Friday, November 27, 2009

Thomson-Diggs Teaser

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and the timing was serendipitous. Recently, I’ve been researching the history of the Thomson-Diggs wholesale hardware business. As early as 1910, Thomson Diggs had a presence on R Street. The synchronicity bit of the story is that my sister told me the big roasting pan our turkey was cooking in yesterday came from the Thomson-Diggs Company.  In a few days I’ll post the some of the research as it stands on the history of the business and, if my fact checking holds up, chase down one of those offshoots of history that I keep finding in my research for the R Street Project.

For now, here is a little sketchup doodle of part of what I want to do. It’s not exactly to scale and I didn't model the water tanks on top of  the roof for the automatic sprinkler system; I’m just working on proportions and trying to get the window placement to look right. On my layout, I plan to have this as one of two Thomson-Diggs buildings as low relief models on the backdrop. They’ll sit on the Southern Pacific side of the street opposite the WP freight houses featured earlier in the blog.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The things I do on my vacation...

I had a few days off last week. What do I do? More research of course. But this time it was research in the guise of touring an old warehouse.

I was following up on a tip from my friend Dan who pointed me in the direction of a guy who manages a self storage business that just happens to inhabit the old Bekins building on R Street. My new friend at the storage place has spent some time digging up history on his building and there is a very nice historical display in his office befitting the ol' place.

Built in 1920 for Capital Van and Storage, the five story warehouse was one of three in Sacramento owned by that firm.  If my initial Google research holds,  Capital was bought by Bekins Van and Storage company around 1926.

The building looks almost exactly (besides the lack of Bekins signage) as it did after the 1948 expansion.
The highlight of the tour was riding the freight elevator.  It's the original Otis model that was installed in 1920 - still operational and running quite smoothly.  It's exactly where the 1951 era Sanborn map, that I've been studying for years, shows it should be. 

The warehouse had a 3 car capacity spur on the Southern Pacific side of the street. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Two Freight Houses

As part of the original construction of the line in 1909, the Western Pacific built two freight houses in Sacramento on R Street. Both were adjacent to 3rd street, and both were originally built with corrugated metal panels over a wooden stud frame. The house on the west side of 3rd was designated for incoming freight and the house to the east of 3rd handled outgoing freight. We know from Jeff Asay’s Track and Time that these roles switched for some unknown reason in 1932 and that the easterly of the two, the now inbound freight house, burned down in 1941. It was replaced the following year by a larger building of wood siding with an attached two story office (it’s the building in the foreground of my simplified sketch). This was a joint Western Pacific-Sacramento Northern-Central California Traction freight office. According to Stanley and Moreau’s The Central California Traction Company many of the clerical functions formally handled at the Sacramento Union Freight Station were moved to the new freight office by the mid 1950s.

From my own digging in the WP presidential files (in the care of the California State Railroad Museum library), I know that by the early 1950s, the easterly 96’ of the new freight house was leased for car loading operations by freight forwarders. There were three of them that operated a joint car loading operation in the new freight house: Universal, Merchant Shippers and Stor-Dor. A fourth forwarder, International, occupied an unknown, but likely equivalent amount of the ‘westerly end’ of the old freight house.

Freight forwarders, by the way, made their money by consolidating less than carload (LCL) freight and charging the public less than the LCL rate the railroad would have charged but more than the carload rate that the forwarders themselves paid.

There was a plan in early 1953 to consolidate and move the loading operations of all four forwarders to the old house and to provide more office space for them on the 2nd floor office of the new house. I’m not certain the plan was implemented fully if at all. The listing of industries on the line in WP’s original “167-E Circular”, which likely dates from 1957, lists the four forwarders in the same locations where the 1953 memo placed them. Another company document, the ‘Training Manual Maps’ (see Asay’s Track and Time which includes this document in an appendix), has a R Street page dated 1958 which labels the old freight house as solely occupied by Universal and no mention of forwarders in the new freight house.

Did things really change that much in one year? Are one or both internal documents inaccurate? I’m not sure I care for purposes of the layout since I’m modeling 1950 when things were still likely as they were in the clearly stated 1953 memo. They were also potentially at their messiest with WP LCL and 3rd party forwarder operations all mixed up in the two buildings. I wonder though, when a railroad begins to lease out space in its terminal facilities to forwarders, would they still bother with an inbound and outbound freight house for their own needs? Certainly the company documents I’ve seen of the 1950s don’t mention the words ‘inbound’ and ‘outbound’ when referencing the freight houses but rather ‘old’ and ‘new’ or ‘House No.1’ and ‘House No. 2’.

My current plan is to devote an entire wall of my spare bedroom layout to the two freight houses. In spite of my aforementioned doubts, I intend to switch them with the assumption that the WP still operated an inbound and outbound house for their own LCL business concurrently with the forwarders leasing space in August 1950. I figure there must have been a transition period when LCL traffic was increasingly going to the forwarders, but the railroad still retained enough traffic to warrant two houses in Sacramento.

This sketch of the number of car spot locations is probably a little ambitious for my available space, but the idea is to show that there could be WP LCL inbound spots (red) WP LCL outbound spots (yellow) and independent freight forwarder spots (blue). Some of the cars destined for WP inbound can have an additional move, once 'emptied', to WP outbound spots later in the same session or as a starting move in the next session.

Will this be ten pounds of switching in a five pound bag? Possibly, but it is a switching layout, and I think it would be easy enough to dial back on the complexity if needed.

There is no trace of either building on R Street now. They were both gone before I started studying the area. The old freight house was still around as late as the mid to late 1970s but otherwise I don’t know when it met its demise. The new freight house appears to have been leased to a trucking firm by the mid 1980s but ultimately the property was sold by the Union Pacific, (who merged with the Western Pacific at the end of 1982) in 1999 or 2000, and the site has the brand new CalPERS expanded headquarters on it now.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dallman/Koppel Mystery

This R Street corridor project has been all about historical research. Precious little modeling beyond mockups has occurred. I’m largely fine with that, although I’d like the mix to edge toward a 50-50 percentage of research/modeling for my hobby time as time goes on.

That being said, the research continually takes me in new and unexpected directions. Each building in my study area has its own history and its own connections to places and events sometimes far removed from Sacramento.

One recent find is the warehouse cart tracks inside what was one of the Dallman supply warehouses on Sixth street. The warehouse is of corrugated metal construction. Its footprint is trapezoidal; its northern wall slanted due to the memory of a WP spur. Dallman was a regional wholesaler of plumbing supplies founded by Vernon Dallman in 1922. In 1920 he started helping the family business (Sacramento Plumbing Supply started in 1914). I haven’t quite worked out if this particular warehouse was once part of Sacramento Plumbing Supply or if it was built new for Dallman post 1922. The earliest pictures I’ve seen of it were taken in the 1930s and I haven’t done a City Directory study yet, but these little tracks and their turntables may provide a clue.

Dallman's cart tracks were made by the Arthur Koppel Company. The Orenstein-Koppel Company of Germany (or more fully: Orenstein Koppel-Arthur Koppel Aktiengesellshaft) had a US plant in Koppel Penn. There's no name coincidence there, they built the town. Koppel specialized in light track equipment like we see here as well as rolling stock. During World War I the company was reportedly the first major German firm whose US assets were seized by the Alien Property Custodian as a result of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. It was sold at auction to the Pressed Steel Car Company as the Koppel Industrial Car and Equipment Company for $1.3 million in September of 1918. Ultimately the American owned Koppel Company didn’t survive the Great Depression and was liquidated in the mid 1930s.

The fact that the turntables are labeled for Koppel and not Orenstein-Koppel leads me to believe this is a post 1918 installation- unless the marking is just showing city of origin. It makes absolutely no difference for the modeling side, but it is a little historical wrinkle that I would like to iron out someday.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Let's get this party started...

Watch this space - content coming soon...