Pacific Fruit Express In Utah
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This page was last updated on May 29, 2022.
"The Pacific Fruit Express Company (PFE) was incorporated in 1906 and began operations the following year. A joint project of the Edward H. Harriman-controlled Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, the PFE handled shipments of vegetables, fruit and other perishables primarily from western growing areas to markets in the northern and eastern states. At its height, the company had a total of almost 41,000 ice refrigerator cars. To service these, the PFE operated a number of ice plants and docks, as well as car and repair shops throughout the west. After World War II, the number of cars owned by the company declined, although their size increased. Mechanical refrigerators began supplanting the older ice bunker cars. By 1972 the ice cars had been totally replaced. Joint ownership between Southern Pacific and Union Pacific ended in 1978, with the two railroads dividing the rolling stock and SP keeping the Pacific Fruit Express name." (Online Archives of California)
With the formation of Pacific Fruit Express in 1906, jointly-owned by Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, the Union Pacific ice house in Ogden, along with a similar plant on the Oregon Short Line in Salt Lake City, became the focus of the new company's operations in Utah. The Ogden ice warehouse and icing platform was completed by Union Pacific in 1889, matching the one just completed at Evanston, Wyoming, and was leased to the new Pacific Fruit Express company.
With the exception of the PFE facilities at Ogden, research suggests that the other icing platforms in Utah (Salt Lake City, Provo, Milford, Cedar City) were used for icing and re-icing of small originating shipments of single cars, or blocks of four or five cars of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh meat. The large PFE ice docks in Ogden were the only locations in Utah that provided icing services for large blocks of eastbound cars, or entire trains of eastbound cars. Milford provided icing services for small blocks of cars that were westbound to markets in southern California.
Although fruits and vegetables originating from points in Utah was a regular occurrence (such as apples, carrots and celery from Utah county, and onions, celery and potatoes from Davis county), these were usually in blocks of one to four cars, not entire trains.
Meat packers in Utah also shipped their products to market using railroad refrigerator cars, but the regional market was small for locally produced meat products. Small shipments meant that the numbers of refrigerator cars were equally small, at about one or two cars in each shipment.
Railroad Refrigerator Cars
Other Ice and Storage Plants in Utah
Early Ice Plants and Ice Docks
In late December 1905 Rio Grande Western was reported as planning the construction of an ice plant at Provo, to service refrigerator cars. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 30, 1905)
An early map of Salt Lake City, dating from 1909, shows an ice plant on the east side of the new OSL North Yard, at about 1100 North, on what is now refinery property, near the current car shop. At 99 feet wide along the tracks and 143 feet long, with an ice dock about 350 feet long, the design and dimensions appear to be similar to the ice plant at Ogden. (Utah State Archives, Series 28224, Map H-102C)
A later map, dated 1917, does not show the ice plant mentioned above. The same map series from 1917 does show an icing platform "ice docks" (about 300 feet long) as part of D&RG's Salt Lake City yard, located along the west side of 5th West, a short distance south of 3rd South. This location included an overhead conveyor over 5th West to the "ice house" of Utah Ice & Storage.
An early map of D&RGW's Roper Yard shows an icing platform 1,302 feet long along the west side of the yard. At the south end of the platform there was an ice house 14 feet by 50 feet, placed upon an unloading dock 16 feet by 252 feet. The two tracks serviced by the ice platform were 33 feet apart. The unloading platform was connected to the raised icing platform by a ramp 70 feet long. The drawing also shows the stock yards a short distance farther to the west. (Utah State Archives, Series 28224, Map H-202A)
D&RGW "recently completed yards in Salt Lake City 1-1/2 miles long by 1000 feet wide containing 10 tracks with a capacity of 110 cars each and 10 tracks with a capacity of 50 cars each and an ice dock 1400 feet long with a 60-car capacity." (Salt Lake Telegram, March 7, 1934)
June 7, 1937
The ice dock at Roper was 14 feet high, and was located at 27th South and 6th West, as mentioned in a report about an employee who fell from the ice dock and was recuperating in a local hospital. (Deseret News, June 7, 1937) (The address given matches the location of today's automobile unloading ramps at Roper)
Pacific Fruit Express Plants
Ogden Ice Transfer Plant (ITP)
For the original ice storage warehouses and ice deck, ice was brought by carloads from the Carlin and Evanston Natural Ice Plants (NIP's).
The 1889-built Ogden plant's ice house had a storage capacity of 35,000 tons, enough to supply approximately 7,000 railroad refrigerator cars, each of which used about five tons of ice when fully re-iced. The Evanston natural ice plant, source of ice for the Ogden plant, was closed in 1921 after PFE completed a new ice manufacturing plant at Ogden.
Maps of Ogden yard dated 1904 show both an original ice house dating from the 1870s, and a newer ice house built in 1889. The original ice house measured 32 feet by 140 feet, located perpendicular to a seven-foot by 120-foot car icing platform, all situated at about 27th Street, west of the yard tracks. The newer facility, measuring 98 feet by 200 feet, was located between the original Union Pacific roundhouse and the OUR&D yard tracks, at about 26th Street.
By 1916, the larger storage house had been moved to the original site and had doubled in size. The UP ice house at Ogden was made up of four attached buildings, all of which stored ice. Insulation to keep the ice solid year-round came from double walls with sawdust between. The four ice houses at Ogden were owned by UP, and were rented to PFE. On August 5, 1919, all four ice houses were destroyed by fire.
Local newspapers reported that the August 5, 1919 fire that destroyed the Pacific Fruit Express ice house was caused by arson. The reported damage was $150,000 and all four ice storage buildings were destroyed, along with 12,000 tons of ice. Empty oil cans were found in the immediate vicinity of the buildings, which were owned by Union Pacific and leased to Pacific Fruit Express. In addition to the four PFE ice storage buildings, the same fire also destroyed the adjacent Utah Ice & Storage ice manufacturing plant, with its 50 tons per day capacity. The ammonia storage tanks at the ice manufacturing plant exploded and caused additional damage. The fire that destroyed the PFE facilities was the latest in a series of arson-caused fires among Ogden businesses (12 in less than 30 days), and resulted in armed guards being posted to protect local businesses. (Salt Lake Herald, August 6, 1919; Salt Lake Tribune, August 6, 1919)
The fire in August 1919 that destroyed the four Union Pacific ice storage warehouses in Ogden, only did minor damage to the adjacent Utah Ice & Storage ice plant, leased to Pacific Fruit Express, and the plant was able resume operation immediately. Also, the icing platform itself received only minor damage and was immediately rebuilt. (Ogden Standard, August 8, 1919; Deseret Evening News, August 9, 1919)
Ogden Ice Manufacturing Plant (IMP)
2550 Pacific Avenue
Planning for new icing facilities in Ogden began very soon after the fire in August 1919. In mid October 1920 construction began of a new "ice plant" replacing the burned ice storage warehouses. Additional work included the demolition of the former Union Pacific roundhouse that had been "abandoned" since 1914 when Union Pacific moved into a new joint shops with Southern Pacific. The old roundhouse needed to be abolished to make way for the new ice plant, ice docks and new yard tracks. This was all north of 28th Street and along the west side of the existing yard. Tracklaying for new ice house tracks began in December 1920. The planned completion date was July 1, 1921, but the opening was delayed until August 1st. (Ogden Standard Examiner, October 6, 1920; October 31, 1920; December 27, 1920; February 2, 1921; Richfield Reaper, August 11, 1921)
PFE's original ice manufacturing plant at the SP yards was built in 1921 after the ice transfer plant burned in 1919. It had the capacity of 375 tons daily, storage space for 10,500 tons in the winter storeroom, 3300 tons in the daily storeroom, and 800 tons in the dock storeroom.
Adjacent to the new plant were two island-type platforms, No. 1 being 2,893 feet long, 66 car lengths, and No. 2 being 3,113 feet long, 70 car lengths. There was a one car spot loading dock on the back track and a 15-carlength double track loading dock with the ice coming through from the daily storage house.
In April 1943, PFE leased a portion of its three-story Ogden IMP to R. D. Pringle Company of Denver. The Pringle company spent $100,000 to remodel the building for the use of quick-freezing of fruits and vegetables. (Ogden Standard Examiner, April 21, 1943)
March 10, 2015
The ice house of the former Pacific Fruit Express burned in the early morning hours of March 10, 2015. Although the building was essentially all-concrete construction, there were several wooden additions, and interior partitions and other combustible materials stored inside that the fire was very intense. The structure was damaged beyond recovery and was demolished. Union Pacific still owned the building and land, and over the years since PFE's closure in the mid 1970s, had leased out the building, but it had been abandoned for several years. (Ogden Standard Examiner, March 10, 2015)
Riverdale Ice Manufacturing Plant (IMP)
In July 1953 UP announced construction of a new yard in Ogden, to be located south of 31st Street. Included as part of the new yard was a new island-type icing platform for Pacific Fruit Express that would allow the company to mechanize part of its operation at Ogden, along with expanding its facilities to allow the re-icing of two full-length, unbroken 110-car trains at once. This platform would replace the 1927-built 70-car platform in the main yard. PFE would retain the older 66-car icing platform, built in 1927 in the main yard. To mechanize the icing operations, the new platform at Riverdale would be equipped with three Preco mechanical icing machines and a 500-ton ice manufacturing and storage facility, and an ice conveyor system connecting the storage facility with the icing platform. (Railway Age, Volume 135, number 3, July 20, 1953, pp. 22-23; See also: Deseret News, June 15, 1953 and July 1, 1953)
The Preco mechanical icing machines were unique enough that they were awarded their own U. S. patent.
"Parallel improvements planned by P. F. E. call for construction of an island-type icing platform with a capacity of 220 cars. Of two present island-type icing platforms, one of 70-car capacity will be retired while one of 66-car capacity will be retained for service." (Railway Age, July 20, 1953, Volume 135, Number 3, page 22)
April 1, 1954
The new Riverdale icing platform was expected to be completed by April 1, 1954. (Ogden Standard Examiner, December 20, 1953)
September 1, 1954
Operation of UP's new Riverdale Yard in Ogden, Utah, began on September 1, 1954. "As part of the project, Pacific Fruit Express has completely mechanized its icing facilities; besides increasing icing capacity by 220 cars it now can ice full length unbroken trains." ("Week At A Glance", Railway Age, Volume 137, number 10, September 6, 1954, p. 4)
Prior to 1954, the PFE tracks in Riverdale yard had been used only for cleaning and storage of westbound (empty) cars. The new Riverdale ice plant was capable of producing 700 tons of ice per day, in the form of 4,750 cakes of ice, each measuring about 11 inches by 22 inches by 42 inches. A bridge conveyor took these ice cakes overhead to the new mile-long ice platform, built to re-ice two 110-car trains at the same time. With the completion of this icing platform at Riverdale, the original 70-car platform in Ogden's old main yard was retired, leaving only the remaining original 66-car platform in place.
This 1954 expansion gave PFE two separate facilities at Ogden: the original 66-car platform and 1921-built, 500-ton ice manufacturing plant in the main yard (at 26th Street); and the new 700-ton ice manufacturing plant and 110-car mechanized icing platform at Riverdale.
In August 1954 PFE added the ability for automatic icing at Riverdale with the installation of three Preco-brand mechanical icing machines. These automated ice crushing and loading machines allowed the simultaneous icing of two trains on each side of the icing dock.
A bridge conveyor took the blocks of ice over the yard tracks to the island platform, which was a mile long, accommodating 110 cars on each side.
In the history of Pacific Fruit Express published in 1992, there is a reference showing that in 1943, both original platforms in the Ogden main yard were extended by 33 car-lengths to accommodate train lengths of 100 cars. There is no evidence of the platforms at Ogden being extended beyond their 66-car and 70-car lengths completed in 1927, which indicates that this information may have been gleaned from a proposal that is part of PFE records. This proposal, possibly from a report completed in September-October 1950, may have been associated with an early proposal for the expansion of OUR&D's Riverdale yard. (see Pacific Fruit Express, second edition, page 305 and page 459)
The 1954 expansion of icing facilities reflected the booming nature of PFE's traffic. Perishable traffic through Ogden originated on Southern Pacific, from throughout Oregon and from a myriad of sources in California, north of Santa Margarita in accordance with the 1923 agreement that assured traffic over the Overland Route through Ogden. All of SP's perishable traffic from points in the Central Valley north of Bakersfield, and from the Salinas Valley north of Santa Margarita moved east by way of Ogden. The perishable traffic during World War II for PFE alone was in the range of 350,000 cars per year. During the harvest season in California and Oregon, solid trains of PFE refrigerator cars moved east through Ogden, averaging 700 to 800 cars a day, adding to a daily total of more than 9,000 cars moving through Ogden during peak season. PFE's peak years for carloadings, with almost 500,000 cars loaded per year, were between 1950 and 1953, with only slightly less, but still more than 400,000 cars per year, throughout the mid-1950s. A steady decline in carloadings throughout the 1960s was a reflection of both the development of larger mechanical refrigerator cars and increasing competition from refrigerated highway trucks.
The new ice plant at Riverdale was reported as being the most modern type of ice manufacturing plant in the PFE system, and was capable of producing over 4,750 cakes of ice daily, or more than 700 tons. The freezing plant was fully automatic and capable of starting and stopping without attendance by an operator. The only personnel regularly required was a crane operator to pull the ice cans from the freezing tanks, and an engineer on day shift to perform routine maintenance. The new plant utilized the latest ice manufacture, in which standard cans holding 300 pounds of water were suspended from grids in tanks containing low temperature sodium chloride brine. Four huge tanks each held 1,600 cans, 40 rows of 40 cans each.
Based on available aerial photos, the PFE ice plant at Riverdale was demolished in summer 1974, at the same time as the icing platform.
Salt Lake City Ice Transfer Plant (ITP)
In July 1946 Utah Ice & Storage updated its Plant No. 2 ice manufacturing plant, also known as its Short Line plant, on 2nd North. At the same time PFE built an icing platform closer to Union Pacific mainline, allowing better access for rail cars on Union Pacific tracks, as well as allowing access for icing of rail cars being moved by D&RGW. Pacific Fruit Express took a series of photos showing the new icing platform.
The new PFE ice dock at Salt Lake City, built in 1946, was a double platform with a capacity of 14 cars along each side. Ice was purchased from Utah Ice & Storage manufacturing plant adjacent to the new ice dock. Employees of Utah Ice & Storage provided all of the labor for the PFE icing platform, as well as whatever icing was needed at the Union Pacific passenger depot, three blocks to the south.
Milford Ice Transfer Plant (ITP)
At Milford, PFE owned a single-track icing platform, 1,100 feet long, 25 car lengths. It had no roof. Nearby there was an ice storage house 13 feet by 118 feet, a frame building with asbestos-sheet exterior. Retired 1950. (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd Ed., page 306)
A Union Pacific drawing of Milford yard dated 1943 does not show an icing platform at Milford, on any of the yard tracks in the vicinity of the passenger depot, or the roundhouse, or the stock yards. It does show an "ice house," 65 feet by 40 feet, north of the depot, and west of the depot platform. Other drawings of the Milford yard suggest that the PFE icing platform was along the east side of the yard, about a quarter mile north of the depot and roundhouse.
The PFE ice dock at Milford was in use as late as September 1947, when a local graduating high school senior was reported as "working for the Pacific Fruit Express at the Milford ice dock." A later report in October 1947 mentioned that the PFE ice dock, at the north end of the Union Pacific yard, had been threatened by a nearby grass fire. (Beaver County News, September 18, 1947; October 30, 1947)
Cedar City Ice Transfer Plant (ITP)
At Cedar City, PFE owned a double icing platform, long enough to service four cars, used for carloads originating locally. UP owned a nearby unloading platform long enough for two cars. Ice was shipped in from the PFE plant in Las Vegas, and icing was performed by PFE employees sent there as required. The Cedar City operation was obsolete by 1952. (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd Ed., page 307)
An aerial photo from 1952 shows what appears to be a cold storage warehouse along the western edge of UP's Cedar City yard, with what might be an icing platform with a capacity of about six cars. The cold storage warehouse was owned by the Cedar City Cold Storage and Bottling company, organized in June 1923 to take advantage of the newly completed Union Pacific Cedar City Branch.
"After World War II, the Pacific Fruit Express Company froze ice on a pond above the second CCC dam, about 3.5 miles east of Cedar City. The ice was cut and stored in sawdust during the winter on the north side of the dam. In late summer, it was taken to town, crushed, and layered in boxes of carrots to be shipped to eastern markets. Thus the history of ice business extended almost 40 years." (Personal memories of Clemont Adams, who worked for the Pacific Fruit Express Company; cited in "A History of Iron County," by Jane Burton Seegmiller, 1998, page 297)
Pacific Fruit Express, Second Edition; Anthony W Thompson, Robert J. Church, Bruce H. Jones; Signature Press, 1992-2000