Monday, December 30, 2013

Map: Typical Local Freight Switching in Northern California

And today, another installment in the "if I find something interesting, scan it and put it on the internet" department. Let me know what you find in this!

Our local model railroad organization, the Pacific Coast region of the National Model Railroad Association, has quarterly meets; I haven't been in the habit of attending, but decided to visit for a change this month. The Sunday event includes some presentations, some demonstrations and contests, and a well-known auction of model railroad equipment. I put in a few bids on some a few items, including some out-of-production models and a box full of random books and paper. I went after the box primarily for the book on top, but my low bid still managed to let me win. And while the book was nice, there were some interesting finds in the box - a menu from Krushchev's train trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco, some post cards, and an interesting map.

And that map deserves a bit of attention.

1938 Southern Pacific LocalFreights

The map shows railroad routes in Northern California; a note on the back explained that it came from a 1938 California Railroad Commission report showing the "routes taken by Southern Pacific local freights" - that is, it showed where freights going between towns typically started and ended, and which routes were only rarely served. For someone like me interested in reproducing how trains and crews actually worked, the map hints at which yards were busiest, which way freights went, and which locations were expected to have heavier traffic.

Some quick looks at the map show some interesting facts. Look first at Edenvale, just south of San Jose. Although Edenvale was only a few miles south of San Jose, the map indicates that trains from Watsonville Junction actually handled Edenvale boxcars as part of switching Gilroy, Hollister, Tres Pinos, and other places south of San Jose, all in one big loop. Congress Junction, located out by Cupertino was switched by crews from the San Jose yard, but usually by going up to Redwood City, looping down the Mayfield Cutoff through Los Altos and Cupertino, then turning around and heading back to Mayfield (California Ave. in Palo Alto) and returning to San Jose. Danville was more commonly switched by trains from Pittsburg and Port Costa, while trains from King City might be served from far-away Watsonville Junction or Santa Margarita.

Up north in the Capay Valley along the west side of the Sacramento Valley, the trains and crews came from Sacramento and not the nearer Fairfield or Vacaville. Trains from Sacramento to Placerville appeared to have enough business so the train crews couldn't just go up and back, but instead would start and end shifts at the end of the Placerville branch.

For my Vasona Branch, the obvious lessons are "don't run trains to Edenvale", "trains to Los Gatos are really rare", and "don't expect trains to arrive at Vasona Junction very often". If I'd known all this before I'd built my layout, I might have been tempted to downplay Campbell and Los Gatos, or at least to omit Vasona Junction in favor of a nice scene including Sewall Brown's apricot pit plant. But at some point, the model railroad is about fun, not accuracy, so when you come to operate on the Vasona Branch, prepare to see an unnatural number of trains passing through Campbell...

What do you see? Add any comments about the maps in the comment section, and help share some of the unexpected oddities of 1930's era freights!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

San Jose depot train shed almost done!

As we approach the 78th anniversary of the closing of San Jose's Market Street station, I'm proud to show off the model I'd intended to build ten years ago when I started the Market Street shelf layout: the train shed. After about a year of on-again, off-again work (mostly off), the roof's on, the model's painted, and the detail trim is in place. There's still some additional detailing and paint touch-up, but it's great to see the model in place.

The completed train shed

Here's a close-up of the completed train shed. Pay no attention to the poor collapsed gardener in the foreground; he's probably suffering from alcoholism. Or cholera. Or he'd bought too many shares of Transamerica back in '28.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Night XVII: The Great Flood of March 7, 1911

The folks at the Sourisseau Academy, the local historical archive at San Jose State, have been putting together videos with some of the photos and memorabilia in their collection. With the help of the videographers at WMS Media, they've put together some interesting shows. Poke through WMS Media's videos at Vimeo for the full list, or check out the Great Flood of 1911 video below. No canning content, but hopefully you got all canned out from the last few videos.

The Great Flood of March 7, 1911 - San Jose from WMS media Inc. on Vimeo.

The video's been sponsored by the folks at the Orchestria Palm Court, a early 20th century restaurant in downtown San Jose providing food and fountain drinks as well as entertainment from their collection of player pianos, coin-operated phonographs, and other early 20th century musical instruments. I'm a little disturbed by their lack of prunes and apricots, but it still looks like it's worth a stop!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie Night XVI: "Miracle of the Can"

American Can Co., San Jose

When I've been searching for pre-1910 information on canneries, I see a lot of comments about the hassle that is can-making. There's the random can-makers that pop up and disappear. There's the stories of trying to hire - and retain expert solderers to keep your cannery running. There's the hot solder. There's the battles over patents. Before mass production, cans were produced by skilled craftsman who could pretty much name their own price. However, by about 1905, can making machinery was perfected, and all the craftsmanship was a lost art.

I never knew how cans were made by hand, but luckily this video from the American Can Company shows how cans were made in the good old days (from 10:30 to 12:30). Watch real Hollywood actors use the period jigs and soldering pots to produce 600 cans a day. And after that's all over, the American Can Company will give you a look - in extremely gory detail - on how cans were mass-produced. If you've ever been curious what was going on at the American Can Plant on Martha Street, now you'll know. If you wanted to know how the sides were formed and crimped, you'll know. If you were curious about the gaskets for can bottoms, where extra metal is cut away, pressure-testing, flanging, the size of metal blanks, or how many of the machines could take your finger off just like that if you weren't careful - well, whether you want to know that or not, you're going to find out.

(If video is cut off on the sides, watch it here.)

[Video via Internet Archive, preserved by the Prelinger Archives.]

Movie Night XV: "Golden Harvest" and "Out Of the Spirit of '49"

Tonight's movie is courtesy of the California Packing Corporation, filmed to celebrate 50 years of Del Monte. The film is actually a mix of 1960's documentary and a collection of promotional films from 1900 through the 1930's. It's a combination of a celebration of California and of the canneries; if you're looking for the cannery shots, you'll have to fast-forward past the missions and "rolling hills" shots, but there's some neat shots of Plant #7 (Emeryville), the correct way to prepare pears and apricots, the action on the asparagus canning line, and a great shot of a farmer checking his orchard next to his Model A. Bonus points for anyone who can name which plants are visible from 4:50 on... though be warned the shots make it very obvious how CalPak had a single architectural style.

There's also some shots from (I suspect) that Del Monte-sponsored silent film about the boy who wants to be a cannery superintendent. The melodrama isn't that exciting, but the huge paddle fans cooling the women and the boxes of fruit sure highlight what must have been a messy job! And where else will you see a close-up of removing the pit from a peach?

And the San Francisco fans will appreciate shots of the Alaska Packers Association pier in San Francisco pre-1916.

"Fifty-year old companies are a lot like fifty year old people - they like to reminisce."

(Full video here if the video above is cut off.)

And after you've watched that, check out Del Monte's 1940's dried fruit processing video. There's some neat shots of prune, apricot, and raisin processing along with some cannery shots. Check out the apricot drying yard action shots around the 7:00 mark, and tell me if you can identify the Del Monte plant at the 9:00 mark!

(Full video here)

[Both videos courtesy of / Prelinger Library's collection of commercial ephemera.]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Making Beautiful Historic Maps

A couple years back, I mentioned a San Jose Japantown historic map which showed not only the location of the businesses and community sites for San Jose's center for Japanese-Americans, but also highlighted the canneries clustered around Eighth and Taylor Streets on the edge of Japantown.

I'd missed the fact that Ben Pease, the artist behind that map, has done similar ones for many other California towns with that attracted Japanese immigrants. His Japantown Atlas includes similar maps for San Francisco, Sacramento, Walnut Grove, Lodi, as well as many more towns in Central and Southern California. Many of the immigrant communities were close to the railroads and to the canneries, so if you're researching either the industries, the trains, or the towns, you'll probably be familiar with the locations. The San Luis Obispo Japantown, for example, was a block located just next to the Pacific Coast Railway's yard, helping me better understand the locations around that yard, as mentioned in Tom Knapp's presentation on his Nn3 modular layout at last year's Bay Area Layout Design and Operations Weekend.

And that's a great opening to remind you all that if you're interested in model railroads, history, or model railroad operations, come on over to Alameda on January 25 and 26, 2014 for my favorite model railroad event of the year. The Layout Design and Operations meet is always a great program, with talks, clinics, and layout design advice on Saturday, followed by chances to operate on local model railroads on Sunday.

See y'all there!

Torture! Torture in the Pages of the Evening News!

Honestly, who could blame him?

From the July 21, 1919 San Jose Evening News:

"'Scoop' M'Henry Objects to Some Forms of Torture"
It may be all right to work in the 'cots all day long---you get paid for that---but there is a limit to all things. Our esteemed friend, Murphy "Scoop" McHenry, son of Manager F. J. McHenry of the Hotel Montgomery and champion 'cot slinger of the Pratt-Low cannery, has reached that limit and he has objected---very seriously objected.
Since working in the big cannery this summer "Scoop" has been making his residence at the Montgomery, because of the fact that his family residence is a little far out.
Last night, tired and worn from an arduous day with the 'cots, our hero came ambling into the hotel lobby. He has no regular room.
"Where are you going to stick me tonight?" he queried of the clerk.
"Well, Murph," came the reply, "we are full up tonight and there isn't a room left, but we'll fix you up on a cot!"
"Scoop" assumed an air of great scorn and in a decidedly determined voice replied: "Not on your life you won't. What do you think I am? I'm perfectly willing to work in the 'cots all day, but when it comes to sleeping on one---well---just count Murphy McHenry out!"