Re: Reefer question - moving fish?

Peter Ness

Hi Tim,

Yes, the shellfish (a misnomer term but including lobster, shrimp, oysters, clams, scallops, mollusks, etc) and fish cycles to market were very different. Many shimp, scallops and clams were processed and frozen before shipment, but not all by any means. Oysters and of course lobster, were not commonly processed and frozen (exceptions being the processing of lobster tails, oyster stew and other canned products). Probably the only common step for fish and shellfish was in processing "seafood" chowder or the breaded seafood that went into frozen foods (i.e., "TV dinners", early Gordons and Van de Kamp frozen seafood, etc.) Most shellfish was already sold when the boats returned to dock, while most fish was sold at the dock while being unloaded - again, this is all specific to Boston/New England and perhaps was different at other fish pier locations, and the fish market itself changed over time as catches declined. At one point, it was not uncommon for there to be different buyers for cod, pollack and haddock from the same boat. I saw this happen, and yes the fish was sorted from the hold onto the dock. Shellfish was indeed a "daily catch". The majority of fish was not.

In Boston near the fish pier, A&P and SS Pierce both had processing facilities for seafood of all types, but the majority of the processing (including those that simply iced fish in barrels) were re-sellers; bought off the boat, sold to the highest bidder and transported - rail movements out of Boston in a dedicated daily train. Gordons was located near Gloucester. The Fish Train I mentioned earlier was Boston to NYC. Shipments on the New Haven to Chicago would have been routed via Maybrook but I don't recall reading or hearing about dedicated trains or express shipment of fish via that route much after the early post-war years so perhaps by then trucking was taking over. I do not think it was common (but I can't say it "never" happened that fish moved in baggage-express equipment on the New Haven.

Most non-meat reefers in photos of South Boston Freight Terminal were WFEX, FGEX, some BREX, ATSF and of course PFE. I can't recall seeing a photo of an express reefer in the freight yard and not commonly in freight consist photos, either. Most express cars into Boston were non-refrigerated (refrigerated types were also used, but were in paper and periodical service) REA and PRR; NYC Pacemaker boxcars (that rode the B&A) but all these (including NYC) went to South Station, not the fish pier in the freight yard. So, there's not much evidence that express reefers were used for moving the bulk of fish or other seafood out of Boston.

I suspect that at some point NE-1/NE-2 (B&M/NH connection) may have moved fish and other seafood from Northern New England, but I haven't studied that train very much. If such was the case, car movements could have been directed to either NYC or Maybrook at Cedar Hill (the train was express to NYC so any cars going to Maybrook would have been dropped off as a block, no cars would have been added to this train at Cedar Hill). The B&M brought fish from Gloucester into Boston from the North, but I think that may have been trucked to the fish pier. The Union Freight RR did move cars to fish processers along Northern, Commercial and Atlantic Avenues between North and South Station, but the vast majority of work took place close to the piers.

I could see most freshwater fish such as Great Lakes catches being handled differently. It seems most would be daily fishers compared to the New England fishing fleet which would account for very different cycles. Atlantic Salmon was popular in New England, but not too many freshwater fish were sold to the public in markets at the time. I recall restaurants offering trout and less commonly catfish as far as fresh water fish went, but I'm sure regionally fresh water fish was much more common.



Yeah, right. That would explain why you could buy fresh lobster, oysters,
scallops, other shellfish, fresh salmon, etc in Chicago.

24-hour transportation existed from the east coast to the midwest!

Tim O'Connor

Join to automatically receive all group messages.