No. 47: Industry Series – The Marshall Canning Company of Ackley, Iowa, Part 2

In Part 1 I discussed the old Ackley layout and how the Marshall Canning Company plant was planned and operated.

Here in Part 2 I’ll cover progress on the canning plant for the new layout, along with operational considerations.

Meanwhile…Doug Harding sent along a wonderful photo of the plant from the mid-1930s (see below). There are a lot of interesting revelations in the photo. First, this is a pre-WWII photo and despite my research it is obvious that a large addition has been added between the plant and the long husking shed behind the building. Second, there is a sign on the building! I have not seen a photo with a sign, so this is a neat thing to see. And third, it appears the window trim is white, or at least a very light color.  Check out those railroady-looking utility poles too.  Thanks Doug for digging up this gem and also for sharing!

Ackley IA Marshall Canning edit

What don’t you see in the photo above?  Well I don’t see cross bucks, (maybe they’re out of the picture) and that road still doesn’t look paved.  Incidentally the three cars incidentally appear to be spotted at the plant, but they’re not. However the presence of the reefers lends some credibility to Clark Propst’s data that at least one-in-four cars shipped from the plant were refrigerators.

The new model is underway.  I am again using Walthers brick sheet for the main structure and plenty of Evergreen styrene sheet for roofs and other parts.  The first phase of construction was getting the locations of the doors and windows right.  With no plans, and few photos, I laid out the brick sheet on the kitchen table and–using a sharp pencil–marked the locations of the windows and doors.  I used the box car models in the photos below to space the three loading doors at the correct distance apart, and at the correct height.   I used the original photo seen below as my guide, and did my best to get close.



Below.  After I marked where the doors and windows were to be placed, I went back and made new, more detailed markings to let me know where to make my cuts.  I “traced” over the pencil marks with a sharp X-acto knife and then worked the pieces out carefully, then shaped the cut-outs with a knife and a file, being careful to not remove too much material.  The piece at the bottom of the photo is the front end of the building which according to photos had a short “blank” side with no windows.O


Removing the plastic from the window cut-outs wasn’t easy because the plastic is thick and doesn’t bend very well.  Then again, that’s what makes it sturdy and that’s why I’m using this product over others.   To make the building even more sturdy I have a bunch of Gatorfoam on hand and plan to use that to make a building “core” and then build the plastic structure around it.

Below, the track side of the building is starting to take shape.


Once the doors and windows were cut out I set up the walls on the layout to make sure everything fit.  I also checked the loading door distances.  The first three cars on the left are set up at the original 1919 structure.  The flat-sided walls on the right represent one of the additions to the building that I believe were added during or after the WWII timeframe.  As far as I can tell from photos, it just had side doors and that was it.


In the foreground of the photo above you can just see the “farmer’s field” which is an area roughly nine inches deep and 2-1/2 feet wide.  I wanted to install a bean field here to reinforce the layout’s agricultural theme.   As I was waiting for parts for the cannery to arrive from the US I went ahead and installed most of the bean field.  That process will be covered in it’s own post but here are a few partial views of the mostly-completed field.  Thanks to quality material from Silflor the field turned out pretty well and it fills in that stark unfinished area in the foreground.


The closeup below includes a few figures that my daughter Kirsten bought for me for Christmas.  Long before we moved to Germany my daughter Kirsten and I would sometimes look at the Preiser website together.  We had a nice time looking at all the figures and because the website is in German I always used it as a teaching opportunity.   After the first time we looked at the site, Kirsten was hooked, and she always asked to look through the German language site because she enjoyed trying to figure out the language from the pictures.  Anyway, for Christmas she wanted to buy me some figures and found–in a hobby shop in Munich–an agricultural figure set that she thought would work well.  I think they fit in perfectly.


Regarding operations…

Clark Propst was kind enough recently to send more waybills and Excel spreadsheets from the Minnesota Western (a M&StL subsidiary) from September 1954. The lists include includes inbound and outbound cars from a large, online Green Giant plant. Using that list we have a very good idea of what kinds of cars were moved at the plant, and when.

For example, the lists indicate the plant received LCL parts, a car or two of machinery, lots of carloads of tin cans, several carloads of sugar, a car or two of salt, and coal. On September 9, 1954, the plant received 12 cars of cans alone. This is in addition to a large amount of empties.

Clark told me If we say that an inbound car of cans = one outbound load we could guess at the number of loads shipped. The Ackley plant was small so most canned corn would be shipped out right away, probably to Marshalltown where they would have plenty of storage. The ratio of reefers to box cars in the Landmesser List (another list that shows cars moved on the M&StL lines in the late 1940s) is 20-to-4.

Most of the inbound cans came from Continental Can in either Milwaukee or Mankato, both of which are on the Milwaukee Road. We should assume our cans do too. The Milwaukee cars could have been transferred to us (the M&StL) just about anywhere.

A quick analysis of Clark’s spreadsheet shows some interesting trends. As you would expect, during the off-season the Green Giant cannery received parts and equipment as they prepared for the upcoming canning season. Here are a few examples from the long list:

Date                2/26/1954

Car/Type         CGW 85802 XM 42’3 box

From                General Electric, Chicago, IL

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           Not recorded

Contents          3 boxs switches


Date                2/26/1954

Car/Type         GTW 591359 XM 52’2 steel staggered door box

From                Food Machry & Chem Co., San Jose, CA

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           SP – Stckn – ATSF – KC-RI – MNS – MW

Contents          2 pressure cookers, 1 lot parts


Date                3/26/1954

Car/Type         GTW 585498 XM 42’1 steel box

From                Food Machry & Chem Co., San Jose, CA

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           SP – Stckn – ATSF – KC-RI – MNS – MW

Contents          1 pressure preheater


Date                4/9/1954

Car/Type         MILW 27617 XM 41’8 steel box

From                Honeywell, Mpls

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MN – CNW – MW

Contents          1 box iron valves


Date                6/1/1954

Car/Type         NYC 106973 XM 42’1 steel box

From                Inland Coal Co., Duluth

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MN – NP – MW

Contents          Soft coal scgs 39.2 ns


Date                6/4/1954

Car/Type         RI 22363 XM 41’10 steel box

From                GE Chicago, IL

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MN – PRR – Chgo – CNW – MW

Contents          1 ctn electric mors


Date                6/4/1954

Car/Type         RI 22363 XM 41’10 steel box

From                GE Chicago, IL

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MN – PRR – Chgo – CNW – MW

Contents          1 ctn electric mors


As we get closer to canning season we see more inbound loads like this:

Date                6/29/1954

Car/Type         SPS 12958 XM 43’11 steel box

From                Continental Can, Milwaukee, WI

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MN – CNW – CMO – MW

Contents          419 ctns tin cans, 53 ctns can ends


Date                6/29/1954

Car/Type         SOU 330120 XM 41’11 steel box

From                Continental Can, Milwaukee, WI

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MN – CNW – MW

Contents          Carload tin cans


Date                7/22/1954

Car/Type         RI 26428 XM 41’10 steel box

From                Amer Crystal Sugar, Chaska MN

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MStL – MW

Contents          600 bags beet sugar


Date                7/22/1954

Car/Type         MStL 5130 XM 40’11 box

From                Amer Crystal Sugar, Chaska MN

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           MStL – MW

Contents          600 bags beet sugar


Date                7/28/1954

Car/Type         ATSF 35304 XM 41’4 steel sheathed box

From                Morn Salt, Manistee MI

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           M&N – HD (C&O) – Mantwoc- CNW – CMO – MW

Contents          750 sax salt


Date                8/9/1954

Car/Type         NP 25671 XM 41’11 steel box

From                Waldorf Paper Prod, Minnea

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           SOO – MW

Contents          1664 bdls boxes


Date                8/11/1954

Car/Type         SOO 45006 XM 41’11 box

From                Cont Can Milwaukee WI

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           CNW – CMO – MW

Contents          Carload tin cans


Date                8/11/1954

Car/Type         IC 33792 XM 51’9 steel box

From                Waldorf Paper Prod, Minnea

To                    Green Giant, Watertown, MN

Routing           SOO – MW

Contents          1606 boxes


The list goes on and on. In case you’re interested in seeing more of the cars/car types, here is an excerpt of the next couple of dozen cars on the list:

THB 3237 XM 41’10 steel box

SOU 25724 XM 41’10 steel box

GN 18468 XM 41’10 steel box

ACL 23223 XM 41’10 steel box

CNW 108460 XM 41’10 steel box

DSSA 17023 XM 41’9 steel box

NW 53454 XM 41’9 steel box

NKP 13037 XM 41’9 steel box

MILW 24004 XM 41’8 steel box

CGW 93134 XM 41’10 steel box

PRR 86162 XM 41’10 steel x43b box

CBQ 17974 XM 41’9 steel box

NYC 171019 XM 41’10 steel box

MILW 7059 XM 41’8 steel staggered door box

MILW 19915 XM 41’8 steel box

RDG 104352 XM 42’11 steel box

MStL 5050 XM 40’11 box

SOO 40428 XM 41’7 box

CBQ 37408 XM 41’9 steel box

CNW 71352 XM 41’9 steel box

CBQ 34165 XM 41’9 steel box

C&O 11128 XM 41’9 steel box

CNW 82412 XM 41’9 steel box

SOU 21485 XM 41’9 steel box

SP 104327 XM 41’10 steel box

ATSF 148642 XM 42’2 steel sheathed box

ERIE 76906 XM 41’9 steel box

L&N 14760 XM 41’10 steel box

ATSF 149424 XM 42’2 steel sheathed box

MEC 6138 XM 41’9 steel box

PLE 21019 XM 41’9 steel box

IC 31186 XM 41’9 steel box

GN 49038 XM 41’9 steel frame box

CNW 80936 XM 41’9 steel box

GN 52796 XM 41’9 steel frame box

CNW 74338 XM 41’9 steel box

RDG 101938 XM 41’2 steel box

NKP 27854 XM 42’4 steel box

SP 103695 XM 41’10 steel box

CBQ 28336 XM 41’9 steel frame box

SOO 134414 XM 41’7 box

MILW 707903 XM 41’5 steel frame composite body box

RI 148808 XM 41’9 steel box

RI 148083 XM 41’9 steel box

TNO 55818 XM 41’10 lightweight steel box

N&W 48179 XM 41’8 steel box

RI 147282 XM 41’9 steel box

NYC 157784 XM 41’10 steel box

SOO 41788 XM 41’7 box

ART 51859 refrigerator

The car types above show some interesting trends. First, the outbound loads are 99% box cars, and those cars are from all over.  And second, notice the number of steel box cars in use. The era of single and double-sheathed cars is practically over.

Story Time

Over on the Yahoo M&StL Group, M&StL authority Gene Green posted a first-hand account of life in the canning factory in Hampton, Iowa.  This cannery was on the CGW RR.

Gene wrote, The canning factory in Hampton only canned corn in the 1950s which is the only decade of which I have any memory. Before 1950 I was really too young to know what was going on and in 1960 I left town for 30 years.  During the month or so that sweet corn was picked the canning factory was a beehive of activity; they ran 24 hours a day/7 days a week as I remember. Corn arrived in all manner of vehicles but mostly in farm wagons pulled by tractors or small trucks of the one to two-ton range.  My parents worked there during the rush and I had a chance to wander around and see the various activities.

Corn was canned in a variety of can sizes from the No. 10 (one gallon) on down. The cans were not labeled when they were packed in boxes. I was told, but do not know for sure, that after the corn was sold the boxes were opened and the cans labeled and then they were packed in new boxes with new labels. The canning factory in Hampton was served by the CGW.

Below.  Gene sent along this photo of a cannery in Texas, loading up an ART refrigerator car.  He said loading cars in Ackley “went something like this”.  Note the portable conveyor–wouldn’t that be a neat model to scratchbuild for a loading scene?  Photo courtesy Gene Green.

loading from cannery

 Marshal Canning in Ackley was one of the largest single employers in town during the harvest months of July, August and September. German POWs were employed at Marshall Canning Co. plants in Marshalltown, Ackley, Hampton, Grundy Center, Reinbeck, and Waverly.

I have read that the German POWs were very friendly and often went to homes in town and had meals with families.  That is particularly true in Ackley where I understand some of the soldiers had distant relatives living in the area.

More Stories.

Jim Casady, a modeler from Grand View, Minnesota, sent me a long e-mail in 2013 explaining how the cannery in Grimes, Iowa operated.  It is a long read, but it is a good read.  I hope you enjoy the stories.  Jim writes, The factory in Grimes opened in 1902 and was named the Grimes Canning and Preserving Company. In 1937 it was renamed to the Beaver Valley Canning Company. Beaver Valley also operated plants in Perry, Altoona and Pella, canning corn, pork and beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, chicken, pinto beans, red beans, tomatoes, dog food, fruit drinks and liquid sugar.

I am pretty Beaver Valley changed hands in the late 1950s or early 1960s and became the Old Grimes Canning Company.  This may be when the connection with Marshall Canning began. By the time I came along a number of the products had been dropped and the factory concentrated on corn, beans, fruit drinks and dog food. Mechanization and commodity farming in the 1940s probably had a lot to do with that.

 Ackley may have done nothing but corn but I recall receiving shipments of canned goods from there that we labeled, packaged, distributed and warehoused, so I assume Ackley did the same. However, corn, beans and other products used the same means of production so I would be surprised if Ackley didn’t take advantage of that at least at some period during the operation of the company.

The main packaging area where I worked in Grimes had three canning lines served by a central canal filled with hot water that brought the cans from the production area to the north of the packaging room via underwater conveyer. The cans were inspected for dents and damage on a conveyer that ran east through the center of the room, and from there to an overhead conveyor that went west to the end wall up an incline to get them overhead to clear the doors, then south again to go to the labeling and boxing machine. From there the boxes went through a “paster” and popped out at the end, which is where I stood for ten hours a day loading pallets. 24 count boxes came down the line at one every six seconds, dog food—the only 48 count box—came down one every ten seconds. I put on 20 pounds of solid muscle in three months between my junior and senior years in high school…it was really hard work. At least the way I did it. The money was good too.

We had a Hawaiian Punch line (sounds like the end of a joke at Don Hoi’s expense!) which was on the north wall that routed the cans east instead of west and the packaging line was identical to the one I worked on, but it didn’t come through the canal as I recall. Those cans came via overhead line so we could keep both lines running full time. The punch line went through the employee break room and there were frequent breakdowns, so the guys working that line could go have coffee and a smoke, then dash back to the packaging room when cans started going through the break room again.

Production runs were product specific and at the end of each canal run a burlap bag filled with cans of the product dropped onto the conveyor to signal the end of the run. The products were labeled for different distributors like HyVee, etc. but the contents were the same regardless.

The third line was a repackaging area and ran very slowly without automation. I believe that is where we repackaged all the products from Ackley, and if I recall correctly there were some canned products that we did not produce in Grimes like mixed vegetables. However, I can not say that Ackley was the only facility we labeled for, and as I recall most of the carrot and pea products came from further north. I seem to recall some labeling for Green Giant and some sugar beet products.

My family farm here in southern Minnesota grew primarily peas and carrots. The house I own and live in now was once a boarding house for Libby’s employees and the mule skinners that managed the operation. It was pretty raucous and the managers were a rough bunch of characters that you didn’t want to mess with if you didn’t want your butt whipped on the spot. Frank, the most belligerent, was often seen headed to the mule barn early in the morning in full regalia—ten-gallon hat, vest and chaps. When I converted the barn to business use I was able to confirm the stories that the barn was used by the boarders as a gathering place many nights to get up a head of steam before heading to town. When I pulled the planked interior paneling off to insulate and finish the inside, hundreds of empty liquor bottles spilled out. The boarding house closed before we bought the property in 1959, probably because of mechanization and the conversion to large scale commodity farming in the 1940s. If anyone wanted to model a canning related operation in that era a truck farm would provide A LOT of interest.

In my era very little—if any—finished product was shipped by rail so that is why you might not find records. Virtually everything went out by truck because it was all local and regional, going to warehouses like HyVee and Supervalu. Some raw product, like kidney beans, arrived by truck as well in 100 lb. bags, and in Grimes as the corn run went the shipments of beans began to arrive to prepare for the fall bean run. In August it was miserable inside the trailers unloading those beans. I believe some other items like cans and boxes arrived by truck from time to time, but most of that arrived by boxcar on the team tracks outside the packaging room. Most of the cans and boxes went to a separate building to the west of the packaging room and an overhead conveyor was used to get the cans to the production area via a sorter that lined the cans up and got them onto the conveyor with the help of a couple of employees.

Syrups and other liquids as well as some solids arrived in 30 to 55 gallon drums, some in cardboard drums and others in the more familiar steel drums. Some liquids shipped in plastic lined cardboard drums. As I recall, most of that arrived by truck, probably since it was more concentrated and a single 40-foot van could provide enough product to last quite a while.

It is certainly true that the July to October period you mention was by far the busiest. In addition to the fresh corn that was arriving by truck—usually on stake trucks up through the 60s that were unloaded by skid loaders—the stuff for fall production of beans was arriving. As I recall, the July shipments were for corn run production starting in August and the shipments arriving late August through September and October were for the bean run starting in, I think, early October and running into November.

I recall vestiges of coal piles around the outside of the buildings as late as the mid-1960s that dated back to the time before our factory was converted to gas. I know one of the sidings at one time or another went all the way to the end of the main building where the heating plant was. I believe the conversion to gas must have been done in the early 1950s, so there might be an opportunity to model some coal deliveries in gondolas if the era you model is right. I would suspect that from time to time gondolas and flatbeds were used to deliver the large stainless steel vats, gears and other equipment used to operate the conveyors. There was often some very heavy duty pieces of stuff laying around outside. After the factory was in operation and mature I’m sure that most of the replacement parts arrived by truck. I never saw anything but boxcars at our site from my earliest memories in 1959 until the time I moved away in 1971.

 Jim Casady

Grand Meadow, MN

Part 3 will cover the rest of the building process, but I have to actually do the building first.  more to follow…

John G

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