Wednesday, August 19, 2015

From Gritty to Clean Labor Along the Davis Tracks (233)

Some years ago I was browsing the California State Archives and happened onto a several
foot wide by a foot or so tall map of a 1964 Southern Pacific Davis “station plan.” In addition to plotting SP property in detail, adjacent and nearby Davis structures are shown. I purchased a 178MB digital copy of it and put it aside after a brief review.

The recent brouhaha over a project called “Trackside” has prompted me to look at it again and more closely.

In that examination, my main impression is that as late as 1964 Davis was a place where work of a meaningfully real physical kind was still performed along the tracks--a type of human activity no longer found there to any significant extent. Put differently and more broadly, there has been a long-term shift from gritty to clean labor along the tracks.

The more recent phase of this long-term shift can be seen in the 1964 map, which I present in its original form as item A. It is difficult to read so I have also rotated it and broken it into four main segments, numbered 1 through 4. (High resolution files of all these images can be downloaded from  You must, though, be patient.)

Starting with excerpt 1 and running from top to bottom of each of the four segments, here is a list of 21 locations featuring “gritty” and “real physical labor.”

1. Union Service Station
2. Lbr. Office
3. Hibbert Lumber Co.Yard
4. S & H car lot
5. Davis Van Storage
6. B & H auto wreckers
7. SP Loading Platform
8. Hartz Motor Company (2 locations)
10. Henry Gustie Grain Elevator
11. Davis Tire Shop
12. Shop
13. Donnells Garden Supply
12. Blacksmith Shop
13. Traction Engines
14. King & Peno Fluming Shop
15. Motel
16. Fullertons Motors
17. Wells Fargo loading platform
18. Section Foreman’s House
19. Maintainer’s House
20. Bunk House - 1
21. Bunk House - 2

This list of course includes some activities that can still be found trackside--Hibbert lumber and garden supply activity in particular. But, the overwhelming fact is that real physical labor is not nearly as common there today as it was in 1964.

All this is quite apart from the era previous to the 1960s when “trackside” was the location of multistory grain storage warehouses and Ag equipment manufacturing. These operations involved “really real” and very hard physical labor (some of it very dangerous and even lethal) that far exceeded the strenuousness seen in the 1964 items.

In post #25 published November 27, 2011 on this blog, I report on structures making up that prior world and how it had “vanished” by about 1955 (item B). That account can be read here:

Proposals for new development in Davis and elsewhere often encounter objections on the grounds that they are incompatible with historical facts of “cultural resource” significance.

Regarding possible trackside redevelopments, it seems to me that “cultural resource” compatibility requires representing that for many decades the area was a gritty and sweaty center of hard labor featuring large structures.

My suspicion, however, is that we will get, instead, a cutesy middle class bungalow and cottage version of Davis history sans any significant recall of bulky buildings and sweaty grit.

At least, that is the direction in which proponents and opponents of new development alike seem to be heading at this time. After all, we are transitioning into a high technology Davis, one that prompts a fitting history--that is, a history that fits.