With another RPM Chicagoland in the books it’s time to settle in for some winter projects. The first snow hit the ground here on Halloween, 2019, so the cold is most certainly here.
With a myriad of projects to choose from, I’ve decided to build a couple of related things first this modeling-season, and tackle the first of the industries on the YV that one encounters when coming onto the railroad in Merced from the Southern Pacific, the ice and cold storage plant along with it’s associated rolling stock.
Located at N and 17th street in Merced, a small brick and block building (by the standards of most ice facilities) stood with access to both railroad service via the Yosemite Valley and the local area by road.
I started researching this location as the idea of “ice facilities” is something that not many of us in our modern world with refrigerators and ice makers in our houses are aware of. In the early 1900’s ice delivery was something people needed and little plants like the one in Merced were not uncommon across the country.
The earliest map I have access to, a Sunburn map of Merced from 1922, calls this particular plant “Merced Ice & Cold Storage”. Storing perishable foods at a plant like this makes sense as well. Fresh produce and sometimes meats would need to be kept cold, and thus places where there was ice being made would be the logical place to keep those products.
A later Sanborn map indicates that the name of the facility, same location, later map, is the “Fresno Consumers Ice”. That peaked my curiosity, so I started digging into the history of ice shipping in California.
One of the first things that comes up when looking for Fresno Consumers Ice is this link. http://historicfresno.org/lrhr/003a.htm
The facility in question there is actually in Fresno, CA, so it’s not directly relevant, but the photos give some idea of the size, in color, of what these small ice plants looked like in the early 1900’s. There is a tower for evaporation cooling, which matches with the few known photos of the plant in Merced. The date of 1903 for the structure in Fresno makes it contemporary with the structure in Merced that I’d place around the construction of the YV, so right around 1907. (More digging to be done on exact dates is warranted).
Digging further, some documentation starts to come up.
This is a nice state document from California that lists some of the Fresno Consumers Ice information, and confirms the location of the Fresno plant.
Then we start finding Merced Ice & Cold Storage in this kind of document, a trade journal for ice companies.
This indicates that there is now a location at Merced Falls for storing ice. The date is May, 1912. I remembered that my friend, Jack Burgess, had noted that there was an ice storage house at El Portal in some of his notes, and shared this information with him. The facility at Merced Falls is different than what he had in his notes, so more research again is needed on the point, but it establishes that ice as a commodity is being hauled up the YV to at least two locations, to supply consumers ice.
I kept digging, and started to find some information from the 1920’s, which is fascinating (to me). In this issue of “Ice and Refrigeration Illustrated” I located an interesting connection.
On page 209, a listing for a gentleman associated with the ice association in California, and a company called “National Ice Co.”, listed with a San Francisco address, of the name J.T. Donahue popped up. I knew I’d seen some information on Mr. Donahue before, so I went back to some previous material that I had ignored.
This information starts to bring things together in my mind.
On page 851 of Moodys Manual of Railroads and Corporate Securities, from 1922, near the bottom, the National Ice & Cold Storage Co of Cal(ifornia) is listed. The document discusses how this company operates, and that they run a diversified business for storing different types of meats, vegetables, and fruits along with selling wholesale and retail ice. The tie to Fresno Consumers Ice and Merced Ice & Cold Storage is on page 852. The top paragraph is listing where the company has built or acquired ice making capability, and Merced is listed. Just below the listing of ice making capacity, the page also lists the names of subsidiaries that the company does business through, and Fresno Consumers Ice is listed there. On page 853, Mr Donohue’s name is listed as a Vice President of the company, and the company address is in San Francisco.
Coming full circle, the report of the California Railroad Commission, the very first link I shared above, shows the name “Merced Ice & Cold Storage” on page 812, and it lists Mr J.T. Donahue as the Secretary, with the same 22 Battery Street, San Francisco, California address as National ice & Cold Storage Company of California, and the same location and person as the contact, Mr. Donahue, as Fresno Consumers Ice.
So, in my head, I’ve now drawn a line. The business in Merced that comes about in the early 1900’s is known as Merced Ice & Cold Storage Co. This company, like Fresno Consumers Ice, is a small ice producing plant that makes product for delivery around Merced, and also is shipping ice via the Yosemite Valley Railroad to locations, at least in Merced Falls and El Portal, for consumer demand. They are also storing various meats, vegetables, and fruits for consumers, likely coming in via the railroad. At some point in the space between being established and the 1920’s, the plant becomes part of the holdings of National Ice & Cold Storage Company of California, which also operates the Fresno Consumers Ice facility in Fresno. At a yet to be determined date, the plant’s name is rolled into the Fresno Consumers Ice subsidiary of National, and the plant becomes known for the insurance maps as Fresno Consumers Ice.
In discussing all this information with Jack, I wanted to know if I was calling the location the right thing. That’s at the heart of what I found myself driving at. When making out paperwork, was I calling the facility the right name. Funny enough, Jack’s recollection of what the actual YV men called this industry was “The Ice House”, no location name involved. So, paperwork might list Merced Ice & Cold Storage or the National name, but when talking about it with crews, it’s just “the ice house”.
That’s it for today. In Part 2, we’ll look at what I plan to model, and the equipment I plan to build to operate this one location.