Thursday, July 14, 2011

Car Loading Data for Valley Wholesale Grocery

One of the nice things about conventions (I survived and my module made it to the show thankyouverymuch) is that you often get to catch up with friends you don't get to hang out with frequently enough. The genial proprietor of Robert's Vasona Branch Blog, Robert Bowdidge and I have bumped into each other at a number of events, most notably where we met, at the joint LDSIG/OPSIG meets in Santa Clara.

At x2011 West last week, Robert attended my R Street clinic where, among other things, I delve into the details of a California Railroad Commission (CRC) case.

CRC Case 4066 had as its setting my beloved R Street. It was a depression era case (1935-6) that heard the Western Pacific complaint that the Southern Pacific was not opening up a couple of customers to reciprocal switching.

In a reciprocal switching agreement two railroads serving the same switching district agree to deliver cars to customers that were brought into town by the competing railroad but whose tracks are on their own switching network for a nominal charge (in some cases the token charge is completely absorbed).  There are restrictions and limitations of course. At least part of the line haul on the way in had to be competitive, and the spotting location had to be to a private industrial spur. That is, you as a railroad could not force your competition to deliver your customers cars to your competitor's own facilities - like their Freight Houses or Team Tracks and still expect to get the über cheap rate.

And therein lay the rub. It all hung on what the definition of team track was because the SP claimed the two industries that they refused reciprocal switching service to were, in fact, team tracks.

A team track is a track made available for public unloading. It is a railroad owned track and part of their terminal facilities. For a business that does not have its own railroad spur, a team track is a way to ship goods via rail.

Unlike modern switching tariffs I've seen, the ruling tariff at the time of the case did not define what a team track was nor did it list the team track locations. Normally we as modelers think team track locations are fairly obvious from their appearance. The main team track facility for the Western Pacific looked much like the Walthers "team track scene". Others, and the two disputed spurs here, however looked identical to a regular private industrial spur. At one of the locations a double ended spur served three customers - the outer two were designated private industrial spurs and thus open to reciprocal switching, the middle was not.

What gives? The Southern Pacific claimed it came down to ownership. When a railroad right of way is already on a public street, as are many of the spurs on R Street, the determining factor of ownership is the rails themselves. The outer two customers had a lease agreement with the Southern Pacific. The middle business did not and thus SP owned the rail itself. SP designated it a team track and that was that.

Western Pacific was trying to argue a different definition of what made a team track a team track. They held that a track's definition should be based on usage. In this case they claimed the two track locations designated by the Southern Pacific as team tracks were being used as private industrial spurs. They felt that all, or at least a vast majority of cars being delivered to the spurs were cars spotted for the industries that were adjacent to the team track. In this way, the WP felt, the SP was illegally closing two businesses on R Street to the reciprocal switching agreement. The had no evidence of this, just a hunch. They managed, over strenuous objections from the SP, to have the Commission compel the SP to produce the car records for one of the disputed locations.

So, there in the case file is an exhibit that shows every car delivered to the Valley Wholesale Grocery spur for an 18 month period. It lists the car's owner,  number,  and whether the customer was the Valley Wholesale Grocery or another business.

For modelers trying to get the proper prototypical freight car mix and car frequency to a wholesale grocery business in the mid 1930s right the data is very interesting indeed.  That's where Robert comes in.  This is his era.

In a few precious entries we get the contents of the car. But others are a puzzle that Robert and I are working on.

You can help out! Check out the spreadsheet here and a little background on the spreadsheet here. You'll see our guesses at what sorts of products from the various towns and cities could possibly be. Feel free to chime in in the comments section below if you have anything to add or suggest. the end SP won the case. The decision simply said that the WP did not prove the tracks in question were not team tracks. It didn't explain what definition the commission was using - and the data provided by the SP showed that the tracks were being used at least a little bit of the time as truly open team tracks.


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  2. My big questions in the data:

    * What was in Reinbeck, Iowa that sent four cars to Valley Wholesale? Two of those cars were refrigerator cars, so it must have been something temperature-sensitive.

    * Why were the shipments from Gustine (Carnation?) in reefers, when the other milk producers were shipping in boxcars? Were they shipping a different cargo, and did Valley Wholesale have a place to store perishables?

    * I was really surprised at the number of 50' auto boxcars (and 40' auto boxcars) being used for foodstuffs. Was this just because the products were lightweight and bulky and worked well in the cars, or did they need the wider doors, or were the cars just available because of a downturn in auto sales?

    I also want to check out how many of these cars were outside braced so I can get a rough guess at how my own boxcar freight should look.

  3. One argument against it being a real team track: from a quick glance, it looked like all the deliveries for the team track were from locations that also shipped to the grocery. I'm wondering if that track was behaving less like a team track than a handy location for the different grocery distributors in town to share a boxcar load. Some of the Post boxcars would go to the grocery, some would go to other distributors, some would be split between the two.
    If this was a real team track, I'd expect many more cars coming from locations that weren't also shipping to Valley Wholesale.

  4. And that was WP's argument- it couldn't be a team track based on usage.

    SP countered that it was a team track because they (SP) owned the track and they so designated it as such. They also argued that just because more shippers didn't use this team track location didn't make it a private industrial spur.

    Another point was that the two tracks in question had adequate access for public unloading. They then produced examples on the WP side of the street that were claimed by them (WP) to be team tracks that had little or no public access.

    I have to say I had fun reading through the testimony.

  5. One possible reason for the refrigerator cars, such as the ones from Reinbeck: in winter, canned goods could freeze in regular boxcars. A San Jose canner declared that he used refrigerator cars for any canned goods heading east starting in fall. This quote came out of the debates over whether to loosen the restrictions banning the meat packers from selling canned goods as well.