Loading Spinach into a Refrigerator
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 transportationfresh
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 carAmerica'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 conditionseveral days before
local berries ripenedand 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 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
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
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
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
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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