The Fruit Express
A 1920s Railroad Boom
By Thornton Waite
Photos Courtesy of Vee Davenport
My interest in the history of Idaho’s railroads, which I’ve had ever since moving here in the mid-1970s, has led to encounters with a lot of interesting people. Among them is Chris Davenport, whom I met at a model railroad show. Chris mentioned that his father, Vee, had worked for Pacific Fruit Express (PFE) in Nampa, where railroad refrigerator cards were repaired and rebuilt. He asked if I would be interested in seeing his father’s photos of the shops. Of course, I said yes, and Chris loaned me the pictures. I was amazed by them, and contacted Vee so he could tell me more.
Vernon (“Vee”) Davenport worked at the PFE shops in a variety of positions from 1969–1985. The company had been formed in 1906 by the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads to service refrigerator cars for shipment of fresh and frozen products from southwestern Idaho. Vee enjoyed his work there, which ranged over the years from a laborer who staged materials for the repairs and rebuilds to an “engineer” who moved cars throughout the shops.
Vee was also a professional photographer, and when the shops were being cleared out for their closure, one of the managers who knew of his interest in photography gave him some older images that had been found in a safe. Around then Vee also obtained aerial views of the shops, as well as other photographs taken over the years. Together, these images provided a fascinating look at the Nampa shops.