Re: Bananas via Fruit Growers Express

George Eichelberger

Yes, Charleston, SC was an important banana importing point, particularly for loads going to the midwest on the Southern through Asheville, Knoxville and Cincinnati. The SRHA files at Kennesaw contain individual files for many banana boat arrivals. The facility was operated by the SR with only a small portion of the loads going to the SAL and ACL. Outbound loads in express cars on passenger trains was not common. Messages asking to send empty refrigerator cars to Charleston to be loaded proceeded every boat’s arrival. The boat files almost always include the reporting mark and number of every outbound car, if/where it was interchanged and its billed destination. Many cars destined to the midwest were diverted en route at Knoxville or Cincinnati so we do not know their actual end points. Single cars would be billed to grocery distributors in places like Asheville or Greensboro, NC.

Accumulating the cars to load appears to have been a mad dash to collect any empty refrigerator cars, from any owner, no matter if they were normally used for meat, fruit or vegetable service. Empty cars to Charleston received the highest priority with extra trains for them not unusual. Out bound consists have a much higher proportion of non-Fruit Growers cars than the peach or Fla citrus trains also operated by the Southern. (Was this because the pier and Charleston banana traffic was managed by the railroad?) A typical outbound banana train was operated as an extra movement, behind a 2-8-2, with 50-55 cars.

The files always include the names of the arriving ships. Obviously, the same ships reappear at Charleston but until someone does the research, we cannot say if there was a pattern to their movements. Most (all?) were owned by the United Fruit Co.

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