Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Produce shipping boxes in HO scale

There are two possible meanings to the title of this post: the individual HO scale boxes themselves, and a suitable representation of a stack of such boxes. I am going to write about the latter meaning in this post. I have several packing houses on my layout, and would like to depict stacks of boxes on the loading docks, ready to load into PFE or other reefers.
     The first issue is box dimensions, and obviously a stack of boxes in HO scale would simply be an appropriate multiple of the scale size of the box for a particular kind of produce. Box dimensions are not a simple topic, by the way, as each fruit or vegetable had its own size and shape of shipping box. But given the size and shape for, say, oranges, a stack of boxes would be easy to model, perhaps with a styrene box, maybe scribed to represent the individual boxes in the stack. I will come back to making these boxes.
     There is also a second issue: labels on the box ends. These were a colorful and distinctive part of the box, and certainly cry out to be modeled. Many fruit and vegetable box and carton labels have been preserved at museums and can be found on-line. Many thousands were still in stock at some packing houses when they closed, and these original labels have been sold by dealers for years, and are still available. If you Google “fruit box labels,” for example, you will turn up a list of dealers in these originals, such as . I myself have bought a number of labels for packers in the Central Coast area of California, where I model.
     But a particular label that you like may be for a slightly different area, maybe the adjoining county, and perhaps the packing company name is not one you wish to use. With modern image editing applications (Photoshop is just one), I would submit that it is truly easy to modify these labels as you desire. I will illustrate with one particular label, for a brand of lemons packed in Carpinteria, California, on the SP Coast Line, but in Santa Barbara County, some ways from the area I model. Here is the original label.

I wanted to change both the name of the citrus association, and also the city. I mostly used the letters already present on the label, but just rearranged them as needed. I also wanted to change the grade of fruit. The California Fruit Growers Exchange, better known under their marketing name of Sunkist, identified two major grades: premium fruit was called “Sunkist” and was shown with the fruit on a tissue wrapper; the second grade was Red Ball, with the symbol in the above label. I simply replaced the Red Ball symbol with a premium-grade image from another label. Here is my result, for use at my Coastal Citrus Association warehouse in my layout town of Santa Rosalia:

     The same process can be used on many different labels. Shown below is one that I really wanted to use, because it is from an actual packing company, Phelan and Taylor, that I model on my layout.

Incidentally, while looking at this label, I should repeat something that was stated in my column about PFE operations in the September 2013 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist [you can download any MRH issue, or read it on line, at any time, for free, at their website, ]. The point is this: modelers often wonder why packing box labels so often contain images like this one, having  themes appealing to men, rather than to the women who traditionally did the household shopping in that era. The answer, of course, is that the housewives rarely saw an entire packing box. These boxes were seen only by the male (in those days) wholesale grocer’s buyers. The labels were aimed at them, not at housewives.
     The only problem with this interesting label is that I have located Phelan & Taylor in my layout town of Shumala, not in its actual location of Oceano. The simple solution is the same as for the Sea Breeze label, just use various letters already on the label, and rearrange to the new name. (You can click to enlarge.)

Here again, the label now reads correctly for my modeling situation.
     You are entitled to consider me a little compulsive to have adjusted this tiny lettering on the Bikini label, since in HO scale it will be seriously invisible. But I plan to make some full-size copies as decorations for the layout room, so visitors can see the labels.
     As I stated in the second paragraph from the top of the present post, one can readily find the dimensions of various fruit and vegetable boxes. The end dimension (the two shorter dimensions) set the size of the box label, since usually they covered about the entire box end. Then a digital image such as the Bikini label above is simply reduced to that size in HO scale (keeping the file size the same by increasing the resolution in proportion to the reduction in dimensions). Then just duplicate and stack up the images. For the Bikini label, here is such a stack:

These are not HO scale as you see them in this blog, but I wanted to illustrate the idea.
     I have been pursuing this kind of label modification, and reduction to HO scale, for several packing house labels which suit the industries on my layout, and I will come back to some of these additional labels, and to the HO-scale stacks of boxes that are modeled, in a future post or posts.
Tony Thompson

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