what in?"
"Your mouth. You must put it into that funnel and then talk in a natural tone. In that way, the danger of explosion is considerably lessened."
"Put my mouth inside the tube? Why what in the world are you talking about? This tube is not more than an inch in diameter and-"
"Of course I understand that your mouth is about four inches across. You used it too much when you were young, and before your cheek got hard; but nevertheless, she says, that the mouth must go in if you want to do a satisfactory business over the Sunset line. You must wrap or fold your lips up somehow or you'll have to walk to the Golden Gate."
"What do you mean by 'she'?"
"The daisy at the Central, of course."
"You're joking?"
"Oh, no. She told me this morning. She don't know me; she might now have said it if she ever saw my mouth; for of course she knows that this is only an ordinary funnel on this telephone."
The man then grabbed a handful of his mouth, pushed it into the funnel and yelled "hello" so loud that all the bells on the line commenced ringing.
"Can you talk as loud as that any time you want to?" asked the reporter.
"Why, yes, even louder." said the man.
"Well, then. I don't see why you want to waste your time on that instrument when the man you want to talk to is less than a mile away. If I was you I'd go to the window and tell Bowman that you want to talk to him."
Then the man walked rapidly away while the silvery smile of the telephone girl floated gently across the line.
Too bad Verizon wasn't maintaining those telephones.

Golden Gate Packing got in the news a lot, and not just for crank phone calls. The San Jose Evening News managed to preserve for posterity that Elmer Chase, who learned the fruit business Golden Gate and refined his techniques at Richmond-Chase, was also a bit of an actor, playing the title role in a Spring 1886 production of The Mikado:

Elmer Chase is Chased by a Watch Dog on Third Street
About 11 o'clock last evening, as Mikado Chase was returning home from a rehearsal of the "Pirates,", he met with quite an adventure at the corner of Third and Julian street.
Mr Chase was softly humming: "From every kind of man obedience I expect. // I'm the Emperor of Japan and..."
The selection was interrupted at this point by Mr. Chase being seized by the left leg by a large dog, who had sneaked upon him from the rear.
It was nip and tuck between the Mikado and dog for a hundred yards, the latter succeeding in nipping off a piece of the Mikado's pants, while Mr. Chase jumped a fence eleven feet high, in the rear of the Golden Gate Packing Company, at one bound.
This dog has a very unpleasant way of nabbing passers-by in this locality in the still night hours, and he seems to enjoy it, as he never barks until he has taken the bark from the pedestrian's shin.
Mr. Chase sustained no serious injuries, but when he reached the other side of the fence his pants looked like a last years birds nest.
That's the problem with Silicon Valley these days. There's no problem in getting everyone out to Black Rock Desert for Burning Man, but you'll never get them to volunteer for Gilbert and Sullivan.

Movie Night XIV: 1930's Oakland Home Movies

Bay Area folks will appreciate these photos of Oakland in the 1930's, with photos of the City of San Francisco being towed through Alameda, followed by shots of the trains approaching and leaving the Oakland Mole ferry terminal. There's no cannery content, though there's some neat shots of planes at Oakland Airport (and perhaps Alameda) if you're into that sort of thing... Great thanks to whoever thought to preserve these home movies!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Irrational Exuberance in the Canning Industry

And they complain about crazy wages and perks in high tech.

The August 29, 1889 San Jose Evening News shared this magical fact:

The Colusa Herald says the head canner in John Bidwell's cannery at Chico gets more salary than a United States Senator at Washington.

Besides, when did you ever see a U.S. Senator who could solder a lid on a can of peaches?

Betweeen canning wages, orchestras playing for the packing house girls, and free transport to the canneries, it's surprising that folks in San Jose worked anywhere other than the cannery.

I'll also mention, without comment, how George Church drove his express wagon in from of the 10:21 Monterey train on Third Street. (Obviously, distracted drivers were a problem even back in the horse-and-buggy days.) It's not a particularly essential news article, but it's a nice reminder of how dangerous those crossings around the Market Street station could be. We also find about how the nice folks over at the Golden Gate Cannery on Fourth Street helped Church off the pilot of the locomotive.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

West Side Story, set in Campbell

I wonder if Preiser makes HO teenage gang figurines? It looks like they may be a necessary part for building a model of a cannery. And for those of you who always feared that Campbell was a violent town: congrats, you've been proven right.

A gang fight which has been culminating at the Ainsley cannery at Campbell some time past broke out last night and for a time threatened to develop into serious proportions.
The seat of the trouble is the animosity of the Campbell faction to the outsiders who are given employment at the cannery and there have been numerous indications of feeling within the past few days.
By a tacit agreement, it was decided to settle the contention last evening by permitting the leaders, Frank Weeks for the town boys and George Hyer for the aliens, to engage in fistie combat and the opposing gang lined up at the closing hour to witness the fray between the champions.
Weeks was outside the cannery ready to do battle when Hyer came forth, but instead of doffing his coat and rolling up his sleeves the alien leader drew a big revolver and fired point blank at Weeks.
The bullet whizzed just above Weeks shoulder so close that the clothing was penetrated. Hyer then held the other faction at bay with his weapon and made his escape from town.
Word of the shooting was sent to Sheriff Ross and Deputy Sheriff Cottle arrived at the cannery in time to prevent further trouble. A warrant was sworn out for the arrest of Hyer on the charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder, and he was captured while attempting to escape on an outbound train from Campbell shortly after midnight.
This morning Hyer was brought before Judge Benson for arraignment and his preliminary examination was set for Thursday morning at 10 o'clock.
It is stated that there is danger of further trouble at Campbell as the local boys declare that they should be given preference at work in the fruit over strangers.
Seriously, conflict between the locals and out-of-towners for jobs was a challenge for the canneries in lean years; in the 1930's, there's comments about Ainsley giving priority to workers who had been at the cannery in previous years. For the crops that didn't attract locals, such as the pea harvest in Alameda County, there was always the tension of huge numbers of outsiders appearing, especially if the workers showed up before the harvest started. (See, for example, Migratory Labor in the California Market Pea Crop by Raymond Barry.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Where to Put the Switchmans' Shanties?

Last week, I'd told you about E.O. Smith's collection of engineering drawings that he'd just put online; one of those plans specified the new location for a switchman's shanty off Race Street in the West San Jose cannery district.

Now, it's really nice that the "Friendly" Southern Pacific was willing to place a little building on Race Street so the switchmen would have a place to get warm, use a bathroom, and paper every surface with porn (link suitable for work - it's a quote from one of Linda Niemann's books) in a very 20th century industrial way. Still, I'd sort of thought that the Southern Pacific was... well, cheap. Really cheap. Like, wouldn't spend a dime to make employees suffer less cheap. Race Street's only a half mile from the San Jose Yard, and I couldn't imagine the SP being generous enough to put an extra building down there.

So, of course, I asked E.O.; after all, he'd switched boxcars on the Vasona branch. His response:

Shanties: I'm not clear about union agreements regarding them, but they were placed anywhere that crews did a lot of local switching. The ones I know of in San Jose: Newhall, St., Brokaw Road, North Yard (Mulford Line near Fibreglass), Alameda St. Cahill St., Park Ave., Race Street, Luther Jct., 4th Street north of Valbrick, 8th & Taylor, and an old transfer caboose used as one at Campbell. There also must have been one at the WP Valbrick interchange, but I don't remember it. The outlying shanties were wallpapered with old Playboy centerfolds. I'm sure that I've missed some that were in the outlying zones.

So that's a surprise for me, and also a nice bit of detail I should repeat on my layout: make sure there's a small building around each of the major switching areas so the crews have a handy place to get out of the rain on winter nights. (And no, I don't really want to know how the crews covered the walls back in 1932.) I'm really curious where the transfer caboose was at Campbell; I'm certain it wasn't around in 1932 - there was no sign of any outbuildings around the station except an outhouse and a tollhouse - but I'm curious enough about Campbell that I'm willing to study .

And y'all, if you like your switchmen, ought to do the same. Do you have enough places for them to warm up out of the rain?

Now That's A Fire!

“If you want to find a dried fruit packing house, just look for the fire.” I wrote that a few months back, and it becomes a more accurate statement each time I look. I just found another newspaper archive site, and as is usual, started off with a search on ‘“packing house” fire’, and immediately got another hundred articles to look at. Two of them were particularly cool and worth sharing; today's will be the famous Rosenberg Brothers November 1906 fire.

In 1906, Rosenberg Brothers had a dried fruit packing house on the north side of the San Jose yard along Ryland Street. Their packing house was closest to the river, with Inderridden and Warren Dried Fruit in warehouses further east along Ryland Street. That plant burned spectacularly in November 1906; I previously reported on the fire back in May, and while the San Jose Mercury's article lines up factually with the San Jose Evening News article I cited before, the Mercury's reporter did a much better job of setting the scene. Better yet, the Mercury was printing photos in their paper back in 1906.

And, oh, was it ever a fire, with the San Jose Mercury describing it as the most damaging fire in San Jose history. The fire not only destroyed Rosenberg Brothers, but threatened Inderridden’s packing house as well as all the freight cars in the yard.

Rosenberg Brothers was a block in length, three floors high, with a wooden frame and corrugated iron roof. It also had fifteen hundred tons of prunes, and two hundred fifty tons more in freight cars against the loading dock. Rosenberg didn’t own the building; it was instead owned by Mrs. J.C. Webber of Chicago, probably the heiress of the C. M. Webber and Company who formerly used the plant.

The Mercury did a great job of describing the scene:

“At 1:30 o’clock yesterday morning a switching crew on the night shift in the railroad yards saw flames in the boiler-room of the Rosenberg packing house. The engineer at once sent out the railroad fire call, four long drawn blasts, in succession. Another engine at work in the east end of the yards heard the warning whistle and repeated it. Then another took it up and further spread the alarm. Someone living across the street called the fire department by telephone…. but in the meantime the flames had spread in the long warehouse from end to end, roof to basement. It was aflame… the Rosenberg packing house was provided with an underground tank where a car load of crude oil used as fuel could be stored. There were probably 5000 gallons of oil in the tank last night.”

One of the first goals for the railroad crews was to try to rescue nearby freight cars:

"While the department was endeavoring to keep the fire from spreading to the packing house of the J. B. Inderrieden Company adjoining the Rosenberg property, a large force of railroad men were working to save the crowded yards from destruction.
Three or four switch engines and crews were called into service. The burning cars were coupled to locomotives and pulled to empty tracks where they could burn without causing further damage to neighboring cars. But in spite of all that, fourteen cars were destroyed, seven of them only until the trucks protruded from the ashes, and seven more damaged almost beyond repair..."
By six o'clock the Southern Pacific had about 100 Japanese laborers on the scene to clear away the wreckage of the cars. At that hour all that was left of the building owned and occupied by Rosenberg Brothers was a long heap of glowing prunes and ashes from the center of which, high on its brick foundation, the wreck of the boiler protruded.
I'm a bit surprised at the Japanese laborers, for I hadn't thought of Japanese immigrants as likely section hands. But the SP was hiring Japanese in those days.

The photo accompanying the article shows the skeletal boxcars clearly, along with the firewall and Inderridden warehouse visible through the smoke. The reporter was also kind enough to report on those freight cars for those of us interested in the freight cars that would make it to San Jose: one Armour refrigerator car, and thirteen boxcars, three from the Santa Fe, two from the Chicago North Western, one from the Rock Island, and the remaining eight from the “Harriman System” (aka Southern Pacific and Union Pacific). That's not too surprising a mix if the fruit was headed to Chicago, but perhaps a bit midwest-focused if the crop was going to New York.

One last discovery from this article was the dangers of prunes; I'd never thought of them as incendiary, but obviously I was just being naive:

"The fruit was processed and highly inflammable, radiant heat so intense that for hours streams of water were played constantly upon the twelve or fifteen houses on the opposite side of the street to prevent them taking fire.... Prunes burn much like soft coal full of gases, giving forth a blue blaze and holding fire for an incredibly long time. Chief Tonkin said it did practically no good to turn water on burning fruit. A cloud of steam arose, hung overhead for a time, and in a few minutes the prunes were burning as fiercely as ever."

It's a wonder we aren't heating our houses with prunes, but I'll bet the firewood lobby had something to do with it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

History Quiz: Name Those Tanks!

So here's a challenge for all you San Jose historians (and San Jose wannabe-historians): can you identify this business?

The Dome of Foam posted photos of a business that used to be located behind the Lick Mansion off of Montague Expressway in Santa Clara. It's a curious place, with a bunch of large tanks, and some turn-of-the-century frame houses bristling with pipes and pumps and heaters. But what is it? E.O., who runs the Dome of Foam, doesn't know, and my Southern Pacific San Jose SPINS book doesn't cover sidings that far north.

Got a guess? Mail E.O. (address on contest page), and drop a note in the comments here so the rest of us can be educated.

Bonus points if one of the Silicon Valley FreemoN model builders puts a version of the building on their modular layout.