By Jeff Livingston, HRS Historian
Originally published in the Akahele I Ke Ka'aahi Jan. Feb. 2012 Vol.42 No. 1

Somewhat early in our research at Bishop Museum we came upon a letter from the Thomas Pineapple Co. (ca. 1909/10) complaining to the OR&L's management that the iron bars across the openings of the "ventilated boxcars" were so far apart that pilferers could reach in and remove whole pineapples. The company was not only upset about the loss of their product but also that to prevent such loss the cars could not be fully loaded as the pineapple crates had to be kept out of arms reach in the vicinity of the openings. They requested that additional bars be installed to prevent loss and allow the cars to be fully loaded.

As usual, no information was given about the "ventilated boxcars" themselves. And, up to this point, we were unaware that the OR&L had any ventilated boxcars. Later in our research, while studying the OR&L annual reports, we found an entry in the 1908-1909 report which stated in part: "Thirty-five ventilated box cars for transportation of fruit and other freight have been constructed during the year." While this confirmed the existence of "ventilated boxcars" it again gave no clue as to their appearance or the car numbers.

Typical narrow gauge "ventilated boxcars" of the era had roof hatches, and/or end doors, and a second side door, barred or screened, in addition to the standard solid side door. In this way the car could be used as either a ventilated or standard boxcar.

This photo of a Bachmann Industries On30 model of a ventilated boxcar illustrates the construction far more efficiently than my words.

Note the two doors - the ventilated door opening to the left and the solid door opening to the right. It the OR&L had ventilated boxcars of this design it would have been noted years ago. In all our research we have never seen a photograph or any other mention of such a design. This is where things sat for some time. We did find a photograph of a couple of boxcars that had what appeared to be two roof hatches per end but could not positively identify them as ventilated boxcars.

So there things stood until recently when HRS member and fellow researcher John Goldie emailed me an alert about a photo on EBay. The seller identified the photo as "Pineapple Plantation Worker Loading Hawaii Railway Car." This was a significant find! The photo shows an OR&L ventilated boxcar being loaded with pineapples in crates marked "Thomas Pineapple Co."

Here at last was a positive identification of an OR&L ventilated boxcar.

The photo shows one open hatch on one side of one end of the car. We assume the other end looked the same. The car number appears to be 618 which corresponds to a 34-foot long 10-ton boxcar per the 1921 roster. The 1921 roster lists a group of 10-ton 34-foot long boxcars starting at No. 600 and ending with No. 636. While this totals 37 boxcars and the annual report states 35 we believe that these ventilated boxcars fall into this number range as there are large number gaps before No. 600 and after No. 636.

Bidding slowly grew over the days of the auction and when I hit $58.00 the bidding appeared to stop. I very rarely am willing to spend so much of the historian's budget for a photograph, but, the significance of this photo could not be overlooked and it belonged in the HRS collection. With two seconds to go in the auction I was out bid by what I assume was an automatic program, one dollar above my max bid of $77.00. While it was unfortunate to lose this photo and the opportunity to scan the original at 600 dpi we do have the screen capture and it has advanced our knowledge of the OR&L a bit further.

Regarding the Thomas Pineapple Co., a recently published book, Hawaii's Pineapple Century, by Jan K. Ten Bruggencate has this to say: "Thos. Pineapple Co. 1906-1916 opened a cannery in Kalihi, Oahu in 1906, which was fed by W.B. Thomas' 600 acre Wahiawa plantation. It canned "Pride of Hawaii" and "Thomas' Best" brands. Thomas ran the plantation and cannery until his death in 1916, when his son, Will P. Thomas, sold the company to Libby, McNeill & Libby. Libby then turned the cannery over to L.C. Smith-Hiorth, who transferred it to Hawaiian Fruit Products Company, which ran it until it was destroyed by fire." Now to try and figure out if the photo of the boxcars with what appears to be two vice one hatch per end are ventilated boxcars also or something completely different.

Ed. Note: Another great mystery from Jeff as well as a great story!