Friday, November 26, 2010

A Sign

Just a quick post to show that momentum hasn't gone completely from the Carlaw project. Lately, I've been working on one of the signs on the front of the Carlaw Brothers Stone Yard polishing shop. Working with my prototype photo, I matched the sizing and spacing of the original sign, but the lettering style is markedly different. The original had a distinct 1930s art deco feel.
I used a freeware program, Inkscape (, to render my sign. I credit the railroad-line forums ( for introducing the program to me - specifically the Chuck Diljak thread about it found here: . I also used Inkscape to help spruce up the blog's header illustration.

For the sign I fiddled with different font types and color squares. Since my reference picture is in black and white, I'm just going with whatever color looks good to me. On the left is my color test picture I used to determine how things look when the file is printed out. You can also see where I was testing an art deco style font. Eventually, when I'm happy with everything, the finished sign will be printed on decal paper.

The original sign was painted on the building at ground level. It was about fifteen feet wide and six feet tall. The two windows on the front wall of the shop were a full eight feet above the street level, so this sign easily fit below them.

I've also been working on scratch-building those big doors on the back wall. I'll have more on them soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Carlaw Build 2 - Getting Square

That's right, square, Daddy-O.

 I've spent more time with my NWSL True Sander than I'd care to admit getting things squared up on the four walls. I've also used it to ensure that walls that are supposed to be identical lengths actually are.  I think they are shaping up rather well. Check out the front wall, the one on the upper left in the picture. That's the one I was 'hiding' before.

I should mention that the 'temporary' adhesive that I sprayed to put my cutting templates on, really wanted to be permanent in some places. This was more user error than anything else though. I think I sprayed a little too heavily in some areas, and I probably applied the templates to the plastic a bit too early.  No matter, it wasn't anything that a little Goo Gone couldn't take care of. 

There is a change of plan on the back wall.  I wanted to use this Grandt Line casting of a big set of double doors with a row of windows on top, but something went sideways. Literally. I must have entered in the measurements backwards when drawing the rectangle in Sketch Up as it only fits in the hole if I put it on its side. I could redo the whole wall, but I've decided to scratch build a door instead. I was already planning to scratch build a door to the blacksmith shop on this wall anyway. I also think the Grandt Line door is a little fancy for this building, so perhaps it will turn out for the best. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cutting Plastic: Carlaw build 1

This is actually big news for me, this cutting plastic business. I've been researching the R Street corridor for years, planning my layout for just as long, and getting lost on historical journeys that sometimes last months at a time.* Drawings and cardboard mock-ups have been produced for a variety of buildings, but cutting actual plastic with the intention of making an actual finished model hasn't happened.

Until now.

So this is my first scratch build project.  For it, I'm using a technique I first saw in a clinic by Jack Burgess, and he has since published it a couple of times in the hobby press. Basically you start with a CAD drawing with an imported prototype photo used as a reference. (Jack uses Photoshop I'm using Sketch Up since it's free and its designed for this sort of thing.) You print out the walls in your modeling scale, use a spray on adhesive to stick the drawing on to your wall material, and just cut on the lines. I'm oversimplifying, but that is the essence of it. Jack goes so far as to subtract the thickness of the plastic sheet he uses from one set of walls to keep the prototype dimensions accurate. I didn't do that this time, but it would be easy enough to do.

I started with my Google Sketch Up model of the Carlaw Brothers Polishing/Blacksmith shop building to make cutting templates. The model is based on a much clearer version of this picture from the Center for Sacramento archives.  I altered my Sketch Up model to have cutting guides for window and door castings.

On two of the walls I have good photo evidence of window size and placement.  On the other two walls however, I have zilch. As a guy who leans heavily on the prototype for inspiration, imagineering window and door placement feels dangerous. I figure as soon as I finish this model, historic photos of the mystery walls will suddenly appear, which wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Here is a picture of me trying to figure out which workshop door I should choose on one of the walls - this is where having a cardstock mockup is a help.

I then used my digital caliper to figure out the hole needed to accept the various castings.  I measured in millimeters then divided that number by 3.5 to get the size in HO scale digital feet. Since my Sketch Up model was drawn with full scale dimensions I just used the rectangle tool and entered the dimensions in digital feet.  I printed the walls out in HO scale, cut out them out and used a spray on temporary adhesive to stick on a piece of Evergreen sheet styrene. I feel compelled to mention that it's important to have good ventilation and to wear a decent respirator when working with spray adhesives.  I used V-Groove 100" Spacing, .040" thick sheet styrene which appears to be a perfect match for the clapboard siding on the original building.

I'm hiding the front wall as it still has a piece of the hi-res image from the Center for Sacramento History on it and I don't have rights to distribute it.  Once the plastic piece is cut out and my template removed, the wall will be revealed.

After cutting out the wall sections, I borrowed another tip from Jack by using a nibbler to cut out the window holes. I also used a small flat file to fine tune the fit.

   One of the nice things about leaving the template on for a while is that it does provide some protection against errant knife cuts.  Although it's not total protection from my honey glazed ham hands. I had to redo one wall already because of an unsightly scar.

More soon.

* And enjoying every minute of it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

IT .....IS ....ALIVE!

The red light is a good sign. 
But not without a lot of help from friends.

Saturday, October 16th marked the first day the "10th and R Street" module had powered trains cross its four foot self. There were 3, count em, 3 significant wiring errors on my module that were identified and quickly fixed thanks to my friend Dick K. This is why we test the modules during our private ops sessions.  It is much less stressful shorting out the railroad here than in a public show.
Once all the problems were sorted out, the module did quite well  I think . Here is my WP S2 #555 leading the Yolo Rocket on it.
WP 555 on point. 

This test run also showed that I need to file back the rail-ends on the right side (looking at the module from the 'front') a millimeter or so. The fit for the rail connectors on that side was very tight.  Other than that I think I'm set to continue on to scenery.
A Jarring Juxtaposition: the beautiful Coffee Corner module
transitions to the bare 10th and R Street module. 
Speaking of which, I'm having fun with Google Sketch Up's photo matching feature for creating mock ups.  I'm using a 20 MB photo image I purchased from the Center for Sacramento History of the Carlaw Brothers Polishing and Blacksmith shop building. Since I know a couple of key dimensions, it was relatively easy to import the picture and scale it correctly. Then it was just a matter of drawing the building with the picture as a guide. I printed out the four sides in HO scale, glued the printouts to card-stock, cut out the walls and assembled them as a mock up. This was the last mock up I'll build before I cut plastic.  I think this was my third of this building, which has got to be mock up overkill. Whatever, each one has been better than the last.
With buildings that still exist, like the WP Fuller building, photo matching will be even more powerful. I should have pictures of some examples of this soon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Thomson-Diggs Catalog

     Besides people who know me and are (im)patiently waiting for some actual modeling to get done, the number one traffic driver to this site is my entry on the Thomson-Diggs Hardware Company. It's not buckets of people, but as a chunk of my blog's meager traffic it is significant.
     So I have to share a recent eBay purchase.

     I mentioned the Thomson-Diggs Company catalogs in my previous post. But I couldn't show you my pictures of them - not without paying a use fee to the Center for Sacramento History.
     I understand the need for the fee; I really do. It costs money to keep the Center going. Humidity controlled facilities, paid archival specialists and everything else that makes the Center the amazing resource that it is, isn't exactly cheap to maintain. The more budget neutral or, even better, the more money it makes for the city, the more likely the Center won't be cut out of existence. But it doesn't make much sense for me to pay a fee to post a picture for a site that gets limited traffic. So I gladly live within the rules.

     Which gets me to my purchase. I am the proud owner of a 1961 (probably) Thomson-Diggs Catalog. First thing that struck me is that T-D had a big plant in Fresno. I didn't know that. The second: 1960s kid's play structures were death traps.

The cover: fabric covered cardboard
 and 100% of your day's vitamin C allowance.
Pictures of the Sacramento and Fresno plants.
Seriously, twelve kids??? 

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I attended one of the club's work sessions yesterday. With the help of several of my club brothers, to which I'm heartily grateful, I managed to get some critical bits done on the module. Namely: wiring. For me, this is huge. I haven't picked up a hot soldering iron in over twenty years! So it was more than handy to have the massive amounts of experience in the room. 
Suddenly, I have a wired module. Some other little odds and ends to the track work were completed as well to the point where it's "operational"- at least it's ready to test that theory. This means I'll be able to have my module included in the club layout for the first time at this month's ops session. Just in time too. After this month, there are a number of public shows and my module is no where near ready for prime time yet- so I would have had to wait for 2011 to test it. And I can't really continue very far with other parts of the module build until I know the track work is OK.  Much of it will be buried in the street (probably using sculptamold) so it would be far less painful to make any adjustments now rather than later.

Note the metal cross pieces- I'm assuming those were there to help
combat the expansion and contraction forces with rails embedded in pavement.
Funny that I would be thinking about the prospect of tearing up streets to get to the rails- that's exactly what's happening on the real life R Street right now. The long awaited R Street redevelopment project is kicking into high gear. And they're starting with some infrastructure improvements. If I understand things correctly the rails are going to be retained to keep the industrial flavor (one of the few flavors that does not taste like chicken...) of the street. Reach for the giant Crayola box of imaginary hues and color me "happy" and "pleased". Don't bother trying to stay in the lines.    

(Thanks to Dan M for the tip that the street work had started.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Floating Down the Stream of Consciousness... or how the 1861 flood got me thinking about a Russian cannon which may have saved the life of Sacramento’s surveyor.

From Page 10 - the Overland Monthly July-December 1893

Like many people, my mind wanders from time to time. I enjoy my rafting trips down the Stream of Consciousness. These historical wanderings usually start with something R Street related but they rarely end there. When my mind wanders like this, I end up Googleing things for days and buying a bunch of history books... as if I have any more room for those. This time I was thinking about how I need to get off my comfy chair and go on the Sacramento Underground Tour. And I need to do it soon too. October 31st is the last day of the year that tour will be given.

As most Sacramento history buffs will already know, the tour illustrates the period of Sacramento history where it* raised itself up from its vulnerable elevation on the flood plain in the 1860s through the 1870s.

The street raising project was a long, difficult and expensive one. The city actually voted to increase taxes because of it. The danger was so obviously clear and present that Sacramentans felt they had no choice.

Sacramento’s history is replete with many, many floods - seemingly annually in the early years. By 1861, there was a system of levees in place including the R street levee, and up until the winter of that year the city felt themselves pretty secure from flooding. The flood of 1861-62 changed all that. It was a very watery watershed moment indeed, and it featured the levee failure that served final notice that the city could not be protected by mere earthen berms alone. The delusion was specifically snapped at 16th and R Streets where the Sacramento Valley Railroad had filled in a trestle that crossed a slough as its line headed east. The wooden piles of the trestle were showing their age and the bridge was unstable. The SVRR duly received permission to fill in the bridge as a safety precaution.

At 16th street the levee left R Street and turned in a northeasterly zigzag to the American River. ** The levee turned, but the rail line kept going due east. Immediately after the levee was a slough, thus the need for a trestle.
In December 1861, the region was living through the biggest storm of the century... maybe two centuries. On December 9th, the levee on north side of town broke and the American river poured into the slough. If the trestle hadn't been filled in, the flood waters would have drained to the south where there was little town development. But because of the SVRR fill, the water backed up and over-topped the levee flooding the city proper.

There was much finger pointing - mostly at the railroad, but the result was that the street raising scheme was eventually hatched.

All this got me thinking about how and why the town was laid out where it was, which got me thinking about John A. Sutter Jr. Everyone knew him by his shortened middle name “August” and since I hate referring to him as “Junior” that’s what I’ll call him too. He had only just arrived in 1848 as the gold rush was starting and likely hadn’t experienced the routine flooding of the area. His dad, the more famous Sutter, had abandoned him for the gold fields. He gave August the crumbling empire, and the financial troubles. Thanks, dad. This left August alone with a desperate need to raise money to save his father’s finances. ***

So the idea**** of laying out a town between the river and the fort was conceived. For this, August hired brevet Captain William H. Warner on leave from the US Army Topographical Engineers to do the surveying. The town lots sold well and Sacramento City became well established on a flood plain. Commercial interests quickly became too entrenched to consider moving the town just because of a silly string of devastating floods. 

Continuing on my leisurely rafting trip down the Stream of Consciousness, I then became interested in how Captain Warner came out west in the first place. Turns out, he almost didn’t make it.

In September 1846, then 1st Lt. Warner was attached to the 1st Dragoons under General Kearny as part of the force that marched from Santa Fe for California during the Mexican-American war. The journey took six weeks, and along the way they met up with Kit Carson who told them the Mexicans in California, who thought of themselves more as Californios than Mexicans, had surrendered. On this intelligence, Kearny sent back two thirds of his troops to Santa Fe, continuing on with about 100 men.

When they arrived in California, very much the worse for wear, they found the war was far from over.

The bearer of this bad news was Marine Captain Archibald Gillespie. He had with him about 20 members of the California Volunteers- and the “Sutter Gun”.

The Sutter Gun itself has an interesting story. ***** Made in Russia during the Napoleonic wars, it was considered too small for the regular army and was given to the trading post at Fort Ross as a gift from the Tsar himself. When the Russians pulled up stakes and left in 1841, Sutter bought the fort and much of its equipment, which was whatever the Russians couldn’t take with them. This included cannons, one of which became known as ‘the Sutter Gun’- a brass 4-pounder. The cannon helped augment the defenses of Sutter’s fort and probably went a long way to enforce Sutter’s rule over his Native American work force. It was also a marvelous noise maker at parties. The purchase of Fort Ross was a major part of his debt problem by the way, but Sutter’s psychological makeup likely made it impossible for him to pass up the chance to buy cannons and military uniforms. 

During the war the Sutter gun moved around quite a bit before ending up in Los Angeles where it stayed until Gillespie took it. He had been given charge of the city, and his harsh military rule measures backfired, the town rose up, and he had to leave... “Flee” might be a better word.

Which gets us back to our engineer friend, Lt. Warner with Kearny in California in 1846. Between General Kearny and San Diego (and fresh supplies) was General Andreas Pico and his unit of about 100 Californios who were recruited from the nearby ranchos. Pico was reported to have a large number of good horses nearby.

Kearny planned for a twofer; he hoped to surprise Pico while he was camped in the Kumeyaay village of San Pasqual and, with a vigorous attack, scatter Pico’s forces leaving the route to San Diego clear. At the same time he would pick up some fresh mounts, which they could then ride into San Diego on in the style the elite 1st Dragoons deserved.

Not drawn by Warner, but the other Topographical Engineer at the battle, Lt. William Emory.
There are several excellent descriptions of the Battle of San Pasqual online, here, here, and most thoroughly, here if you want more detail- but I’ll attempt a summary.

Things went sideways from the start. The reconnaissance during the night wasn’t executed well and merely alerted the Mexicans to the American's presence. Pico’s men were well ready for the American advance on the cold, foggy morning of December 6th, 1846.

The Americans charged Pico’s men who were mounted on a line blocking the road. He had more men on foot in ravines on both flanks. The Mexicans fired a volley, killing the officer in charge of the vanguard, and then feigned a retreat. What was left of the vanguard plus the American’s main force pursued on mounts of differing quality. Some of them were on mules who had seen better days. Like, say, any day before they left from Santa Fe some one thousand miles and six weeks ago. Many of these mules clearly had not signed up for this sort of thing, and were not what you would call 'fast'.

The wide variety of mounts had the unfortunate effect of causing the American line of attack to be strung out about a mile. At this point, Pico’s men wheeled around and counter-attacked. The American’s were in danger of being rolled up piecemeal.

The weather had been very wet for days and the American’s gunpowder was not dry. This made their firearms unreliable, which meant that they were mostly reduced to using short swords (some actually rusting in their scabbards) or using their rifles as clubs. The Mexicans were armed with eight to ten foot long lances and lassos - they were also arguably among the best horsemen in the world at the time and they were on fresh horses.

The Americans did have the advantage of artillery: two ‘mountain howitzers’ pulled by mules and the aforementioned ‘Sutter Gun’. However their use was hampered by a number of critical problems. First the ammunition had not caught up with the advance of the cannons themselves. Second, there were few fire-lanes for them to shoot that wouldn’t also endanger friendly troops. And third, there was no means handy to ignite the gunpowder to fire them. At one point Lt Warner, out of desperation, fired his pistol (in vain) at one of the howitzer fuses. At another point one of the mules pulling one of the howitzers bolted, dragging it into the hands of the Californios. Understandably, they didn’t give it back.  

Really, it’s a wonder that any Americans survived the battle at all.

But it was the “Sutter Gun”, fired by Midshipman Duncan ******, that finally got a blast of grape shot off. It didn’t do any damage, but it did persuade the Californios it was about time to end the encounter. (There is some debate as to whether any cannons were fired at all, and if so, which one actually fired. But there very little other explanation as to why the Californio’s retired from the field. They were just doing too well up to that point.)

The battle then became a standoff at Mule Hill for four days until reinforcements from Commodore Stockton arrived which led to Pico’s withdrawal north.

The Sutter gun was returned to Sutter’s fort at the end of the Mexican-American war. About the time he sold the fort, Sutter gave the cannon to the California Pioneers who kept it in a museum in San Francisco. It was presumed lost in the major fires that broke out after the great earthquake in 1906.

Our surveyor Warner was wounded in three places, and was brevetted to Captain for gallantry at San Pasqual. Then again, nearly all the surviving regular army officers from that battle earned brevet promotions.

And so it was that when he surveyed Sacramento in 1848, he outranked his two assistants, both future generals, 1st Lieutenants Edward Ord and William T. Sherman. Sherman later would be an investor and vice president in the Sacramento Valley Railroad, one of several investments he was involved in while he was in California. 

The SVRR, by the way, was built atop the R Street levee which crossed a slough on a trestle that was filled in causing a... Oh crud! Now I'm caught in an eddy on the Stream of Consciousness! Quick! Throw me a line! Or better yet, go on the Sacramento Underground tour with me.

*Disclaimer: the central city section was raised; the raising did not go as far south as my beloved R Street - but there is a connection, as you’ll see.)
** See page 12 of the Sacramento County Historical society’s “Golden Notes” issue on the flood of 1861 that has the best map I’ve seen of the situation. Also, Andrew Isenberg’s Mining California: An Ecological History which tells the levee failure story well. 
***See Alberto Hurtado’s excellent John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier for more on that.
**** Influenced greatly by the future first millionaire of California, Sam Brannon.
****** The Battle of San Pasqual is notable for having elements of the Army, the volunteers, the Navy and the Marines.  And one of the naval officers present - Lt. Beale who also had an army commision later, had an Army Air Force Base named after him.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Carlaw Brothers Granite and Marble Works

Lately my attention has been focused on the Carlaw Brothers buildings since they will be on the front edge of the module I’m building for the Sacramento Modular Railroaders’ layout.

John and Andrew Carlaw, two brothers from Scotland, arrived in Sacramento around 1880 and set up a granite and marble works that took up a quarter block at 10th and R. The business lasted for many decades, long enough to be there during my modeling time-frame.

As I’ve stated before, I’m trying to model things the way they looked in August 1950, but with some of the details for the Carlaw project I may have to fudge a bit. There is photographic evidence that the begging-to-be-modeled crane of theirs was no longer there by January 1950. It was definitely around at least up to 1941 however, so it’s not too much of a fudge.* Perhaps the more serious infraction of the spacetime continuum is presenting Carlaw as a rail served industry in 1950 when photos and railroad documents show their spur was not in use and likely buried or removed by the 1940s . On the other hand, they were listed as a team track customer as late as 1958. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to pretend that they still had enough rail traffic to justify keeping their delivery track, so I’m forgiving myself for imagineering a Carlaw spur in 1950. Frankly, Carlaw Brothers is just too tempting not to model with an active rail spur.

The Carlaws had their own quarries locally over in Loomis, California at least during the early part of their existence. My guess is that stones from there probably didn’t come by rail but rather hauled by wagons and trucks from fairly early on.** However the Carlaws advertised that they were importers of eastern and Scottish marble and granite. It would seem that these long distance rocks would have to come by rail probably until at least the 40s and maybe into the 50s if they were still importing that late.

Pictures archived at the Center for Sacramento History reveal that the brothers Carlaw had some great buildings to model during this period. The polishing shop, interesting in itself with its old west style false front, had an attached blacksmith shop. This bit of information*** was a particularly cool find for me. I’ve had castings of an HO scale blacksmith, his bellows and forge plus assorted blacksmith tools rattling around my spares drawer for years. The poor guy and his stuff had little hope of ever being used. Now they have a home, and at long last, my pack rattishness has a tangible payoff! Also included in that set is a LED to light up the forge. Should I dare buy a smoke unit for this too? Animation can be like a strong spice, the perfect amount turns an ok dish great- a bit too much and the meal is ruined.
There were also two open sided work-sheds in the compound. The smaller of the two had stout truss frames on the sides and housed a marble saw. The other was quite large, approximately 38 feet by 75 feet and probably protected a number of big stone working tools. Alas, I’m not sure if the big shed will make it on the module though; test fitting my mock ups with it included really crowds the open yard section of the scene.

The only remaining structure still present from that time is a brick building on the corner of 11th and R streets. It was originally built for the Carlaw operation, but I don’t think they used very long. In the 40s and 50s it changed hands a number of times. I plan on modeling it when it housed a beer distributor. The front door is on a short wall that cuts diagonally across the northeast corner and has some decorative brick work that will be fun to model. If I can figure out how to do it, that is.

One find in my digging around on Google was that John Carlaw****, before he came to Sacramento, was involved with quarrying the granite for the Ames Monument.***** This towering edifice was a tribute to the Ames brothers of Union Pacific and the Transcontinental railroad fame and the Crédit Mobilier scandal infamy. When it was built it was sited on the highest elevation on the railroad. Since then, the line moved away from the monument. Now it seems to be in the middle of nowhere.

The Carlaw brothers worked on another monument with railroad connections, the AJ Stevens Monument which is still standing in Plaza Park in downtown Sacramento. They did the stone work for the base.

I’ve been learning a great deal about the stone works industry from many sources, but I’d like to pay special consideration to Peggy and Pat Perazzo’s Quarries and Beyond web-page. The Carlaw project presents a great opportunity to model some of the equipment that was common in stone yards, and their site has been a treasure trove of information towards that end. If I get anything right on the look of the tools, it’ll be because of the Perazzos.

*A picture taken by Eugene Hepting that includes the crane can be seen on page 52 of William Burg’s Sacramento Then and Now.

**There is some evidence that the before the Carlaws arrived, the site itself was used as a stone masons staging ground for work on the capitol. There is also some documentation that shows the Carlaw brothers at least bid on some of the later stone decorating work down on the Capitol and the Capital grounds.

*** Gleaned from a Sanborn Fire Insurance map -- BL. SM. equals blacksmith if you ever see that notation on one of their old maps by the way.

**** The 1880 version of John Carlaw - it appears that “John” was a well used family name through the generations. In the Eugene Hepting scrapbooks (at the Center for Sacramento History) notes that in 1938 the business was run by Jack Carlaw, probably John’s son.

***** History of Laramie County, Wyoming by Jean Bastian page 329.

I’m stealing the * footnote idea from - so here’s a shout out to Carl Pyrdum, proprietor of that wonderfully written site.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Got Buttermilk?

It's over 2100 miles from Sacramento's R Street to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but with the 2010 running of the Indy 500 only a few days away it seems timely to mention that there was once a much closer connection on R street to the Brickyard. 

The building that used to be at 430 R Street was briefly home to a branch of Meyer and Welch Inc. They were in the engine rebuilding business, specifically Ford passenger car engines. The major work was done in their Vernon California factory just south of LA, so I suspect the building on R Street was primarily a storage and distribution facility. Maybe. There is some evidence it was more. The 1951 Sanborn map includes the notation "WHOL. MOTOR PARTS & MOTOR REBUILD'G", so perhaps it wasn’t just storage. I'd like to find additional evidence to back that up though. 

The founders Louis Meyer and Lewis Welch both had connections to Indy, especially Meyer. He was the race's first three time winner (1928, 1931 and 1936). After that third win in 1936, he became famous for starting the uniquely Indy tradition of drinking milk in the winner's circle.

Also in '36 but well before Meyers and Welch Inc., 430 R was one of two focal points in a California Railroad Commission case. The case, CRC 4066, taught me a lot about how the WP and SP interacted on R Street during the depression era. It also led me down a fun maze of research on tariffs and reciprocal switching agreements. I hope to detail that case here at some point; it's a very interesting addition to the railroad and industrial history of R Street. 
Getting back to the milk drinking: The story goes that when Louis was a boy his mother told him that downing a glass of buttermilk was a great way to quench thirst on a hot day. Though perhaps hard to imagine buttermilk being the drink of choice today, it was Louis Meyer's habit to have it as his after race reward. And so it was bound to happen that a photographer captured the post race moment of Meyer drinking buttermilk while holding up three fingers for the number of his Indy wins. A dairy industry executive saw the picture in the paper and, not wanting to let a supreme marketing image melt away, took steps to make drinking milk (not buttermilk) an enduring Indy 500 winner's circle tradition. 


Friday, February 12, 2010

Module Number One

Modeling may be picking up here at the R Street Project. I've had a mental block when it comes to actual modeling. Tons of research... no modeling. It's sad really.
My current thinking is that by working on modules I’ll get the incentive and momentum I need to get going on the modeling side. Well, my two modules for the Sacramento Modular Railroaders (SMR) are now in my possession.
In the SMR, the 'bones' of the module are built together as a club during our work sessions. This is done to ensure a close fit between modules owned by different members. If the bench work and wiring are all made in a consistent fashion, it goes a long way to proper track alignment. The layout sets up quicker, the trains derail less often- and these are all very good things.  With a bite sized project in front of me I'm very inspired to get going.

Here’s a sketchup pic of what I'm thinking of for the first module.  It's all very 'work in progress' at this point. The track setup is very simple - on purpose. Mostly because it's my first module. Besides, I really want to get to the buildings. The locomotive is too new for my time-frame, but it does give a sense of scale.   And the club does run lots of modern trains after all.

The inspiration is the area around 10th and R Streets. The big brick building against the backdrop is the WP Fuller & Company warehouse. They sold paint, doors and sashes. Currently the building is home to one of my favorite places for breakfast, The Fox & Goose Pub.  

To the right of Fuller is Gillmore's market. In reality this building is on the other side of the alley track from Fuller but it didn't fit there so well on the module. Gillmore's was a butcher shop. Actually there were two businesses on the ground floor, a butcher shop and a beauty salon. This is one of those things I love about prototype modeling - there is no way in heck I would have come up with that juxtaposition on my own. Gillmore's is a nice representative of many midtown Sacramento buildings, retail on the ground floor, residential on the second floor.  Marquis Gillmore, by the way was in his 80s in 1950 and still a few years from retirement. This building is still standing- currently home to a noodle and fortune cookie factory.
In the foreground on the module will be the Carlaw Brothers Stone Cutters. If memory serves, these were two Scotsmen whose business was in this location for quite some time. There is some speculation that the pre-Carlaw, the site was used as stone staging for construction of the capitol building - the stones having been brought to this location from Folsom.  Nowadays it’s a parking lot.

Because I'm having to work around modular standards, I'm moving buildings around and spinning them from their original locations to make everything fit.  Fuller indeed was served by the WP from their alley line but also faced R Street. Fuller's warehouse is too big to fit between the club's mainline and the branch line so I've moved this building back against the backdrop and spun it. The middle row of buildings is all speculation at the moment, but I want to convey the feeling of R street on the foreground and the alley line in the background. I can’t really keep this area an open field and get that feeling. I think I'll use several buildings from other parts of R Street to fill this area. There were a number of small automotive service businesses and small scale electronic supply warehouses that should work in this location and not look too out of place.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

History of The Thomson-Diggs Company

The search for details of this wholesale hardware company has led me in a research sprawl that has taken a number of interesting directions.  However, before I start digressing let me go over the basics of Thomson-Diggs.

The Thomson-Diggs Company came about from the merger of two hardware firms. In 1900 Frederick and Herbert Thomson bought out the other partner of Stanton-Thomson Company. Frederick had been the junior partner with them since 1884.  At the same time they combined forces with Marshall Diggs, former mayor of Woodland, who had moved his "Diggs Vehicle and Implement Company" to Sacramento just two years prior.   Incorporated January 4th 1900, Thomson-Diggs was the first chartered California corporation in the 20th century.

In 1932 Thomson-Diggs bought out competitor Schaw-Batcher which could trace its company lineage back to the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware store of early Central Pacific fame. 

In the August 1950 time frame of my layout, Thomson-Diggs was celebrating their golden anniversary and business was booming.  They were being led by their sixth president, Charles L. Mason, a grandson of founder Frederick Thomson. Their headquarters consisted of two big buildings which housed their warehouse and office space.  These were on the south side of R Street straddling either side of 3rd Street.  This site was their second location, having moved here in 1911 from J Street.  It also happened to be the birth place of the Sacramento Valley Railroad completed in 1856. 

Thomson-Diggs' "Main Plant" on the west side of 3rd and the subject of my illustration in the last post (as well as the three modern pictures here), boasted 220,000 square feet of air conditioned floor space.  It was built up in stages over a number of years.  The oldest section was designed by the architectural firm of Cuff and Diggs.  It had a square foot print 160 feet on a side and was 48' tall on the north (R Street) elevation. On the south elevation, where there was a pronounced dip in ground level, the building was 54' tall.  That dip, I think, is an artifact from when R Street ran on top of a levee, the city's southern defense against flooding until about 1900.  The Main Plant building expanded in 1937 with a low basement and ground level warehouse addition that more than doubled the footprint and filled up the block west to 2nd Street. Two additional stories were built on top of the warehouse addition ten years later.  This last section was designed by noted Sacramento architect Harry Devine. 

Across 3rd Street to the east was their heavy warehouse, Plant No. 2.  This corrugated metal structure was equipped with six 5-ton capacity electric hoists which facilitated the unloading of five rail cars an hour.  Plant No. 2 stored "iron, steel and wire products." Both buildings were rail served with a total of 650 feet of railroad spur. 

On a recent visit to the Center for Sacramento History I was able to view three different Thomson-Diggs Company catalogs - one dated from 1922 one from 1936 and one from 1950.  Each of these is a massive leather bound book. In addition to the illustrations of the Thomson-Diggs' buildings, the sheer breadth and depth of the product offerings is of great interest - nuts and bolts, of course, but also, electrical, plumbing, household items (like my sister's roasting pan), agricultural supplies, tires, toys (including magic sets), knives, latches, and on and on.   Thomson-Diggs' customers were retail hardware businesses in California, Nevada and Oregon and the catalog admonished them not to let their retail customers paw through the tome unsupervised. The catalogs appear to have been expensive to produce.

Thomson-Diggs remained on R Street until 1986 when they moved to a new warehouse in Natomas.  The 'Main Plant'  building was then refurbished as office space. Plant No. 2 is gone the space currently occupied by a parking lot. They were the second to last independent wholesale hardware company in California in 1991 - the recession and changing market forces cleared out all businesses of its type in California by 1997.   The Thomson-Diggs Co left the wholesale hardware business in the early 1990s and entered the commercial real estate market.  By 1997 even this venture wound down and Thomson-Diggs ceased to exist three years shy of their 100th anniversary. 

Bob Clark took this picture in the mid 1970s - we're looking west. Thomson-Diggs Plant  No. 2 can be seen in the middle background. The main warehouse is in the middle background a little further back.
Another Bob Clark photo taken the same day as the other.  This time a detail shot of Thomson-Diggs Plant no. 2
Ready for some digression?

The oldest section of the Main Plant building, as I noted earlier, was designed by the architectural firm of Cuff and Diggs in 1911, probably one of their first projects as a team.  Note the second partner's name, "Diggs". This was no coincidence; Maury I. Diggs was co-founder Marshall Diggs' nephew.  The firm of Cuff and Diggs was perhaps best known in Sacramento as the designers of the Traveler's Hotel.  Traveler's was completed in 1914; however, Cuff and Diggs were released from their contract in 1913.  As reported in the Bee and picked up in the trade journal Architect and Engineer, Maury Diggs was unable to supply some of the plans for the ornamental specifications.  What was keeping Maury Diggs from completing work on such a high profile project?

In March of 1913 Maury, along with his friend Drew Caminetti, became embroiled in a bona-fide sex scandal.   Both were 27 years old and married.   Both had children.  They started having affairs with two young women they met via a saloon keeper.  The ladies were 19 and 20 years old which at the time made them minors.  As adulterers, they weren't terribly discreet and the background scandal radiation of the town was getting quite warm.  Warm enough that Maury Diggs decided to skip town until things cooled off.  Drew and the girls decided to go with him.  They met down at the Southern Pacific station and were going catch a train to Los Angeles.  As fate would have it they missed that train and took the next available which happened to be the east bound China Mail.  They went as far as Reno where they rented a cottage under assumed names.  

Their departure from Sacramento didn't cool things off as hoped.  Far from it, things became unhinged.  The papers had a field day with the story and a massive man hunt was on for the delinquent husbands.  After three days they were found and the authorities hauled them back to Sacramento.  Three days after that U.S. District Attorney John McNab announced that he would prosecute the pair as being in violation of the Mann Act. 

Signed into law nearly three years earlier by President Taft and known officially as the White Slave Traffic Act, the Mann Act was promoted as an attempt to stop the spread of prostitution especially among recently arriving eastern European immigrants.  However, the key section of the act made it a crime merely to transport a woman across state lines for 'any immoral act'.  Buying your under-aged mistress a train ticket to run away from your wife and children across state lines seemed to fit the bill.  

Both Diggs and Caminetti were from prominent, wealthy, politically well-connected families.  Marshall Diggs, Maury's uncle, had been a California State senator from 1902 to 1906. Drew Caminetti was even more politically charged than Maury.  Drew's father, Anthony Caminetti  also a former California State senator, had just been appointed to be U.S Commissioner of Immigration by Woodrow Wilson. Politically, it didn't help that Anthony Camenetti asked the Attorney General for a delay in the trial so he could settle in his new job and attend his son's trail. McNab, a hold over Republican appointment, very loudly and very publicly resigned in protest when he was so ordered by the Attorney General from the  Democratic administration.  Even President Wilson himself became involved to quiet the firestorm in Congress that erupted.  

Ultimately they lost the federal case and, when appealed, the Supreme Court case in early 1917.   Maury Diggs ended up doing eight months in prison of a two year sentence before being paroled.  He divorced his first wife, married his mistress, Marsha Warrington, who stayed with him until he died in 1953.  They had one daughter together.  After prison Maury continued as an architect in the Bay Area.  He designed several buildings including the Fox Theater in Oakland (also recently refurbished) and a number of horse racing tracks.   

President Wilson came to Sacramento on a hot September day in 1919.  He was beginning the return leg of his national train tour to advocate U.S. entry into the League of Nations.  The Presidential Special traveled west down R Street before turning north on Front Street on its way to the S.P. passenger depot.  In spite of the heat, the reception was enthusiastic.  Wilson chatted with the crowd, many of them children, from the rear platform of the train as it slowly made its way across town.   I wonder, when his train passed by 3rd Street, if he noticed the prominent Thomson-Diggs signs on our two buildings.  Much had occurred, including World War I, since the Diggs-Caminetti case, but I wonder if he made the connection.