Sunday, October 21, 2018

How We Work: A Reading List

One of my big themes with my modeling -- and my history -- is understanding something about what the Santa Clara Valley was like in the 1930s. What was it like to work in the canneries, or harvest an orchard, or switch boxcars of prunes? The stories I found tell me a bit about that... as well as the fun of drilling burned tomato paste out of an experimental boiler, or rolling tree stumps back up to Summit Road to avoid pissing off an angry neighbor.

I'm interested in how folks work in general, even if they weren't working in the Valley of Hearts Delight. I've come across a lot of great books about how engineers, or railroaders, or cannery workers work.

There's a lot of gems in those books I've read, so they're worth sharing. Here's my list so far. I'll add to the list as I remember more.

If you're also interested in this sort of thing, I'll point out four great reads.

First, Ignition: An Informal History of Rocket Propellants. It's not a railroad book, but it's full of explosions and toxic gases and poor choices. Although there's a fair amount of chemistry in the book, there's more about the rivalries between different research groups (Aerojet remembering to keep two chemists at different sites to avoid personality explosions), danger (grad students hiding lab apparatus to keep their advisor from blowing it up again), customer relations (Navy admirals unwilling to have fuels that react with chlorine on their ocean-going fleet), and when the best safety equipment is a pair of running shoes. Most importantly, he showed the death of an academic discipline; by 1970, every possible chemical that was energetic enough and cheap enough to serve as rocket fuel had been discovered. There was nothing left to research.

Ignition was out of print for years, and the best copy I had was a photocopied PDF. Rutgers recently re-printed it; if you like explosions, get a copy.

Second, Linda Niemann's Boomer: Railroad Memoirs. Niemann was one of the first women brakemen on the SP; when she got laid off at Watsonville Junction, she decided to become a boomer, traveling around the SP system wherever there was work. The book's a combination of her stories about working for the Friendly SP as well as her attempts to figure out her life when she was changing towns every six months and figuring out how to sleep when working insane hours expected for railroad crews. Boomer highlighted to me how little we really understand of the railroad crews when we operate a model railroad: the exhaustion, odd hours, crazy management, and isolated work sites.

Third, James Curry's Metallurgist for the Empire Star Mine and Newmont Exploration 1932-1955, Plant Manager for Calaveras Cement Company, 1956-1975. oral history about his time working at the North Star Mine in Grass Valley and running the Calaveras Cement plant at Redding. If you're curious what it's like to run a rail-served industry, Curry's stories might give you a hint.

Finally, there's Carol Lynn McKibben's book on Monterey cannery workers, Beyond Cannery Row: Sicilian Women, Immigration, and Community in Monterey, California 1915-1999. McKibben talked with many cannery workers; she heard the stories about why the women chose cannery work, which jobs were interesting, child care, and how the first generation of Italian immigrants became American.

There's plenty more on the full list; I'll add to it as I remember books worth sharing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cannery Crime Blotter I: Bye-Bye Buick!

This is the first in an ongoing series of true crime from the annals of San Jose canneries. This article was lifted from the editorial page of the August 10, 1919 San Jose Evening News.

F. H. Daley, is actually Fred Daley, better known as the husband of Edith Daley, San Jose News writer. In the 1920 census, he listed his job title as "cashier", but later described himself as a manager. In 1920, Fred and Edith lived at 179 9th Street, just behind San Jose State. Edith and Fred moved into the new Palm Haven neighborhood in the 1920's. If we wonder how Jack heard this story, a likely guess is straight from his spouse.

Edward. L. Perrault lists himself as a cashier at the Hunt Brothers cannery in 1920 (the actual owner of Golden Gate at the time.) He's listed as 21 years old in the 1920 census, and living in San Francisco with family by 1921.

Call the Police!

by Jack Wright.

Contrary to custom at some former times in this column, the following story is a TRUE one, but it seemed so good that even two columns in large ten-point type doesn't seem too much to give it.

Its moral is the danger of absent mindedness and its characters are local folks. It happened yesterday. Let's go!

E. L. Perrault is the efficient accountant of the Golden Gate Packing company. He has been so for years, and his mental completeness has never been questioned. Never has he come into contact with the local police, either as accused or accusing.

Yesterday, he made his first trip to the police station - two of them, in fact. The reason was as follows.

F. H. Daley, also of the Golden Gate company, is the proud owner of a new Buick. It has a self-starter, gas and electricity, side curtains, and would have hot and cold running water if those were common equipment. He is quite proud of his car - naturally.

Yesterday Perrault had to make a hurry trip to the bank. Perhaps payment for a few boxes of those worth-their-weight-in-gold 'cots had been made. What was more natural that he should borrow the resplendent new Buick for the trip?

In the machine, Mr. Daley had left a small cushion and his coat.

When Perrault left the bank for the return trip the coat and cushion were gone!

Upon his return to the packing house he went shamefacedly to the owner of the car, passed back the key, and said "Er - what did you have in the pockets of your coat?"

"I don't know; bankbooks, letters, etc. I guess." was the answer.

"W-w-was it a valuable coat?"

"About the only coat I've got. Why?"

"Well, someone must have been a fast worker because I wasn't in the bank more than five minutes and when I came out the coat and cushion were gone. I went to the police and they are working on the case."

Mr Daley didn't worry, particularly, but had occasion to go out to his car in the packing house garage a little later in the afternoon. He couldn't find the car! It was gone!! Heavens, was an organized band of thieves set on pursuing him and taking everything he possessed? He wondered if his house was still on its foundation.

He summoned Perrault hurriedly. "Well, the car's gone too." he said.

"No it isn't. I just drove it back here."

"It's not here now. They sure MUST have been fast workers."

Starting forward Perrault exclaimed "but there's your car!" He pointed to the Buick standing in the Daley compartment.

How the old bus had changed - aged! Gone were its new side curtains; gone its bright luster; the spare tire was no longer present; a crack slanted across the wind-shield and a fender was badly wrinkled.

Gradually a light commenced to dawn on F. H. Daley.

"Is this the car you drove home?" he questioned.

"Why yes. It's yours, isn't it?"

Bright day broke in the mind of Daley. "Young man you'd better hustle back to the corner of First and Santa Clara streets with that car or the police will transfer their attention from the thieves who stole the coat, to you! I don't know whose car this is. The only thing I know is that it's not mine!"

One leap carried Perrault to the seat. One motion started the car out of the garage. One dash skimmed through streets to the center of town, just in time to waylay a bewildered-looking man who was gazing where his car ought to be. One long explanation was all that was required to settle with the police.

And of course, this story has a moral: be very careful about doing silly things when your boss's wife works for the local paper.