Friday, April 14, 2017

Moving produce to your packing house

Like many modelers, I am interested in produce packing, and perhaps I go farther than many, with six packing houses of different kinds on my layout. They are entirely appropriate for my layout locale, on the north edge of the Santa Maria plain in central California, where extensive growing of field vegetables continues today. The traffic to and from these packing houses is featured in my operating sessions, including appropriate produce shipments for each month of the year. (I have described that seasonal aspect in a prior post, which you can read at this link: ).
     As model railroaders, we naturally focus on loading of refrigerator cars. But of course the produce first has to be picked in the field or orchard or vineyard, and moved to the packing house. That was done with “field boxes,” used only for that transport to the house, and rather larger than the shipping crates that went into the refrigerator cars. As modelers, we tend to think about representing the shipping crates, standing on the loading dock ready to go into our reefers. But the field boxes were important too, and in this blog post I describe how I am modeling them.
     I had never really figured out how I was going to model field boxes, until Robert Bowdidge handed me a baggie of 3-D printed stacks of field boxes, at a meet one time (I think it was Bay Area Prototype Modelers, BAPM, held every June here locally). As he puts it, he was inspired by the field boxes designed and printed by Ken Harstine, and Ken’s boxes are available from Shapeways (here is a link to the relevant page: ).
     Robert’s boxes were similar to what Ken did, but were designed and printed by Robert. In a post two years ago, I showed Robert’s excellent 3-D printed freight cars (see it at: ), and these boxes are really a by-product. What I like about the field boxes, as opposed to shipping crates, is that they had no top, thus you can see the contents. Shipping crates or boxes were closed.
     The boxes Robert printed looked like this when I got them, and they needed to be washed in mild detergent to accept paint well. These stacks happen to be empty boxes, though most of the boxes Robert gave me were filled ones.

     Robert has made both single and double stacks of boxes, three, four or five high. My usual process (I have done several batches) is to wash, then use a light gray primer on these boxes, then hand-paint various raw wood colors (new or aged) onto the outside of the boxes, and choose various produce colors for the contents. Here are some examples.

I use orange for apricots or oranges, purple for plums or wine grapes, and a couple of different greens for vegetables like broccoli or cabbage. I also have boxes with yellow contents, for lemons, and red, for strawberries and cherries. I simply choose the proper crops for the month in which my op session takes place (see the link given in the first paragraph of this post), and put the corresponding field boxes on loading docks and in delivery trucks.
     Shown below are examples at my packing houses. First, my lemon association, with a reefer spotted at door 3, but with field boxes visible inside door 1. This is at my waterfront town of Santa Rosalia.

     In my inland town of Shumala, there is the Phelan and Taylor packing house, which mostly packs vegetables of various kinds at different times of the year. In this photo, there are stacks of both empty and full field boxes visible.

     I like the opportunity to show produce at my packing houses. I also like to show shipping boxes or crates, and will take up that topic in a future post. But these resin field boxes have been fun to decorate and use. If your layout has packing houses, you might consider doing something similar.
Tony Thompson


  1. Good morning, Tony.

    FYI, the link is broken and leads to a page 404 message.
    I am enjoying your series of posts on the produce industry. As a modeler of the Hudson River carfloat operations I see a lot (A LOT) of reefers. As you can imagine it takes a huge amount of food to feed the millions and I enjoy knowing how the railroads accomplish the task.
    I no longer live back East but, you know how it is, we model from our youth.
    When Dave Clune returned from Bay Rail this year he described your layout. At some time in the future I look forward to coming down to Bay Rail and seeing for myself.
    Best regards,
    Harry B Houchins

  2. Thanks, Harry. I hope you can get here to operate some day. I have corrected that link to my background web page. It should be:

    Tony Thompson