Friday, May 15, 2020

Freight Stops: Daniels' Transfer Express Company

In a time before FedEx, UPS, and DHL, parcel delivery was the purview of individual companies scattered across that country. For railroads, the solution was eventually the Railway Express Agency, established in 1918, but before that time, Santa Cruz had the Daniels' Transfer Express Company.

Fourth of July Parade, 1903, with Daniels' Transfer Express Company horses leading
the Companions of the Forest wagon. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Luther Alonzo Daniels established his express business in 1872 with a single wagon and two Mustangs. He was a native of Vermont and lived there until he was 30, learning all of the ins and outs of manufacturing scales. He arrived in San Francisco in 1868, where he worked in a box manufacturing plant for a year. He then left for the Gold Country but gave up shortly after and joined a locomotive crew of the Central Pacific Railroad in late 1869. In early 1871, he quit the railroad and learned about Ford's City Express Company in Santa Cruz, which he promptly purchased and renamed the Daniels' Transfer Express Company the next year.

Daniels ran his business out of a shop and office space at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Locust Street, next door to the Cooper House. Within a decade, he had secured exclusive contracts with the Southern Pacific Railroad, the South Pacific Coast Railroad, and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company to be the exclusive shipper and deliverer for all parcels, baggage, and United States mail received from or sent to trains and ships. Agents of the company had offices at both of the railroad depots below Mission Hill and on the Railroad Wharf. Daniels used red-painted wagons to haul all of its express loads throughout the county, so its wagons had instant brand recognition.

The company also provided moving services and rental wagons to help people relocate within the region. An advertisement in 1890 notes that "piano and furniture moving [were] a specialty." Perhaps as a part of this aspect of the business, Daniels partnered with George C. Pratchner, owner of Excursion Stage, in 1889 to run picnic and camping parties out from the express company's office on Pacific Avenue. These advertisements were the only to run in 1889, suggesting that Daniels' wagons were likely leased to facilitate the service. This arrangement only appears to have lasted the year, though.

Advertisement for the Pacific Transfer Express Company, November 26, 1890. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Luther Daniels finally retired from the business in October 1893 and sold the company to J. W. Dodge of the Pacific Transfer Express Company. Daniels died on November 12, 1909. Pacific Transfer Express had operated in Santa Cruz for at least six years before this point but ran a much smaller organization since it lacked the official contracts for parcels and mail. Instead, it focused on shifting freight from the Railroad Wharf to various warehouses in town, although it did some business in moving and delivering baggage as well. The merger of the two firms effectively ended the existence of Pacific Transfer Express. Dodge ran Daniels' Transfer Express for the next eight years.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Daniels' Transfer Company yard at the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1917.
[University of Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Dodge sold the combined firm to George Burkett and Joseph Mikel in November 1901. Burkett was a former employee of Daniels' and Mikel's brother also had worked there in the 1890s. The partners owned a large transfer system in San José, San Francisco, and Oakland, and added Daniels' to its combined holdings. It was under their leadership that a new barn was erected at the Santa Cruz Union Depot freight yard. This structure was to serve as a temporary warehouse for short-term storage as well as a feed barn for the several horses the company kept at the yard. The barn sat on the west side of the tracks north of the freight depot near the intersection of Chestnut and Laurel Streets.

Burkett and Mikel did not retain the company for long—on July 16, 1903, they sold it to Frank J. Schwing of San Francisco and Mr. Staubes of the Ben Lomond Wine Company. These partners suffered an unfortunate loss a few years into their ownership which eventually forced them also to sell. On January 29, 1906, an old barn at the corner of Chestnut and Lincoln Streets which had been used primarily for feed burned down. The barn had been built for the Howe estate as a carpenter shop around 1870 and the Daniels' Transfer Express Company had used it for many years. What was unfortunate was that it was temporarily storing furniture, a piano, and some valuable oil drilling equipment at the time of the fire. All of these were expected to be removed the following day. Schwing & Staubes had violated a storage contract by storing the items there, and Agnes M. Bragg, the owner of the material, sued for damages. Schwing & Staubes sold the business in July 1907 to escape litigation, although Schwing remained as manager.

Newspaper advertisement for the Daniels' Transfer Company, November 2, 1907. [Santa Cruz Evening News]
The buyer of the company in 1907 was none other than George Pratchner, who had partnered with Daniels eighteen years earlier. Pratchner had spent the last two years working with the Ocean Shore Railway to construct its Southern Division trackage to Davenport and beyond. By 1907, construction had mostly stalled and Pratchner was on the lookout for new ventures. The benefit of buying Daniels is that it already had an extensive freight delivery service, which Pratchner could exploit to deliver freight to more far-flung areas of Santa Cruz County, including his construction projects to the north. Thus, Daniels became a mixed business of freight, parcel shipment, and construction.

Business continued as usual under Pratchner's ownership for the next nine years with few items of interest published in local newspapers. Pratchner temporarily accepted a contract for picking up the city's garbage in 1915 but promptly reneged on it when his firm was unable to consistently keep up with demand. Then, on February 10, 1916, D. A. and J. B. Owens purchased the company from Pratchner. However, a strange coup happened a month later, on March 15, when James A. Harvey, former owner Frank Schwing, and George W. Sherman filed their own intention to buy the company. Whether the Owens Brothers dropped their bid or Harvey, Schwing, and Sherman purchased it from them is unclear, but the latter certainly became the owners for a while. However, by mid-1919, the Owens Brothers were once again in charge, so the sequence of ownership here is unclear.

Archival photograph of the Daniels barn fire at the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1918. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Troubles became the norm for the company beginning with a massive fire that levelled its barn at the Union Depot on December 30, 1918. The fire cost the company nearly $5,000 in damages and destroyed several express wagons, two jumbo wagons, a Ford automobile, a roller wagon, harnesses, piano trucks, and many other tools, as well as an expensive washing machine owned by the Santa Cruz Canning Company. Insurance covered $1,500 of damages, which covered most of the loss except for the car. Rather than rebuild, Daniels abandoned the freight yard and leased several other warehouses and barns located along the railroad right-of-way elsewhere in the city. Lilly promptly sold the property to the Union Ice Company, which eventually built a large freezing plant on the site.

Increased costs of shipping and warehouse storage and a decrease in revenue, undoubtedly linked to the opening of the Railway Express Agency at the Union Depot and the resultant loss of railroad parcel service tossed Daniels into a rapid decline. Throughout 1919, the Owens Brothers sold many of their horses and raised prices to increase revenue. Downtown, the office that had been occupied by the company for nearly forty years moved down Pacific Avenue a block, likely to cut down on rent. The company also began investing more in trucks to replace its wagon fleet, but the vehicles were constantly the victims of accidents with other vehicles. It all became too much and in early June 1922, the company was listed for sale in regional newspapers. The company tried to keep the sale secret by not listing it locally, but the news leaked late in the month.

In May 1924, the company was finally sold in a court auction to John C. Geyer, who bought it for $5,000, beating a bid from the Owens Brothers. Two years later, on August 18, 1926, Raymond and Harry A. Adams purchased the business and renamed it Adams Motor Drayage, finally putting an end to Daniels after over fifty years of business. They sold all of the remaining stock and wagons and switched permanently to vehicular transport. However, the company did reappear again in 1928 under its old name, now based out of a storefront on Front Street, but its days as a freight transport company coordinating with the railroad and steamships was at an end. Another fire in August of that year burned down another barn and several neighboring buildings, further imperilling the company just before the start of the Great Depression. Successors nonetheless continued for another five years or so until the company quietly shut down around 1933.

Successors to the original company remained in business under several owners throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, at which time it quietly shut its doors.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.9682N, 122.0294W

The Daniels property at the Santa Cruz Union Depot freight yard was sold to the Union Ice Company in early 1918. The large freezing plant built on the property remained in place until August 1990, when it burned down. It has since been converted into a residential housing subdivision known as Chestnut Street Apartments. The office on Pacific Avenue is now occupied by Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Citations & Credits:

1 comment:

  1. Just a nitpick - Railway Express Agency was the American Railway Express from 1918 through 1929. If you model the 1920s good luck finding ARE signage, as most manufacturers focus on that "transition era" when REA signs were ubiquitous.


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