CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Intro: Albany Tomato Co. (ATC)

Where to begin? Humm... 

The Albany Tomato Company (ATC) has been on my mind for several years now. In fact, I have already starting building a model of it (the first model for my future layout) even though in all likelihood the LDE that it will be part of won't be built for many years. However, I will get to my motives later.

The ATC is located at 10 DeWitt (sometimes spelled "De Witt") Street, Albany, NY. It is located north of the Central Warehouse and is around mile post 0.5, which is just at the beginning portion of my layout.

Meeting Len Kilian
Living in the Capital District of NY, our library system is full of regional railroad books and one of them is Trackside in the Albany, N.Y. Gateway 1949-1974 with Gerrit Bruins, authored by Len Kilian and Jim Odell. I had borrowed the book from the library on several occasions and thought very highly of it. Despite the fact that it leaned heavily on the NYC/PC era (railroads that while interesting I cared little about) there were also good sections on the D&H and Rutland. It was fascinating to see the pictures from the fifties and sixties because many of the landmark structures were gone, while others existed in various stages of decay. But, one in particular stood out...


On page 86 was a picture of the Albany Tomato Company as it existed in 1963. Though nearly all of the other pictures in the book were of older brick or stone buildings or rundown warehouses or stations, here was a gorgeous red building with a colorful mural on one wall. The caption said it best: "Most model railroaders are forced to accept selectively compressed versions of industries on their railroads... this June 1963 photo offers a prototype for all of those industries." I was smitten. I did some research on the building and found out that it still exists and, unbeknownst to me, I had parked in front of it many times without realizing what it was. Its current appearance doesn't look at all like it did then so perhaps my ignorance is excused.   

I didn't think too much about it until I went to a train show where Len Kilian had a table of books for sale. I didn't know him or recognize him as the author and thought he was just a regular vendor. I must have been looking at something he had for sale when he asked me if I had seen his Trackside book. Affirming that I had, he motioned me to a small box of pictures for sale that had been made from prints of the book. Without looking, I quickly replied that I was interested in only one picture... the Tomato Company picture. "Ahh, the Tomato Company," Len beamed, and at that moment our friendship began. He didn't have that print for sale at that time but said that he liked it very much himself. After discussing it with him for a bit, I likely purchased something else and moved on. He was, and still is, an active book seller and is always very busy at the shows and I didn't want monopolize all of his time. 

Since our first meeting I am glad to say I have come to call Len a friend. He is a wealth of knowledge about the local rail scene, is always on the lookout for various books I might be interested in, and over time has allowed me to purchase some pieces of his collection at (I am sure) a great discount in part because of his belief that I will be a good steward of the items. Len is quite aware of my ambitious endeavors in modeling this building. In one of our follow-up meetings, he presented me with a very nice print of the picture that had been made from the slide, which is currently framed at home. I am elated to say that recently he sold me the slide of the ATC that was used in the book!

Looking south-west in 1984.
From what I have been able to research online, the ATC would purchase produce from across the country and have it shipped in by freight cars. Then, it would be sold wholesale to various local companies such as grocery stores and restaurants. An obituary from The Troy Record newspaper (4/02/1966, page 14) contained a notice for Gaetano Scafidi, President of the Albany Tomato Company, and it said that the ATC also had a presence in the Menands Regional Market (an area I
am not sure about modeling). I have advertisements from 1951 and 1969 which evidence that they were still in business then, but I don’t know when they stopped receiving rail cars or when they finally went out of business. From my pictures from 1984 the rail siding had been removed and the ATC slogan was painted over, leading me to believe it was not a vegetable wholesaler anymore.

Currently, it is used as a facility for medical treatment as part of the Whitney M. Young Health Center system. And, if one were to compare it to the photo above they would see that the bricks are gone, presumably covered by a concrete or stucco facade. The large truck doors have been replaced with smaller ones, and some new windows on the left portion were added. The ground also doesn't appear very much sloped here, likely a result of adding more earth before installing that concrete sidewalk.   

Modeling Notes
It is an interesting building from an architectural standpoint because it is built on a sloping foundation. Not only that, but the main portion of the building has three different roof elevations and at least two of them are divided not by a straight line but by a “z” shaped line. So, modeling it will be a challenge. I have one shot from 6/1963, several blurry shots showing the north and west walls from 1984 taken from the tracks, and many photos as it currently stands today. The building's exterior in 1963 was brick but now it is sheathed or covered in concrete, though many original window locations haven’t changed and allow for registering what it looked like in 1984. The south wall abuts an adjacent building which I likely won’t build for lack of space. The garage which extends off of the north-east wall may or may not be built.

By 1984, a wooden wall had been erected.
Since the wall with the tomato slogan is the "western" wall, away from the layout viewer under normal layout viewing conditions, I plan to model that wall as it appeared in 1963 and the remaining three walls as they appeared in 1984. Admittedly this isn’t a normal thing, but it isn’t that much different from when modelers painted boxcars with different roadnames on each side to get double duty out of them. If I modeled it as it appeared in 1984, it would make for a boring building. At least by 1986 someone had put up a fence.

The garage in 2015. Note the building on the left, which isn't
being modeled but also would make for an interesting structure
After taking many pictures of the building and also saving online satellite photos, I was able to draw up plans for the structure. I take great pleasure in sitting at a table and making diagrams and sketches, always in ink. I do this for buildings I may never even build. The planning stage is just as engaging as the actual construction. For my plans of the ATC I decided not to compress it in size. The attached garage was also drawn to scale but it is just too large for my layout and likely will be omitted or severely shortened with a black "wall" where it meets the fascia. Having no good pictures of the garage from 1984, I had to guess what it looked like but it probably hasn't changed much since 1984.

For added modeling interest, I plan to build a shadow box scene on the west side and will leave the boxcar loading door open so that I could detail the interior of the warehouse. This will be entirely freelanced as I have no pictures of what the interior actually looked like. 

I have several goals for this building. First, I want to make an accurate representation of the building as it appeared in the book and for that I will need to hire someone to custom make decals or the like from the original slide or a sharp scan. Second, I am planning on trying for my Master Model Railroader certificate in structures (http://www.nmra.org/structures) and this will be my first building towards that goal. I am pulling out all of the stops with this one, scratchbuilding everything possible, and hoping to earn a good score. That is part of the reason I am allowing the option to build a partial shadowbox interior. Third, I want to do a great job and make Len Kilian proud.

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