Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

March 10, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 5:56 am



The building still stands at the corner of W. Market, and S. Bolivar in San Augustine, Texas.  It has not been occupied for many years, and part of the roof is caving in.  Looking through the barred windows one can still see the evidence of bygone activity.  At one time this building, owned by Frank Anders, was a beehive of activity during the summer months.  Mr. Johnnie Wells and Mr. Mac Conn partnered to operate the “Wells Tomato Shed” from around 1938 until 1952.


Tomato growers all over San Augustine County brought their harvested, slightly pink, tomatoes to the Tomato Shed for processing.  The price received by the farmers was usually from 8 cents per pound to a high of 12 cents.  Thousands of pounds of tomatoes were processed and shipped each summer to a central distribution center in Jacksonville, Texas.

Mr. Wells, in early May of each year, would spend several weeks preparing the Tomato Shed for receipt of the farmer’s crop of tomatoes.  In the mid 1940s, a new type belt conveyance system was installed.  After inspectors culled the tomatoes as the first step, the accepted tomatoes were placed on a conveyor belt which took the selected tomatoes to the bins.  After washing them with a fine water spray, the belt took them through a drying process, and then sprayed each tomato with a fine film of wax.  The wax film protected the fruit from souring or rotting as quickly.

This conveyor belt system was the only such machine in this Deep East Texas area at the time.  It was not usually used by small-scale operations.

In 1943 the Shed closed down on Saturdays due to the fact that there was a shortage of refrigerated rail cars.  Records show that in one week in 1942 the Shed shipped 20 rail cars of tomatoes to Jacksonville.  Apparently Jacksonville was the “tomato capital” of East Texas at the time.  The city hosted the “National Tomato Show” each year.  In 1939 Carolyn Bishop, daughter of the famous Texas Ranger, Leo Bishop, was a finalist in the contest which was won by Sara Bess Barber of Jacksonville.  Miss Barber won the coveted title of “National Tomato Queen”.

In 1946 the Tomato Shed began processing peas after tomato season was over.  They processed purple hull peas, cream peas, and black-eyed peas for the local farmers, then shipped them to Hall Brothers Canning plant in Timpson, Texas.

The Wells Tomato Shed provided summer employment for local workers for many years, as well as a market for farmer’s tomatoes and peas.  Records show that the Shed closed down in June of 1952 after shipping their last six rail cars of tomatoes.

The rusty railroad side tracks still remain on the west side of the building, unused for over fifty years.  The east side loading dock doors are rotting away, as well as the off-loading dock on the west by the tracks.  One would wish for a more fitting end to the Wells Tomato Shed which was so important to our small town for so long.






PO BOX 511





1 Comment »

  1. I LOVE this story and wish the tomato shed was still in operation !

    Comment by Martha — March 10, 2013 @ 7:57 am | Reply

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