This may not be the most artistic image posted to this site, but it tells an important story. This is a piece of the cork sheeting used to insulate the Union Building, one of the early cold storage facilities that was critical to Hood River's development as an exporter of tree fruit. We've talked about this before, but after a discussion with the building's current owner I have some additional detail.
We know around 1902 Joe Wilson diverted water from Indian Creek into a reservoir in the Heights, which then ran through a pipeline to provide hydro power to several facilities downtown. Horatio Davidson constructed the Union Building in sections between 1905 and 1912 to provide cold storage facilities for fruit from the Hood River valley. This building was one of the main users of Joe Wilson's hydro power, running ammonia compressors to provide the refrigeration to cool the apples and make ice for shipping.
The building construction was very much specialized for its purpose. The current owner, who has been engaged in a major remodel of the facility for several years, has described the construction in detail. The building consists of 4" concrete slabs for floors supported by poured concrete posts. This makes a free-standing structure. It is surrounded by brick walls, but these walls did not touch the slabs. Instead, they were lined with double sheets of the cork you see here, each cork tile measuring 2" x 12" x 28". The cork adhered to the wall with asphalt (which is clearly present on the reverse of this tile). The pillars and ceiling were also covered with cork, and the layer on the roof was covered with a slab of concrete so roofing could be applied. In some areas of the interior of the building stucco was applied over the cork to protect it from the activities of the cold storage workers.
It is estimated over 1000 cubic feet of cork was removed from the building during renovation. When some of you asked about the cork a few weeks ago, it occurred to me we should have a sample at the museum to help tell the story of this building to future generations. The owner was happy to oblige-- in fact he has been carrying this chunk around in his truck for a couple of weeks until we bumped into each other this week. Hopefully this sample will help people appreciate the ingenuity and effort required to grow, store, and transport fruit a hundred years ago.
Category: [Downtown Hood River]
Fascinating. I had no idea there was small scale hydro power in HR that early. Good thing they had some elevation to work with. I am curious, did they use the water to turn a generator to make electricity which ran the compressors? Or was it the old water wheel mechanical drive system? I recall seeing the mechanical drive system in the old flour mill (now a winery) in The Dalles.
kmb on 23rd September 2021 @ 7:31am
Always been a fascinating building to me. But not to be critical, but for the sake of history, I have to question the 1000 cu. ft. of cork. Doesn't sound like near enough to cover the walls of that whole building, let alone the pillars and ceilings. Perhaps a thousand cu. yds., a hundred or so dump truck loads would be closer? and a very impressive amount!
starboard on 23rd September 2021 @ 8:15am
Are there any remnants of the reservoir at Wilson Park? Was it demolished or filled in?
Will on 23rd September 2021 @ 8:54am
Arthur, do we know what other businesses used the hydropower from the Wilson reservoir? I believe I've heard or see that it was used to run a printing press for the Glacier but am not sure that's true. Anything else? Would be good to know when we one day resume the walking tours.
Buck Parker on 23rd September 2021 @ 9:45am
The Wilson reservoir was a great place to play when we were growing up. The neighborhood fathers built a baseball backstop and outfitted a playing field for us. At that time there was a levy along May Street which has since been leveled. There was a large concrete structure at the east end of the levy. This was where the pipeline started. My aunt (who lived next door) had use of water from the pipeline to water her garden. She had small ditches that ran all over the garden and by opening and closing off intersections she could divert water to different areas.
Norma on 23rd September 2021 @ 10:58am
I thought the reservoir/pipeline in question here was the one near the corner of Union & 9th, where the Indian Creek trail follows the old wooden-stave pipeline for a while?
Kyle on 23rd September 2021 @ 11:27am
A bunch of questions today!
1) The hydro in the Union building powered a turbine which compressed ammonia. There was also a smaller turbine to make electricity for lights in the building.
2) I will check with Pasquale about his math on the amount of cork.
3) The old reservoir site was converted to a park by the Boy Scouts in the 1970s, I believe. The flat area is where the concrete reservoir sat.
4) We know the pipe powered a flour mill and an abattoir. The Glacier reported they were to power their presses with the water, but I'm not positive that happened. Wilson also tried to sell a contract to the city for fire hydrants, but I don't think that came to pass.
5) The water was diverted from Indian Creek near CGCC (concrete still there) then into the pipeline near the Union Street substation, to the reservoir at Wilson Park, then through pipeline down 2nd Street to Industrial Street. It's marked on the Sanborn maps.
ArthurB on 23rd September 2021 @ 3:28pm
The "hydro power" was not "Hydro-electric", it was more like hydraulic pressure. The following is what I recall from conversations with Bert Cates when he was the operator of the Union cold storage in the 1980's. Originally the only electricity used in the Union was for the lights. The compressor was driven by a hydraulic ram (essentially it was like a single cylinder steam engine that worked on cold water rather than hot steam), it was still in place in the engine room when I was there in the 80's, but had not been used for several years. It powered a drive wheel so large a concrete lined trench was put in the floor to accommodate it.
Fruit boxes (and ice blocks) were moved from room to room on "dollies", wooden carts with two large iron wheels on a central axle and one caster wheel at each end (I don't know if any are still in existence), if anything needed to be moved from one floor to another the dollies would be shoved into hydraulic elevators. These worked on the same principal as the hydraulic lifts used in repair garages.
All this water was "ditch water" drawn from Indian Creek and was also used to cool the ammonia that had been heated by being compressed (Boyles Law) and also to defrost the evaporator coils in the cold rooms. Efficient and reliable operation of the machinery required relatively "clean" water. The infrastructure along Indian Creek contained screens to remove floating debris and settling basins to minimize sediment. Cold storage operators had to perform periodic maintenance on these facilities.
With the compressors converted to electric power and elevators superseded by electric conveyor belts most of the ditch water passed straight to the Columbia unused. DFG installed a small pelton wheel driven generator in the engine room to derive some income from the surplus water. When the property was sold to the Port of Hood River all the expense of ditch maintenance was charged to the generator, and it was quickly shut down.
JEC on 23rd September 2021 @ 3:46pm
Great details, JEC. I have seen the turbine/ Pelton Wheel that compresses the ammonia. It's still there, and the renovation includes a glass panel so the tenant can look down to see it in the basement. I assumed the heat was extracted by airflow over fins on the roof. I didn't realize they used ditch water to cool the compressed gas, but that makes more sense (as long as discharge of warm water was allowed).
I know when the present owner purchased it he was told the ammonia had been drained, which he discovered not to be the case when a worker cut into a line on the roof and caused an ammonia leak. Fortunately there were still people in the valley who knew how to tame an ammonia refrigeration unit.
ArthurB on 23rd September 2021 @ 6:33pm
I just had band practice in the basement of the Union building last night. All the cork is indeed gone from the walls and roof in that section, but I thought of you all as I made loud guitar noises while trains ambled past the open door.
Kyle on 24th September 2021 @ 9:30am