Friday, February 14, 2020

Freight Stops: Poultry Producers of Central California

Santa Cruz County had drifted far from its roots as a ranchero community by the early 1920s, but the county still had plenty of ranches that raised stock cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry. The same was true for much of the state. As a result, a new cooperative organization was founded in October 1916 at Petaluma under the name Poultry Producers, with one branch representing Central California, based in San Francisco, and another in Southern California, based in Los Angeles. The primary function of the organization was to collectivize the gathering, packaging, and shipping of chicken eggs to market, at which point the collective could also set a more standard price across the state.

Local poultry farmer C. H. Forman in his chicken coop on Mission Street, 1913. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
An earlier organization, the Santa Cruz Poultry Association, had been founded around 1895 to manage local poultry issues, but this group was absorbed into the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau in 1918, leaving a gap in the industry. A Santa Cruz representative had been involved with Poultry Producers from the beginning, but the pressing need for a local poultry gathering point finally motivated the cooperative to find a location for a warehouse in 1921.

The location eventually chosen for a warehouse was directly on the Southern Pacific Railroad's line to San José, across the street from the Associated Oil supply depot. A warehouse was erected by the mid-1920s alongside a corporate office for local cooperative officers. The railroad installed a short spur behind the warehouse to allow egg trays to be quickly loaded onto waiting boxcars for shipment to the Bay Area and elsewhere. From 1926, the organization also brought in and sent out animal feed and farm supplies, most of which would also have passed through the Madrone Street facility. During World War II, the Poultry Producers warehouse in Santa Cruz shipped 1,000 cases of eggs per week to supply the military with eggs for the war effort. Excess or unused eggs were sent down the tracks to the Union Ice Company plant where they were frozen for use later.

Sign hung up on members' fences and poultry houses warning thieves away. [Worthpoint]
By the 1960s, Poultry Producers had become the largest egg cooperative in the world. Since 1935, eggs sold by the collective were packaged under the Nulaid Farmers Association label, which became a household name for people across the West Coast. Nonetheless, Nulaid ceased to operate out of the Madrone Street warehouse in 1961. The railroad spur likely went out of use at this time. The next year, the warehouse was sold to Slakey Brothers Inc, an Oakland-based air conditioning and water heater firm. Slakey completely renovated the 15,000-square-foot poultry building and were probably the ones responsible for having the spur removed since it did not appear in Southern Pacific records for 1973. Nulaid consolidated on September 28, 1963 with the smaller Hayward Poultry Producers Association to form a new organization, Pacific Growers, Inc. Pacific Growers' presence in Santa Cruz County seems to have ended abruptly but without comment at the end of 1969.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9829N, 122.0308W

The former Poultry Producers facility still sits at 111 Madrone Street of River Street and served for some years as a Sports Authority. It is now the Dominican Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation Center. Although the spur is no longer present, the building is still oriented and designed in such a way that rolling stock could be parked directly behind the building.

Citations & Credits:

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