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Loading Spinach into a Refrigerator Car

When we visit the corner grocery store, with its mixed aromas, do we ever stop to think where all the fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, dairy products and other foods come from and what an important part transportation plays in bringing these foods to our community?

Do we ever pause to reflect upon the part which railway transportation plays in assembling the foods that go to make up our daily menu?

Behind every meal we eat is a fascinating story of transportation—fresh vegetables and fruits that have been transported for hundreds or thousands of miles; bacon or ham or sausage from the great packing centers, which draw their supplies from millions of American farms. And whence come the cereals, the cream, the bread, or the grain from which bread is made, the butter, the marmalade, the salt, the pepper, the sugar and other items on our breakfast table? Several thousand miles of transportation, reaching from a dozen or more states, far and near, and from distant lands, may be represented in the typical American breakfast.

In the picture we see men unloading baskets of spinach from a farm truck and loading them into a refrigerator car. Spinach is one of numerous farm products which go to make up the million and a quarter carloads of fresh vegetables, fruits, fish meats, butter and other perishable commodities which move by railroad each year. Large quantities of ice are used to keep the products in good condition.

The long-distance transportation of highly perishable foods of this nature is distinctly a railroad achievement. At no previous period in the world's history was it possible for a people to enjoy such an abundance and variety of foods at all seasons of the year as we enjoy in America today.

The refrigerator car—America's "ice box on wheels"-makes this possible. Before refrigerator cars were widely introduced, perishable foods were marketed only in or near the areas of production, and the supply and variety of fresh foods were limited.

The first ice-cooled car designed to prevent shipments from spoiling in transit was introduced by a meat-packing firm in Chicago in 1857. The first shipments of fruits under refrigeration were from southern Illinois to Chicago in 1866. To Parker Earle, an enterprising fruit grower of Cobden, Ill., goes the credit for pioneering in this development. After several unsuccessful efforts to ship strawberries to Chicago without their spoiling on the way, Mr. Earle hit upon an idea. During the winter of 1865-66 he harvested a large quantity of ice, and he packed the ice in sawdust in his barn so it would keep well into the summer. Then he built several large wooden chests with double linings. Each chest was fitted with two compartments. When the berry-picking season arrived Mr. Earle packed one compartment of each chest with ice and the other compartment with strawberries. Then he shipped them by railroad to Chicago. The strawberries arrived in the Chicago market in perfect condition—several days before local berries ripened—and Chicago housewives and hotels eagerly bought them for as high as $1 a quart! Parker Earle reaped a handsome profit from his crop.

It was only a step from the iced chest to the iced box car, and Parker Earle was one of the pioneers in this venture also. By 1872 many carloads of strawberries and other fruits were being shipped from southern Illinois to Chicago under refrigeration. In 1885 berries from Virginia were shipped to New York under refrigeration. Three years later Florida oranges entered the New York market, and in 1889 New York received its first carload of deciduous fruit from California.

From these beginnings sprang the great refrigerator transportation industry which brought revolutionary changes in the production and distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and other perishables.

Railway refrigerator service broke down the barriers of distance. Farming areas, remote from consuming centers, but especially adapted by soil and climate to the production of certain fruits or vegetables, could for the first time be developed commercially on a large scale, with the entire country for their market.

By thus increasing the opportunities of the farm population and making a wide variety of fresh foods available in all parts of the country at all seasons of the year, the railroads contributed to a higher standard of living, increased commercial activity and increased industrial production throughout the nation.

All sections of the country benefited from these developments. Because of refrigerator car service provided by the railroads, Pacific Coast states can and do produce lettuce, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, asparagus, pears, grapefruit, cantaloupes, grapes, peaches, plums, oranges apples, tomatoes, lemons and other fruits and vegetables for the people of distant New England and all other parts of the country, as well as the several provinces of Canada.

Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, limes, lemons, peaches, strawberries, watermelons, celery, spinach and tomatoes produced in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and other Southern states are marketed in nearly every state in the Union as well as in Canada. Potatoes from Maine and Idaho find their markets at points as far distant as Florida and Texas.

In order to reach the consumer, potatoes travel an average distance of 741 miles; peaches, 843 miles; cabbage, 970 miles. Even greater travelers are the watermelons that come to our tables, their average journey being 1,084 miles, and apples, which travel 1,162 miles on the average. And the berry family travels 1,200 miles, on the average; tomatoes, 1,894 miles; oranges and grapefruit, 2,126 miles; and cantaloupe and melons come 2,434 miles-about as far as from Los Angeles to Cincinnati. But the record-holder among domestic fruits is the grape. This little fellow journeys 2,597 miles to reach our tables!

Large cities, such as New York and Chicago, are almost wholly dependent on distant points for their food supplies.

Of more than 35,000 carloads of fresh fruits and vegetables received in Boston in 1939, 10,456, or 35 per cent, came from California; 8,224 carloads, or 23 per cent, came from Florida, and 1,925 carloads, or 6 per cent, came from Texas. Thus, approximately two out of every three carloads came from these three distant states.

Seventy per cent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in New York City comes from points 1,000 miles or more away.

The widespread distribution of perishable products by rail is shown by a study of receipts of fruits and vegetables at 66 principal marketing centers in the United States. The study shows that 58 of these markets received peaches from Georgia, 59 received celery from Florida, 37 received grapes from Arkansas, 48 received tomatoes from Mississippi and 43 received strawberries from Louisiana.

Of 31,460 carloads of fruits and vegetables unloaded in Philadelphia in a recent year, 10,295 came from Florida, 9,682 came from California, 2,185 came from Maine, 1,571 came from Texas, 1,060 came from South Carolina, 993 came from New York State, 941 came from Arizona, 603 came from Idaho, 574 came from Washington State, 532 came from Georgia, 517 came from North Carolina, and the remaining 2,507 carloads came from 26 other states. Thus, 37 out of 48 states in the Union contributed to Philadelphia's supply of fruits and vegetables.

Reports of the United States Department of Agriculture show that Boston draws carload shipments of fruits and vegetables from 38 states; New York City from 41 states; Baltimore from 32 states; Buffalo from 34 states; Pittsburgh from 41 states; Cleveland from 41 states; Cincinnati from 40 states; Detroit from 43 states; Chicago from 42 states; Milwaukee from 39 states; St. Louis from 40 states; New Orleans from 38 states; Kansas City from 34 states; Denver from 24 states; Salt Lake City from 12 states; and Los Angeles from 12 states.

In a recent year, the railroads of the United States transported 394,000 carloads of fruits, 567,000 carloads of vegetables and 440,000 carloads of dairy and packing-house products. Many of these commodities move under refrigeration; some move in specially heated cars to prevent freezing; some move under controlled temperatures without ice or heat.

To provide the American people with year-round, nation-wide service in the transportation of perishable products, the railroads operate a fleet of 145,000 refrigerator cars. Assembled in a single train, these cars would reach 1,194 miles across the country.

Many refrigerator cars are owned by private car companies. In cooperation with the railroads, these companies make advanced studies of the transportation needs of the fruit and vegetable producing regions and see that a sufficient number of empty refrigerator cars are at the numerous loading points when they are needed.

Solid trainloads of fruits and vegetables are frequently shipped from the producing areas at the height of the harvest season. These trains move on fast schedules. For instance, strawberries from the Carolinas reach New York for second morning delivery; peaches from Georgia arrive in New York for third morning delivery; strawberries from Louisiana arrive in Chicago for second morning delivery. Trainloads of perishables from Florida, Texas, Pacific Coast points and other areas are timed for delivery in Eastern cities at a definite hour.

The refrigerator car is a long-distance traveler among freight cars. Trips from California to Boston; from Florida to Minnesota or Montana; or from South Texas to New York are not uncommon. And as soon as it has been emptied, it hurries back to the producing region, usually empty, for another load.


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