Re: Hauling Grapes By Rail (redux)

Dave Owens

On 7/26/07, Richard Brennan <brennan8@...> wrote:
At 09:56 3/19/2007, Bob Chaparro wrote:
[edited - RB]
I found the image below on Calisphere
<>, a service of the
University of California Libraries. The caption reads: "Grapes are
loaded onto gondola railway cars at the Turlock, California, depot."
This was taken around 1905.
In the March discussion...
the early steel-framed flat car on the left in the photo was not identified.

My initial thoughts:
- the Turlock "depot" is on the SP line down the Central Valley...
the Santa Fe is a few miles east, and the Tidewater Southern to the West.
- showing five digits: 78947 This would seem to be a complete number
- circa-1905 most cars were max 5 digits... BUT
- the number does not seem to fit SP or T&NO car numbering?
- has a stenciled sign on the sides says:
MOVE ONLY ?? ??????? (perhaps "to somewhere" or "in evening"?)
Given the commodity shipped, and the open car... IMHO this would
imply a relatively local destination.

Are there any ideas?

Here in Connecticut grapes were a popular commodity and would arrive
by rail. The historical society in Torrington, Connecticut has
accounts of grape-laden rail cars arriving in town with the entire
load being sold quickly. Grape car arrivals were especially popular
during prohibition, when the grapes would be made into wine.

Here's part of a story I wrote back in 1994 about the wine-making
business in Northwest Connecticut. It includes the information about
rail cars of grapes arriving in Torrington.

LITCHFIELD -- The Haight Vineyard is part of a relatively new business
in Connecticut with some long-neglected roots -- winemaking.

The state actually had a thriving wine industry in the early part of
this century, but the adoption of the 18th Amendment in 1919 dried up
the trade. Although Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the business
remained dormant for many years.

Not until 1978 was producing wine for retail sale again made legal in
Connecticut. It wasn't until the 1970s that growing grapes suitable
for wine, using European-style grapes, became possible in New England,
about a decade or so after the industry took hold in New York state.

Despite temperance efforts, and difficulties in climate and
cultivation, a tradition of winemaking has continued in the Northwest
Corner for decades. That tradition includes both legal and illegal

Mark McEachern, the director of the Torrington Historical Society,
said during the early part of the century dozens of railroad cars,
loaded with grapes, were hauled to Torrington and placed on sidings.

Locals would buy grapes right off the cars and then make them into
juice, jelly and wine.

The Jan. 17, 1920, Torrington Register reported that ``No jubilation
or outward demonstration of sorrow attended the arrival of prohibition
in Torrington last night.'' They may not have been happy, but ``they
weren't sad either,'' McEachern said. ``Probably because they were
stocked up.''

During Prohibition the number of grape cars hauled to Torrington
increased significantly, he added.

On Sept. 7, 1926, The Register reported that ``10 car loads of grapes
arrived in the freight yard today.'' The freight yard was on the north
side of Church Street, where the Timex warehouse now stands.

There were 20 tons of grapes per car, and 30 carloads had already
arrived in town by Sept. 7. Another 100 were expected by the end of
the picking season, the Register reported.

``It looks as though there is going to be a lot of grape jelly
consumed in Torrington during the coming winter -- maybe,'' the
Register noted.

On Sept. 9, 1926, one man heading away from the yard with four tons of
grapes told a Register reporter: ``My family will eat them.''

By Sept. 13, 1926, demand had grown.

``It is now estimated that 125 car loads of grapes will come here,''
the Register reported. ``This will produce eight gallons of wine for
every man, woman and child in Torrington.

``At $4 a gallon, it represents a value of $750,000. This wine is in
addition to the normal production of hooch, hard cider and beer. So it
does not look as though anybody in Torrington will go thirsty, in
spite of Prohibition.''

These days, locals needn't crush grapes, ferment and bottle their own
wine to get a taste of area viticulture.

They can just go to local package stores or the Haight Vineyard off
Chestnut Hill Road.


Dave Owens
West Hartford, Connecticut

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