Archive for March, 2014

The early sunrise casts long shadows down the alleys and between buildings from a bygone era. It is going to be another hot summer day on the Southside Industrial District.

 “The District”, as it is known, has seen better days, but somehow it has managed to survive into the 21st Century. Born in the hey day of railroading, The District was one of the first industrial parks in the country – a collection of industries sharing the costs and benefits of common rail service along a crowded right of way.

 Some of the original buildings remain despite the encroachment of the more modern and spacious facilities from its southern boundary. The track work has stayed unchanged going on 70 years and accounts for the close clearances and seemingly unnecessary switchbacks. No one would design trackage like that today and the younger engineers dread an assignment to switch The District for any length of time.

 CSX serves the District, but the privately owned co-op keeps a couple of small engines for dedicated switching and a small stable of freight cars. It is not uncommon to see smaller 40 and 50 foot cars mixed in with modern center beams, bulk heads, and well cars. Customers special order the smaller cars by way of habit, giving the place a feeling from the days of coal burning steam engines.

 The District is anchored by a couple of industries that have learned to adapt and survive hard economic times. National Transfer and Storage is a 5th generation warehouse facility that will store just about anything for a price and actually serves as somewhat of a transloading facility for other businesses in the district.

 Silvan Food Co. has gone through many incarnations but has remained a food processing plant since the beginning. In the mold of Con Agra, you’ll recognize the brands like Lipton, Knorr, and Dove chocolate that are transformed from car loads of flour, corn syrup, and sugar into finished products bound for the super market. Silvan Foods is still one of two companies that periodically receives coal loads, the other being the DuPont complex.

 It seems Ames has been making shovels and rakes for ages, but their production has been down the last few years. Recent sell offs have resulted in a smaller footprint, but they still have a modest factory and even use NTS across the parking lot for storing raw materials when a big order comes in.

 The 600-pound gorilla in the region is the DuPont Washington Works polymers and plastics plant. Technically they are not part of the District, but since their arrival in the late 60’s they have continued to expand until the lines between what lies inside and what lies outside the District have blurred. The constant flow of chemicals and polymer products makes the DuPont plant the largest customer in the District in terms of area, traffic and revenue.

 A collection of smaller companies like Industrial Plumbing Supply discontinued rail traffic over a decade ago, but still manage to do a brisk walk-in business, primarily among their neighbors within the District. The shops on Commerce Street cater to mainly the daily train crews that frequent the area. Like its own eco system, the Southside Industrial District has thrived when the members cooperate through good times and bad.

 Whether you’re in the market for dried food goods, garden tools, or the newest space age plastic, The Southside Industrial District has a variety of industries that make what you need. Stop by the Third Street Deli for lunch and you just might catch some street running or a refurbished SW1500 shoving a hotbox down to the RIP track. It doesn’t get much better than that on a hot summer day in the District.

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