Cauliflower Action on the LIRR

Discussion of the past and present operations of the Long Island Rail Road.

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Cauliflower Action on the LIRR

Postby nyandw » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:40 pm

The true definition of a “team track” in action for the loading of the local Long Island cauliflower crop headed to NY City markets and beyond. These NYC 40’ boxcars feature Archbar trucks largely been superseded by more advanced designs by the mid-teens. The underframe is fish-belly; typical of 1900+ design.

Cars labeled as Furniture Car indicate a lading, unlike spillable cement, flour, sand bags, etc., fluid oil, grease drums, etc., even items as pickles in barrels, etc. A cauliflower basket dumped over can be easily swept out after unloading. This is a colorized post card dating c.1905. Info: Steven Lynch

Note below in red: Equal to $36 a head today. So, yes, a delicacy in New York City in the 1880’s!
Using today’s pricing about a pound of Cauliflower: $4-$5 for a head. Would have been 20¢ in 1885. Wow, talk about a “cash crop”!

V. Seyfried: Volume 3

“…The early 1870's witnessed a marked increase in the amount of produce shipped from the east end. For example, in March 1873, there was shipped from Mattituck on one day about 270 barrels of cauliflowers, and enough from other stations to make over 400 barrels. The following day another 100 barrels went down and on the next day 185 barrels…”

The Growth and Decline of the Long Island Rail Road Freight Traffic In Suffolk County


In the 1880’s Cauliflower was considered a delicacy in New York City and the market price at the time was $1.50 a head. The largest growers of Cauliflower were located in Riverhead and Southold. In 1890 the Town of Riverhead’s official census was 4,000 people. And yet Riverhead was becoming the agriculture hub of the East End. The LIRR along with the farmers was the main factor that Riverhead was earning that title. Many farmers at this time had families dating back before the American Revolution who have been working the land in the East End. And after the LIRR came to the East End in the 1840’s Irish Immigrations followed the rail road to find work. Within a few decades more Europeans such as Germans and Polish settled in Riverhead to earn a living farming. The LIRR was instrumental in the development of Riverhead, as well as the rest of Long Island.

There were a few organizations that were formed in Riverhead that had a huge impact in the agriculture industry. The oldest one was formed in 1863 by a group of farmers to form a club promoting agriculture. Meetings were held to discuss different kinds of seeds, and what type of crops were the most profitable to grow. This club was called the Riverhead Town Agricultural Society and was the oldest farm cooperative group in the United States. When commercially mixed fertilizers became available the Society acted as purchasing agents for its members and get bids and contracts for delivery of fertilizer at the lowest price. In 1872 the society bought a 1 pound bag of Algiers Cauliflower seed and this is what started the East End to become the largest growers of Cauliflower east of the Mississippi River with over 1/3 of Cauliflower grown in the United States in the Towns of Riverhead and Southold.

In 1896 the largest shipment done up to that time by the Long Island Express Co. was 153 barrels of Cauliflower that was shipped to New York City.

In 1901 a few farmers formed the Long island Cauliflower Association. The LICA was a cooperative that would buy cauliflower seed at the lowest price possible, supplying barrels and later wooden crates to it farmers and working out reduced shipping cost’s with the LIRR by filling up more reefers. The LICA had a better system of marketing cauliflower and have agents in New York City selling the crop.

During harvest time which was between September and October before any frost the LICA would have a daily auction both in Riverhead and Southold. Farmers would line up their wagons filled with special ventilated barrels allowing air to circulate packed with up to 12 head of cauliflower. It was up to the farmer once his crop was inspected and given a market price to decide if he wanted the LICA to purchase his cauliflower. The LICA would give a receipt to the farmer and it would be the responsibly of the LICA to sell the crop and pay the farmer. The cauliflower would be loaded into iced reefers and the LIRR would run the cars to the city market.

During 1903 the LICA shipped 285,000 barrels of cauliflower, as well as 300 carloads of potatoes. Each year the LIRR would ship to New York thousands of barrels of pickles, onions, asparagus, cabbage and cranberries. In a short time period the LIRR would be shipping over a million bushels of potatoes from the farms of East Hampton and Southampton. During this time also the LIRR hauled thousands of bushels of lima beans from farms between Deer Park and Riverhead.

In 1936 the LIRR shipped 667 reefers of cauliflower and in 1937 there were over 1,054 car loads of cauliflower. These reefers needed to be iced. And in the age before mechanical refrigeration the typical refrigerator was heavily insulated with bunkers at each end of the car to hold blocks of ice. The ice would be loaded into the bunkers through roof top hatches. To supply ice to these cars in the late 1800’s up to the manufacture of “artificial” ice Long Islanders during the early part of the 20th century. East End farmers and fisherman as well as the rest of communities worked together in the winter time when ponds, lakes, and rivers were frozen in the task of ice harvesting. They would cut blocks of ice out of the frozen water using saws just like the type of saws lumberjacks had. These ice blocks then would be loaded onto wagons and stored in well insulated wooden warehouses. The ice would be well packed together with sawdust and remained frozen throughout the spring and summer and be used for harvest time. William Sweezy of Riverhead formed the Long Island Ice company. Overtime the Long Island Ice company would have 7 locations on Long Island. In 1928 a modern Ice house and warehouse with a 2 car capacity was built in Riverhead. During harvest time the LIRR leased reefers would be loaded with blocks of ice from the LI Ice co.

by Gene Collora “Semaphore” April 1991, pages 5-7

“…1966 was still a year of considerable freight operation on the LIRR. Double-ended freights (out one day – back the next) operated 6 days/week to Montauk (L-50), Greenport (L-62), Port Jefferson (L-56), and Ronkonkoma (L-52). Extras operated during the potato and cauliflower season and it was not uncommon to have reefers on every siding east of “KO” – even on the turntable at Greenport. Garden City/Mitchel Field consignees (Newsday, A&P, etc.) were served by the L-42 nightly. Meat cars for Flatbush Avenue were delivered via carfloat to L.I. City, then handled nightly by the MA-7 and Van Drill to the meat houses in Brooklyn. Freight traffic between Yard “A”, Holban yard, Fresh Pond and Bay Ridge was handled by at least 6 or 7 “MA” crews daily around the clock….”
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Re: Cauliflower Action on the LIRR

Postby FrankAndCindy » Wed Jun 20, 2018 3:42 pm

HELLO, Thank you for this great article. Most professional. Frank And Cindy
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Re: Cauliflower Action on the LIRR

Postby nyandw » Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:00 pm

FrankAndCindy wrote:HELLO, Thank you for this great article. Most professional. Frank And Cindy

Thank you, it was eye opening and fun. Remember, it's the others that wrote the bulk of the material...
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