Shipping of fruits and vegetables was complex in a number of ways, and containers were only one of them. Containers not only varied by the individual fruit or vegetable, each with its own shipping container and method, but also regionally, with different producing regions having standardized on different containers. In the really big produce-harvesting states, container dimensions became enshrined in state law, in places like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. But each state might well differ from others in standards for a particular product. Not only that, but practices changed over time, so a modeler wishing to research correct produce containers needs to choose era, location, and product.
How can you ferret out historical data of this kind? As one might expect with a little thought, it was all set down in government pamphlets, mostly from the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA. The USDA issued what were called “Farmers’ Bulletins” over many years, covering almost every conceivable topic in agriculture, and the bulletins in the series simply bore sequential numbers. You can Google the topic of interest to you, and sift through the results looking for USDA bulletins.
For what we are discussing here (at least for me, as a 1953 modeler), there is a very pertinent USDA bulletin, No. 2013, issued in February 1950, and written by L.C. Carey. (It superseded an older bulletin on shipping containers, No. 1821 of 1939). Here is its cover:
This is available several places, but perhaps the most useful is the digital copy at the University of North Texas library, which you can read on line or print out. You can access this bulletin by using the following link: https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3389/?q=%22Merchandising%22 .
I will give some examples of shipping boxes relevant to my layout packing houses. We can start with the familiar two-compartment orange crate, roughly 12 inches square on the end and 24 inches long inside (a full box like this weighed about 80 pounds). This size and square shape are well portrayed in nearly all orange box labels, such as the Pacoast label in the second post of this series (see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/08/produce-shipping-boxes-part-2.html ). Here is a photo from page 40 of the Containers in Common Use booklet, showing such a crate.
Note, incidentally, that although the actual label has been blacked out, the Sunkist “premium fruit” symbol of the tissue-wrapped orange has been left in place.
The Containers booklet, cited above, shows the many shapes and sizes of produce boxes, and these are usually evident in the corresponding box labels. For example, tomatoes are normally shipped in flat lug boxes, and the proportions are evident from this box label:
Note the weight is stated as 28 pounds. The same style of lug box is shown in the Containers booklet, as we see in the image below from page 56 of that publication. These boxes are about 6 inches high, 13.5 inches wide and 16 inches long, and were called “L.A. (Los Angeles) lugs.”
This image actually shows how the lugs were loaded in a refrigerator car. No labels are visible, presumably on the other end of the boxes.
I pointed out in the previous posts on this topic that lemons were often shipped in orange crates, with the square end. But as the Container booklet observes, they were sometimes shipped in a flatter box, and some lemon labels reveal those proportions in the shape of the label, such as this one, again from my own collection of original labels:
The Container booklet states that these flatter lemon boxes were 10 x 13 x 25 inches, and indeed, the size of the original label shown above is a bit over 9 inches high and 12 inches wide, which would fit neatly on the end of such a box.
The sizes I have been quoting are California sizes. The Container booklet gives comparable numbers for shipping boxes of produce harvested all over the United States, so anyone modeling somewhere other than California needs to consult this source to determine shipping box sizes for their area.
In passing, I should also mention that this 1950 Container booklet documents the first emergence of new shipping containers, such as mesh bags and cardboard boxes. They soon gained considerable use in produce shipping, another factor to keep in mind in making modeling choices. But for my 1953 shipping, I will follow what is in the booklet.
So to wrap up, the first thing we need to know in building model shipping boxes is these box proportions and dimensions, depending on exactly which kind of produce it happens to be. For the orange crate, for example, we need boxes that are 12 scale inches in both height and width, so scribed siding with a 1 scale foot board width could serve for both the sides and top of a stack of boxes. One could then scribe the box length perpendicular to the factory scribing to indicate box length.
In the following post, I will show some other types of vegetable boxes, and also my attempts at modeling stacks of these for the loading docks of my layout packing houses.