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 Early Industry - Pickle Works

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
hardcoalcase Posted - 02/16/2020 : 11:10:42 AM
Here is another industry topic from the Forums of Model Railroader Magazine, this one, submitted by "cgedney" in September 2016.

I do have some perspective on this - my great, great grandfather started the M. A. Gedney Company in Minneapolis in 1880, and our family has worked there since.

As I understand it, the process was not very sophisticated, but fairly standard across the country. At that time the companies were very regional; there weren't any national pickle companies with the possible exception of the H. J. Heinz company.

A company would contract farmers to grow cucumbers, and set up what were known as "salting stations" throughout the region. These are what are frequently modeled as trackside industry elements, and as described previously are sheds with a dozen or so 800 bushel wooden tanks.

The farmers would deliver cucumbers to these sheds each day by truck to be sorted by size using a mechanical size grader. The farmer was paid a different amount for each size. The cucumbers would then go into a tank designated for that size, and when full the tank would be "capped" with wooden boards. Then the tank was filled with water over the tops of the caps and some salt was added. Naturally occuring acetobacter would then ferment the sugars in the cucumbers and create lactic acid, basically sterilizing the cucumbers and preventing any further spoilage.

At this point the cucumbers were preserved and ready to move, and the infamous pickle car would be brought in and loaded with either wheelbarrows or bucket elevators, if the facility was highly advanced. The rail car would then take the cucumbers to the main pickle factory, where they were either desalted and packed in glass jars with a vinegar brine, or stored in more outdoor tanks on the premises of the main factory. In this condition the pickles were also protected from freezing, alowing operations to continue in the winter.

We still use this method of preservation to a certain extent, but we no longer use pickle cars or salting stations. Reefer trucks now deliver cucumbers directly to the main factory, and most of the pickles are packed directly in glass (or even plastic), a method called "fresh pack". the salting tanks we use for "naturally cured" pickles in our current facility in Chaska, Minnesota are made out of fiberglass.

So, there are two different opportunities for modeling - the salting stations and the factory itself. Both would be on rail lines. The factory would also possibly have packaging materials, vinegar, salt, and sugar (for sweet gherkins) delivered by rail. Most outbound finished goods were delivered by truck.


15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
bandman Posted - 02/19/2020 : 9:05:20 PM
Thanks, Karl. Yes, I did that, but sometimes a photo can be found in other locations that show more surroundings or different angles that could show more detail. I appreciate your comment.

Horton M.
k9wrangler Posted - 02/19/2020 : 5:07:39 PM
Originally posted by bandman

That's a great picture, Bruce. I've tried to find it online, but not having any luck. Any hints?


Horton M.

. Have you tried to SAVE IMAGE using the right click on your computer?

I find it interesting the fellow on top is wearing a tie and looks like a suit or sport jacket.
RyanAK Posted - 02/19/2020 : 4:18:11 PM
Bruce, that's really an impressive model. Excellent work. And certainly has the 'mass' of a rail-served industry. I'd assume that the factory was all material-in... the final product being distributed locally. But maybe not. I wonder what the process for unloading the cars of salt-brined cucumbers and tanks of vinegar, etc. would be...

Salting stations would have salt and other ingredients inbound (researching... apparently some made one or two varieties onsite...), and brined cucumbers or pickles out.

I have a couple of American Model Builder laser kits in my "someday" file. The pickle factory is of a prototype in New Brunswick. The write ups for these kits give some interesting information as well. I'm usually most interested in prototype photos, but the pics of these models really gives an idea of how the operations worked. I especially like the salting station. Nifty.

Dutchman Posted - 02/19/2020 : 11:45:19 AM
One of the models of pickle plants that shows up on many layouts is this styrene classic. The moulds were passed around a few different manufacturers. By the time I got mine, it was in the hands of International Hobby Corp. (IHC).

I only wanted it to measure all the parts so that I could scratch built it in wood. I did that in a thread here on the Forum.


Here are some pictures of my finished product, named Devon's Dills after our oldest granddaughter.

When I was done with the IHC kit, I sent it to a Forum member who had his finished Pickle Plant model stolen at a swap meet.
thayer Posted - 02/18/2020 : 6:05:26 PM
Thanks. Somehow I also managed to grab the first two images in the thread, before the first Desertdrover post that seems to have killed page 1. I posted them on page 2.
Dutchman Posted - 02/18/2020 : 08:33:31 AM
Originally posted by thayer

Can we get a link for those of us not familiar with Chester's work?

Chester's posts here on the forum were in the 'vehicle' sub-forum. Sadly, Chester did not upload his photos to this forum, and used Photobucket instead, so now we have lost those gems.

Here is an example.


thayer Posted - 02/18/2020 : 08:05:08 AM
Can we get a link for those of us not familiar with Chester's work?
bandman Posted - 02/18/2020 : 07:25:55 AM
Thanks, Bruce. Yes, I'm familiar with Chester's work. What a brilliant modeler he was; and such a sad ending in the later years. I hope his site will remain visible for us to admire and learn from viewing his wonderful work.

Horton M.
Dutchman Posted - 02/17/2020 : 11:10:37 PM
Originally posted by bandman

That's a great picture, Bruce. I've tried to find it online, but not having any luck. Any hints?


Horton M.

Horton, it was in a book on vintage trucks and I scanned it. I did it for a forum member - Chester, who did great vehicle models. He never got to model it before he passed on.

bandman Posted - 02/17/2020 : 10:42:19 PM
That's a great picture, Bruce. I've tried to find it online, but not having any luck. Any hints?


Horton M.
Dutchman Posted - 02/17/2020 : 1:12:05 PM
A little out of this time period (1939) but what a great truck (and tank) to model!

jbvb Posted - 02/17/2020 : 11:57:42 AM
The Holly, MI photo says "Vinegar Works", so it might have made vinegar from some combination of apples and imported white sugar or molasses.

About 1981 I walked the old New Haven 'chinese wall' RoW from Ruggles St. in Boston to Forest Hills. I was documenting it photographically before it was demolished for the present Orange Line/MBTA/Amtrak depressed RoW. There was a pickle factory next to and below the tracks near the present Jackson Sq. station. There was a 3-4 story brick building with a yard behind it surrounded by a brick wall perhaps 10 feet tall. I could see half a dozen open pickle tanks with cucumbers floating in liquid. But I didn't take pictures. I wish I had every time RR pickle traffic comes up.
deemery Posted - 02/17/2020 : 10:35:23 AM
EL Moore did a 'cabbage factory' that was the origin for some plastic kits. It's worth reading all the articles on this over at 30suqares: https://30squaresofontario.blogspot.com/search/label/Caleb%27s%20Cabbage%20Co.

Dutchman Posted - 02/17/2020 : 09:12:45 AM
As for specialized rail cars, this might help.

"The H.J. Heinz Company was the first company to ship vinegar and pickles in tank cars. In 1894 the company designed a 9,950-gallon tank car containing four-inch thick cypress staves (narrow strips forming part of the sides of the outside of the tank car)."

I'm not sure if these are period photos, or photos of preserved cars taken at a later day. However, the pickle car is dated 1910 and the billboard car is dated 1907.

Dutchman Posted - 02/17/2020 : 08:59:58 AM
Heinz started making pickles in the 1860's. The factory in Holly, MI was built in 1896, but was by no means the first such processing plant built.

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